My Son’s New Old Book

This morning, I attended my children’s Jewish Day School for a special “Chagigat Chumash” ceremony – a one-hour long ceremony to celebrate the receiving of a new Chumash (Five Books of Moses) by every third grade student. I watched with interest and pride as my eight year old participated in a moving and well scripted ceremony that culminated with one of the school’s senior administrators giving him his new Chumash.

I am proud of my son’s achievements. I am equally pleased with our efforts as his parents and the tremendous talent that permeates the school, the result of these endeavors will I hope remain with him for a long time.

Though it was not mentioned during the morning’s proceedings, nor should it have been, today being Inauguration Day was also on my mind. Running almost parallel to the 3rd Grade Chumash ceremony was the inaugural moment when President Elect Trump placed his hand on a Bible. For significant reason a Bible is used, and often deeper significance is explicated about the specific Bible chosen for this meaningful occasion.  I find myself thinking about my role as a parent who cares deeply for the words within the Torah and the manner in which both of my children currently and in the future will regard the words of our tradition.

I am also keenly aware of the difference between how the Chumash was used at the school cermeony and the Bible that was held at the Inauguration. Whereas the president elect placed a hand on the Bible, my son held his Chumash against his chest almost hugging it. There were, in fact, a couple of close calls during the Chumash ceremony when one or two students nearly dropped their Chumashim (the plural of Chumash) only to catch them, pull them closer, and smile. While the recovery may have been filled with a bit of embarrassment, I would like to interpret a degree of love and safeguarding that found its way into the ceremonial blip. When we love something and want a moment to last, we hold it close. When something seems just out of our grasp, even if only for a brief moment, we do our best to grab it and pull it closer. I can recall learning at a young age the way we are supposed to pick up and lightly kiss any sacred book when it falls from our grasp.

Despite the nerves that I recognized in my son, and imagined in others, their faces were filled with happiness and eagerness. The latter likely because of the celebratory desserts awaiting them after the ceremony. The delight is also, I hope, from receiving a book that my son knows has been important to so many others before him and one that he will use time and time again.

Expressed among the words that he practiced for the past couple of weeks is the idea that his receiving his Chumash marks his engagement with the chain of tradition. Being a link in the chain of tradition means there are others – generations of Jewish people – on both sides of us with whom we are interconnected. That connection is likely never be broken and is therefore up to us to transmit the values and vocabulary that are at the core of our tradition to those next in line. Having a good grip on the chain and deep knowledge of what makes up the Torah also means that, when ready, my son can go off script and recover with the confidence and pride in his Jewish identity. And I am confident that his hand will go from the top outside cover of the book to the innermost contents carefully scripted within.

About the Author
Rabbi Rafi Cohen is the director of admissions for The Rabbinical School and the H. L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary where he loves to guide prospective students in discerning the path of their Jewish commitments and assisting them in gaining the experience they need to successfully prepare for lives of sacred service.