In the past week’s parsha, we read about Moses preparing the Jewish people for their next big challenge…entering the land of Israel and keeping the laws of Torah there. Over and over, he stresses how much better their lives will be if they follow the commandments and it’s clear from the commentaries that he knew this would be a big challenge for them.
It often happens that whatever I’m reading in my parsha studies each week has some relevance to my life that week and this “pep talk” from Moses came at a time when I’m really working hard to gather information about day schools for our children. My son will be entering 9th grade and yeshivas (Jewish high schools for boys) are no joke! I read about students studying for up to 14 hours a day to fit in both their secular studies and Judaic studies. I read about selective admissions to these private schools with campuses that look more like colleges than high schools, the students walking with serious faces and dress shirts and suit pants between stone buildings with manicured lawns. I read about dormitories and talk with my Jewish friends who have sent their children off to yeshiva and I try not to panic.
We are preparing to dwell in a fully functioning Jewish community, similar to the Jews huddled on the bank of the Jordan, looking into Israel and hoping they’re up for the challenge ahead. Up until now, we’ve been sheltered in the wilderness, where inspiration was easy to see with our own eyes as we stared at mountaintops. Now, we prepare for the reality of living Jewish, for moving into a city where there will be no view of mountains and we’ll need to look inside for inspiration.
As I read Moses words to the Jewish people, I tried to take heart in them. They faced their own journey into the unknown and already they’d lost heart and suffered for it. The generation before them hadn’t been up to the challenge and had succumbed to the sin of the spies and lost their chance to dwell in Israel. Now, they faced the challenge head-on, listening to Moses as he prepared them for what was to come.
This school year, I’ll be preparing my son for yeshiva and my daughter for day school. I have them enrolled in an online Torah studies program, but a lot of the work, I’ll need to do myself. I’ll be trying to teach my son to be more organized, to manage his own schedule, to handle his own laundry…all these things he’ll need when he’s living in a dorm room, even if it’s in the same city as me. I’ll be preparing my daughter to walk into a classroom unlike her public schools and be successful there. I’ll be preparing myself to take this next step in letting go of both of them a little more, letting them begin to prepare for adulthood.
As I pour over the websites of schools, I almost worry more about whether I am prepared for this than I do if they will be. Kids adapt quickly and learn quickly as well. Already my son corrects my Hebrew and reads faster than my husband, with his sharp eyes easily picking apart Hebrew letters. As a mother, though, I want to cling to them both a bit longer. I also wonder if I will send him away to one of these great schools if he will return from break a stranger to me? Will he still be *my* son if I have sent him off to be partially raised by Rabbis?
And yet, I also recognize the wisdom here.
The truth is…we can’t raise him to be fully an Orthodox Jew on our own. We don’t have the background or learning ourselves to pass on to him. He and our daughter need a village around them to help them learn what we are still working to learn ourselves…and beyond. If my wildest dreams come true, my children WILL be different from me. They will walk into Jewish communities as adults with a familiarity I’ll never have. They’ll know things I may never learn. They will be as much children of the Jewish community as they are mine.
But letting go, even just enough to let my son board at a school in the same city, is bittersweet. I thought I had more time, that I could jealously keep my children to myself until age 18 rather than have to let go so much so soon.
I have one school year left to prepare them, but is that enough time to prepare me?