This week’s portion is chock-full of interesting things to write about. So full, in fact, that I had to read it a few times before I could choose something. We’re getting into the weeds of the Torah, that section before the Pentateuch wraps up in blazing glory as we get near to Shemini Atzeret this fall. Moses is trying to get as much guidance into these verses as possible, to remind the Israelites again that they really, really should follow the rules, before he has to stay behind and they walk into the Promised Land.
It almost reads like a parent sending their teen off to college. “Don’t forget to separate lights and darks when you do laundry!” the parent calls, “and remember, just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean you have to do it, too! Okay, love you, honey! There are extra snacks in the duffel!”
Similarly, Moses is going over everything from laws against divination to how to keep Kosher in these verses. Three times, he reminds them to take care of the Levites (sort of a “don’t forget to call your brother, sweetie!” but Biblical). Don’t forget your tithes and sacrifices, he says, and let’s go over the list of animals you can and can’t eat again. Do you have your list of Passover sacrifices? In Deuteronomy 13:7-9 he says, “If your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend entices you in secret, saying, ‘Come let us worship other gods’ […] do not assent or give heed to him,” which is basically another way of saying to only play with the good kids. Whatever that means.\
I can almost see him wringing his hands, nervous to let this group of people he’s been leading for almost half a century out of his sight.
It’s not the same thing at all, but soon I’ll be letting my kiddo out of my sight as well. In about six weeks our little one will go to daycare for the first time. On an intellectual level, I know he will thrive and that this is the best decision for both of us. The daycare we’ve enrolled him in is beautiful, with caring and kind teachers who have plenty of educational experience. Our child will love this place. In fact, when I brought him there last fall for a test drive, he loved it so much he wanted to stay for circle time.
Plus, I know that this is good for my wife and me. Trying to fit a 40 hour workweek into 23 hours of childcare is not realistic and, although we’ve been making it work throughout the last year or so, we’re exhausted. It’ll be good for us all to get a little distance, to grow as individuals. We may even get to spend time together as a couple, something that’s been near impossible throughout 2020-2021.
Knowing all of this, I’m still dreading it. I don’t want to let him go. I don’t want to have him away from me for so many hours (five!) at a time. What if they don’t understand him the way I do? What if he makes friends who end up hurting him? What if he has trouble navigating situations, and I’m not there to smooth out the wrinkles?
I’m not a helicopter mom, at least not outwardly. I just want everything to be fine always and forever, but without it having any adverse effect on my little one’s ability to grow and mature into a wise person. Is that so much to ask?
Of course, this is not only too much to ask, it’s a bad road to go down. Moses knows this, and so should I, albeit reluctantly. While the two of us would probably not agree on much when it comes to leadership tactics, we would agree that the moment comes when you need to trust whomever you’re guiding to go out there on their own. Not that I’m sending off my two-year-old to make it work on a desert island or a college campus, but still. I’m being called to trust this tiny person, who is likely bigger and sturdier than I want to believe.
When I was pregnant, I read a breathtaking novel by Jessie Greengrass, entitled Sight. In it, she describes the art of parenting “like falling into endless water, and with it, the attendant agonizing understanding that what success looks like is being left behind.” As parents, we need to aim to be left behind, to raise up little ones who become big ones who are self-sufficient and wise. That means heartbreak and hurt, and joy, and wonder, and all the other chaos that comes with being a person in the world. “What is the alternative?” asks Greengrass, going on to answer her own question, “Only the unthinkable perfection of a preserved present.”
If we are to move forward, then, something must break and be healed, somehow. In a few chapters, we’ll read the heartbreaking account of Moses letting the Israelites out of his sight. Around the same time, my kiddo will head to daycare, backpack on his back, my wife and I at his side. And all of it will be for the best.