Recently, my son’s kindergarten class put on a special show for Hanukkah. For weeks leading up to the big day, the kids rehearsed the songs and practiced their lines with excitement — anticipating the big performance. On the day of the show, my son’s best friend, Jonah, came down with a fever and had to stay home.
Jonah’s parents were disappointed to miss the show. (It’s the only kindergarten performance of the year, after all.) Jonah, too, was initially upset when his parents told him that he couldn’t go. But he soon comforted himself, saying “Well, I am glad I got to sing in the rehearsals. That was fun.”
Jonah’s mom noted that she and her husband were more upset about missing the performance than Jonah was. She mused: “If only adults could enjoy the journey as much as children do.”
This week’s Torah portion, called Vayehi (and he lived), recounts the final days of Jacob’s life. Since Jacob was ill and knew he was near death, he gathered his children and grandchildren to bless them and impart the wisdom that he accumulated during his lifetime. When blessing his grandchildren, Jacob said that all future sons would be blessed with the same words: “May God make you like Ephraim and Menasseh” — a custom that is followed to this day.
Why are all boys blessed to be like Jacob’s grandsons? Perhaps as the late Rabbi David Lieber suggested, because Ephraim and Menasseh are the first brothers in the Torah to get along. Therefore, they represent the resolution of past conflicts and new hope for the future.
With all this emphasis on parents blessing children, I wonder: What are the blessings that children give their parents? For as much as parents teach children, kids can teach us so much more. I am continually amazed by the wise words that come out of the mouths of babes.
This past week, I took my children to the aquarium, with another family from my son Jeremy’s class. While we ate lunch in the cafeteria, Jeremy’s friend Emmett and his sister Hannah Mathilda each ate a cookie for dessert. Jeremy commented: “Emmett, you won because you ate your cookie faster than your sister.” Emmett replied, “No, Hannah Mathilda won because she enjoyed it more.”
As adults, so many of us rush around, trying to accomplish myriad tasks, as though the winner in life is the one who gets the most done first. Yet, in time, we begin to suspect that the real winners in life are the ones who enjoy it most — who are able to be fully present in each moment rather than always thinking about what needs to be done next. Children are masters of this art. At the aquarium, I noticed that the adults were eager to see the rest of the exhibit, while the kids were happy just to stay and marvel at the fish in the tank.
This season is popular for making resolutions. We typically promise to start exercising or lose 10 pounds — vows that somehow slip away within a few weeks. This year, my New Year’s blessing is: “May God make us like Jonah and Emmett.” My resolution for 2010 is to enjoy living, rather than to race toward the finish line. Because for all we know, life itself may only be a rehearsal.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.