Learning What Counts

May 17, 2013

We are, to be sure, a people who count. We count our blessings and from the 
second night of Pesach, we count the omer until we reach Shavuot. Left to my own devices, I inevitably forget the whole endeavor by day three of the forty-nine-day cycle. My youngest son, however, rarely fails to turn the scroll on his omer-tracker.

Having drawn close to the foot of Mount Sinai on Shavuot, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between our desert wanderings and the antics of my children. 

Eager to be where we were going, we behaved incorrigibly towards Moshe. With the insistence of a toddler, we wanted water and we wanted it now. We challenged authority like typical adolescents – remember the golden calf? — and we broke the most sacred of rules. It felt as if we will roam the desert forever, until our circuitous route enabled us to figure out exactly who we are. 

It was, in fact, those detours along the way that were so invaluable to our development. That’s why G-d kept us out there for forty years. And we did get there, rising to the occasion and agreeing to the Torah’s terms before we even knew the details. 

I believe, too, that my boys will get where they are destined to go whether or not I insist that they put away their laundry. And yet, it is precisely the little annoyances, the ones that exasperate them – the requests to load the dishwasher and schlepp in the groceries, for example – that will polish them to a buff shine in time for me to hand them off, G-d willing, to their brides. 

Besides, the best route isn’t always the direct line between two points. Forks in the road give us the chance to stop and think, rather than run on autopilot. 

We bring children into the world, but we cannot forecast their futures, nor can we predict every leg of their individual journeys. Like most parents in our community, my husband and I always assumed that our boys would attend yeshiva, yet our youngest goes to the local public elementary school. The choice, though still fraught with anguish, was evidently clear. 

I will not lie and say that there was no disappointment on our part. I will also not pretend that we were never frustrated with the yeshiva’s limitations or furious with teachers and principals who were simply not interested in trying to fit our square peg into their round schools. But at the end of the long, soul-searching day, we suspected correctly that it was in public school that he would find a smoother path to academic fulfillment.

Though we have tried to create a parallel Jewish school experience for him, he has regrettably missed opportunities along the way. For now, he learns regularly with a morah and a rebbe, and all evidence thank G-d points to him reaching the same Jewish milestones as his brothers. From his very beginnings, he has charted his own course, and we have taken the enormous leap of faith required to accept that. 

When others wonder at our decision, I point them to the lessons found in the actual giving of the Torah. G-d did not have the tablets waiting in His outstretched arms when we reached the other side of the Red Sea. He first demanded proof of both our faith and our fortitude by winding us through a rigorous physical and spiritual obstacle course, one we could not initially comprehend. 

Though it is primarily Jewish wisdom that guides me as we approach Shavuot, I also find myself consulting the sports philosophy imparted by my sons: Every play is the most important of the game. 

Our desert meanderings were never for naught. After all, G-d gave us His Torah in an unforgettable, grand slam in the last game of the series sort of way. All of us – generations past, present and future – were there to witness it. Regardless of our background or our place in time, there could have been no doubt that we all counted in His eyes.