I was recently thinking about one of the things that I love most about working in a day school setting: learning with and from the students.
Two of the fifth grade Judaica teachers asked me if I would help a group of fifth graders prepare a Dvar Torah for the school’s annual meeting. Without any hesitation, I said yes. For the past two years, I had led a Dvar Torah workshop for the fifth grade, where each student learns how to prepare a meaningful Dvar Torah. This would be an opportunity to see how much this year’s class had learned.
We worked out that they would identify six students, three from each class, for this project, and I would choose a passage to focus on with the group. I was delighted that my daughter Hadar was one of the six students asked. The passage that I selected was the Priestly Blessing (aka Birkat Kohanim), which my children have heard recited in whispered tones over their heads every Friday night:
May God bless you and keep you.
May God’s face shine upon you and may God be gracious to you.
May God lift up God’s face to you and grant you peace.
So they will place my name upon B’nai Yisrael, and I will bless them.
This team of six students spent five lunchtimes working through the process of writing a Dvar Torah. We decided that the Dvar Torah would be in the form of a skit about two students…preparing to write a Dvar Torah. The first thing we did was to look at the text of Birkat Kohanim and generate a list of questions about it. Their questions flowed like water: What does “God’s face” mean? Why does it mention “God’s face” two times? Why does the blessing say “bless you” and “keep you”? What does “gracious” mean? What does it mean to place God’s name upon us? What is the light of God’s face? I was blown away by the sensitivity of these six students to the subtleties reading the Biblical text.
As a group, we chose one question for our focus: Why does the blessing say “bless you” and “keep you”? One student prepared a summary of the entire Torah portion for the skit. Two others were the “students” and wrote out the skit. Three other students each assumed the persona of a classic rabbinic commentary, learned what a particular rabbi said about Birkat Kohanim, and thought about how that commentary relates to our lives today.
During each lunch time, we worked on one aspect of the process, and by the end of our five sessions together, they wrote a Dvar Torah that demonstrated just how much they had learned this year. They were excited about learning Torah with classic commentaries. They read and interpreted rabbinic commentaries comfortably. They connected the insights of rabbis living centuries ago to their lives today. They discussed among themselves the various commentaries, what they meant and their responses to them. They poured their own personalities into our ancient texts and made them come alive.
Through our group process, we all gained the following insights into this blessing:
Rashi taught us that one could interpret the “blessing” as wealth or material possessions, and the “keeping” as God keeping them from being stolen. Rashi helped us remember to appreciate not only the receiving of a gift but holding onto what we receive.
The Rabbis taught us that the “blessing” could be interpreted as our material possessions, but the “keeping” is God helping us to perform good deeds with what we have. The Rabbis helped us remember to share our good fortune with others, no matter how much or how little we have.
Ibn Ezra taught us that this blessing refers not only to material possessions but also to long life and family, reminding us that wealth is not only measured in dollars and cents, but also in health, heart and soul.
I cherish every moment that I have spent teaching students, listening to them, and getting to know them. I cherish those moments not for how much I have taught them, but for how much they have taught me.
Usually, we think it is the parents who are the vehicles for God’s blessing of the children. For me, it is the children who have become the vehicle for God’s blessing in my life.
AS A FAMILY:
Parshat Naso covers a wide range of topics, from assigning people special jobs, jealousy, the taking of special vows, blessings and the giving of gifts. Birkat Kohanim can be read as a blessing that helps us see what we have as gifts from God. The Rabbis teach that only someone who is happy with what they have can truly be happy. At the same time, jealousy is a normal human emotion. In Parshat Naso, we read about a jealous husband. Talk to your kids about their feelings of jealousy and comparing themselves to others.
- What makes us jealous?
- What might help us deal with our feelings of jealousy?
- Have feelings of jealousy ever led to do something that you now regret?
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS WEEK’S TORAH PORTION NASO, ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS:
- What were the names of the three Levite families that served in the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting), and who supervised them?
- At what age were Levites performing this service required to retire from their work?
- How many men were in these three families between the ages of 30 and 50?
- What was Moses told to do with people with tzara’at (a skin affliction), and why?
- Who else was sent outside the camp?
- What did a Nazi need to avoid during the period of their vow?
- Can you name a famous Nazir from the Tanakh? (Hint: Read the Haftarah this week!)
- When the Mishkan and all their accessories were completed, and ready for service, the Princes of the tribes brought offerings. What were the offerings and who received them?
- The princes also brought a dedication gift or offering. Were the dedication offerings of the princes all the same, and if not, how did they differ?
- Over how many days did the dedication take place?
- On what holiday do we read the section about the Mishkan offerings? (Hint: Think cold thoughts.)