Julie Shlensky reads to her students at Congregation Shalom.
In addition to doing Torah Study with the Religious School during Sunday mornings, I have the pleasure of visiting individual classrooms, to speak about a Jewish tradition or teaching when our faculty is focusing their teaching on specific subjects. A few weeks ago, our second grade teachers who have been teaching the beginning of B’reisheit, Genesis, with their students asked me to come in to share a well -known Midrash (Rabbinic story) about the letter Bet: ב which begins the very first word of Torah.
The story focuses on the configuration of the letter along, with the way Hebrew is written from right to left. And the story tells us, that God spoke everything into creation, beginning with the Bet, and as you can see, the letter opens up to the right and one could actually visualize in their minds, the idea that everything that ever was, is, or will be, flows out of the opening that is the source of all. The story goes on to teach, that before God spoke the Bet, there was only God and nothing else and concludes with the understanding that the only way God could bring God’s goodness and creative inclination into the universe, was to first create the universe.
You might think that was the end of the learning, you might think that such a story is too complex or esoteric for children who are only seven or eight years old to understand, so the students’ reactions could be surprising. The students were enthralled with the story adding their ideas and questions and when we finished, one of the great moments in teaching happened. One of the students raised his hand and asked, “OK, God created everything, but who created God???”
Never have I ever been as gladdened to not have an answer to a question before!
I explained to this budding philosopher/theologian that his question is the question humanity has been asking and struggling with since the dawn of human history. I also told these students that I have pondered and thought about his question for all of my life and I expect to continue to wonder about it and I know that I will never be able to answer it, but that the real knowledge comes about whenever we are curious about things and we question, think, read and discuss these awesome human mysteries.
These moments and questions are the places of inquiry and critical thinking that we want to encourage in our students along with all of the learning about Judaism and menschlikeit that we want for them too.
Congregation Shalom’s Religious School serves students from pre-k to 12th grade. We infuse our curriculum with all areas of Jewish tradition and Torah in an environment that encourages community throughout the school.
Rabbi Marcey Rosenbaum is the Rabbi Educator and Director of Life Long Learning at Congregation Shalom.