In this week’s Torah portion we read that the Children of Israel were guided in their wandering through the Desert by a cloud, which appeared like a fire at night. When the cloud settled to the ground they camped, and when it lifted they struck camp and traveled, following the earthly manifestation of divinity through time and space for forty years.
Our Rabbinic tradition tells us that this journey in the wilderness was purposeful – how could it have been otherwise if it was taken under divine guidance? They tell us that the generation that left Egypt was not spiritually ready to inherit or reclaim the land of Israel. We have evidence in this generation’s repeated whining and complaining – they are not comfortable with their new lives, and grumble often. Moses is so stressed by the complaints that he actually refers to the Israelites as infants as he asks G-d why he was chosen to bear the burden of leading this newborn nation.
What we are reading about is actually a powerful metaphor for parenting/educating a developing child. From a child’s perspective, the movements of their family can feel confusing. Decisions, at least at first, are typically made without a great deal of their input. The family is on a schedule that can feel perplexing, particularly if it isn’t routine. Changes often happen in fits and starts, rather than in constant or consistent ways – a new home, a change in location or schooling, new family members, etc. The child is following the fuzzy guidance of a powerful adult that they can’t truly comprehend.
Eventually, this developmental journey leads to adulthood. Along the way, we do our best to prepare our children with the skills, habits, and knowledge they will need when they begin to govern themselves, just as the Israelites eventually did with the establishment of their monarchy.
As we head towards the end of the school year, it is appropriate to think about the developmental changes we are seeing in our own children. What can they do now that they couldn’t at this time last year? How has their identity grown? What parts of their inner lives do we know, and what parts do we wonder about?
This Shabbat, ask your children to reflect with you about their growth, but don’t forget to think about your own growth with them, too! If we want our children to understand that growth is a lifelong objective, we have to walk that walk together with them.