Jewish learning Just Me and My Baby
Shmini Atzeret / Simchat Torah
We are coming to the end of the Jewish calendar’s long season of introspection, accountability, celebration, and many many prayers for rain, for renewal, and for redemption. With Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur behind us, and our sukkot perhaps not holding themselves up so well, every lulav is by now, we hope, very thoroughly shaken. Many of us have had lots of time with family, with community, and with our own best and worst selves.
Jewish observance is many things to many people. For some of us, it takes an enormous amount of time and effort. Even if we feel that Judaism is a path that we actively choose for ourselves, there are parts of it that we may not like or that we just don’t know how to make sense of. Judaism can be exhausting and it can leave us feeling like we really aren’t sure we are “doing it right.”
And then at the very end of this string of holidays, we are invited to take a break that mostly involves hugging a scroll of Torah and dancing around with it. Simchat Torah, a day for rejoicing with the scrolls of Torah—and by extension, with the whole of Jewish tradition itself—could not come at a better time.
While Simchat Torah celebrations are often boisterous, my favorite part is that moment of sweet intimacy when I get to take a Torah in my arms. I have often experienced this moment as akin to snuggling a small loved one. Even if I am in a crowd, hugging a Torah scroll always feels like now it’s just me and my baby. In fact, in the many, many years that I wanted children and did not have them, Simchat Torah evoked this particularly longing in me. Holding Torah and feeling held by it, feeling like everything was right with the world right now, and at the same time wishing I had this kind of sweetest of sweet moments with actual children of my own.
Parenting the actual children that I now have does not live up to my pre-children fantasies nearly as much as I would like. Packing lunch boxes and getting kids out the door induces a level of anxiety bordering on chest-tightening panic almost every morning. Additionally, it turns out that I am quicker to yell at small children than I could have possibly imagined. The boredom of extended bedtimes is so emotionally itchy that it makes me want to crawl out of my skin. And the wiping, so very much wiping, of runny noses, and food-smeared faces, and poopy butts feels truly endless.
And then, just when I am feeling full-up with the aspects of parenting that are tedious, odious, and make me feel completely incompetent, my preschooler smiles at me mid-bedtime and says, “Now I be a baby rainbow cat and you be Sharon.” I am so honored that I have been invited to take on the role of his beloved ganenet (preschool teacher). In our household’s world of fantasy play, she has become the unparalleled paragon of caring. My son’s suggestion that I could possibly embody such an exemplar snaps me out of my funk. We each take on our appointed roles and proceed to have many joyful minutes together of mewing and cuddling as “Sharon” feeds and pets the baby rainbow cat.
We owe it to all of our complex relationships to savor these delightful and cuddly parts, to allow them to help us get through the rest. May our dancing and snuggling with Torah this Simchat Torah be as sweet as the quiet breathing of the baby rainbow cat who is sleeping nearby as I type.
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Founder and president of Fat Torah, Rabbi Minna Bromberg, PhD is passionate about bringing her three decades of experience in fat activism to writing, teaching and change-making at the nexus of Judaism and body liberation. Her forthcoming book is Every Body Beloved: a call for fat liberation in Jewish life. Minna received her doctorate in sociology from Northwestern University, with a dissertation on identity formation in interfaith couples, and was ordained at Hebrew College in 2010. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Rabbi Dr. Alan Abrams, and their two children.
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