June 29, 2022 -

Passing the Torah – Susan Ringel, Fairmount Temple Religious School 3rd Grade Instructor

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This blog post on “If Not Now, When?” the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple was written by Susan Ringel, Fairmount Temple member, third grade religious school and Women of Fairmount Temple instructor. It is a reflection on a recent experience shared as part of her religious school classroom in our Fairmount Temple Religious School. For more information on the Fairmount Temple Religious School program, see: http://www.fairmounttemple.org/lifelong-learning/religious-school/ or contact Marla Wolf, Religious School Director at mwolf@fairmounttemple.org or 216-464-1330. Feel free to share and to post this article, or comments below on the blog.

This past Sunday in our third grade classroom, we didn’t pass the sweet potatoes or the stuffing or the latkes. We passed the Torah.

It was the final lesson in our Torah unit, so the classroom Torah – which is much bigger than a Consecration Torah but much smaller than a real Torah – came out of its cardboard box. The madrichim held the scroll open while I, using a yad, pointed to the words from Vayikra: “k’doshim t’hiyu.” We learned this in our first lesson on Torah back in September. Adonai tell us, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.”

In the past few months, we have learned many lessons from the Torah from the URJ’s Chai Curriculum, like why we say a prayer before and after we eat, what foods are kosher, why we make Shabbat kadosh, and how to criticize others with respect / “tochecha.” The kids listen, make great comments and ask terrific questions. I just love our Sunday mornings!

Concurrently, I continue to learn with the Women of Anshe Chesed in the “Jewish Book of Why” class. Last time, we discussed the Talmud. I thought of a midrash but couldn’t recall all of it. Something about when we are “in utero,” we are taught the whole Torah, but then we forget it when we are born. I found this retelling from Torah.org:

“According to the Talmud, every Jewish baby is taught all of Torah in its mother’s womb, after which it is sworn to fulfill all the mitzvot and his or her own personal potential. Just before birth, an angel ‘touches’ the child below the nose (creating that unusual single channel between the nose and upper lip [philtrum]), causing forgetfulness. Post-birth life is for recalling that knowledge. Therefore, learning Torah is more a process of recollection than it is of learning ‘new’ ideas. That is why a person, upon understanding a concept, feels a sense of familiarity with the idea as if he once knew it but forgot it, and will often say, ‘Ahaaaah. I get it.’ ”

That story was on my mind in the classroom on Sunday, when we held our Torah ceremony. We stood in a circle, passed the Torah one by one, said “Chazak Chazak v’nitchazek,” and stated something we learned about Torah. The students’ voices were soft, and their comments were sincere and brief.

And, yes, something happened in that room when everyone held the Torah. The boys stopped fidgeting. The girls stopped chattering. The madrichim stopped thinking about how much homework they have. I stopped watching the clock, stopped worrying if we would be late for t’filah.

I realized that when we hold the Torah, it feels both heavy and light, wobbly and steady, awkward and comfortable. It is a moment when we say, “Ah, I get it … Ah, I remember.”

— Susan Ringel