Shavuot: A holiday for seven-year-olds too
By TED ROBERTS, the Scribbler on the Roof
My seven year old granddaughter usually visits around Shavuot. She
loves to visit her doting grandfather. Naturally. What’s not to like? We eat ice cream. Fudge ripple’s her favorite – our ONLY incompatibility.
(Why do kids like their ice cream full of bubble gum, candy, crumbled cookies and various edible toys?)
I tell her stories. I even ride her around the yard on my riding mower.
This child’s mother is a loving, dutiful daughter who calls her indulgent father weekly and occasionally remembers his birthday with
a pair of socks only a size or two wrong or, maybe, a box of hankies
that always fit.
That’s why I describe this granddaughter as admirable. For example
she knows almost all the Jewish holidays. “Sarah,” I say, “tell me
“We eat matzoh and bubbe makes canadlach.” Right on the money.
“OK, Sarah, here’s a hard one – Purim.”
“Oh, that’s easy. Hamatashen.” Excellent.
“Chanukah. What about Chanukah?”
“Latkes and applesauce.”
An admirable child. She knows as much about the holidays as my adult friends, except for Herbie, who knows that latkes are also delicious with sour cream.
But I didn’t want to embarrass her with questions about Shavuos. I was afraid she’d flunk the quiz. So I sat her down at our kitchen table and told her the story of the holiday. The “Gonza Megellah” as my own Zayde used to say. I told her all about the tribulations her ancestors suffered on the trek to the Holy Mountain.
Specifically, I mention the absence of ice cream, candy, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and ballet lessons. I tell her that little girls of seven
had to leave their doll babies back in Egypt. And I remind her that
automobiles and buses were three millennia away and most little girls
didn’t even had a donkey to ride on.
Then I tell her about the epiphany on the mountain – the Ten Commandments and the Torah.
“Can you imagine our good luck, Sarah? He gave it to us. He could
have given it to a lotta other nations. . . .”
“So why did he give it to us?” she interrupts.
Hmmm, tough question. I don’t want to taint her Jewish pride with arrogance, but I also don’t want to make an ethical equivalence between our team and the hairy heathens that inhabited that corner of creation: the Philistines, Hittites, and Amalekites. If you gave a Torah to an Amalekite, he’d use it to prop open the wine cellar door!
There’s a fine line to walk between pride and arrogance. I’d like to build a little ethnic pride, but I don’t want her wearing a “I hate Hittites” T-shirt. Nor do I want her to spend her life in court defending herself from litigious Hittites. (You can’t call ‘em Hitts, ya know.)
“Have a little more chocolate ripple,” I suggest. Then I explain that
the joy of Torah brings with it heavy responsibilities obedience. Honor and obedience go together just like when the teacher chooses you to be hall monitor.
I try to explain that the divine book is an encyclopedia of regulations, history, and poetry. Those regulations are especially important because rules make civilization. Nations and Zaydes and seven-year-old, ice cream eating little girls all need rules. Not a terribly chic notion for the modern era.
Every year at Shavuot my explanation contains another layer of understanding. Maybe next year I’ll give her the “what if” hypothesis. What if no Torah? No Commandments? We might be dressed in wolf skins full of fleas and carrying a sharpened stick to protect ourselves from our neighbors, who never heard of the Ten Commandments.
And the year after that I’ll explain that the holy book shaped Christianity and Mohammedism as well as Judaism. You could say, without hesitation: No Torah – No Western civilization.
And without generations of Torah study, who’d have the intellectual
curiosity or mental muscle to discover refrigeration for fudge ripple
“How ‘bout that, Sarah? And did you ever read about a Hittite lapping up a bowl of fudge ripple? Well, there!!”