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04/06/2015 06:57:00 AM


Numbers 8- 12
Alligators Under The Bed
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

I learned most of my theology, not from my teachers, but from my children. When my daughter Nessa was three years old, we had a routine. Each night I would tuck her into bed, sing our bedtime prayers, kiss her good night, and attempt to sneak out of the room. Halfway down the hall, she began to scream: "Abba! There's an alligator under my bed! There's a monster in the closet! There's a giant spider on the ceiling! Abba!" An avid reader of Parents Magazine, the Torah of parenting, I know what to do: I walk back to the child's room and turn on every light. I look under the bed. "No alligator, Nessa." I check the closet. "No monsters, Nessa." I survey the ceiling. "No spiders, Nessa. Now go to bed. Tomorrow is coming and you've got to get to sleep. Everything is safe. Good night." "OK Abba," she agrees, "But leave a light on."

 We did this dance for an entire year until one night I stopped myself walking down the hall and asked myself the question: Who is right? Whose description of the world is empirically, factually, correct? The child afraid of alligators under the bed? Or the father who reassures her that everything is safe and tomorrow is surely coming? The truth is that the child is certainly correct. She doesn't know the names of the alligators under the bed. She doesn't know about cancer, about AIDS, about drive-by shootings and lunatics who steal children. We grown ups, we know their names, and yet we still insist to our children that the world is safe enough to trust for this one night. All loving parents do this. Even the most hard-boiled atheist says to his kid, "Tomorrow is coming, you're safe tonight, go to sleep."

This is a the beginning of spirituality, our experience of God's presence. Perhaps seventeen year-olds can proclaim their disbelief. It's easy for them -- they don't put children to bed each night. They are isolated -- there is no one whose life and hope depends upon them. But those of us who live with others, who live for others, we know better. Having children, raising children, loving another with all our soul is an exercise in spirituality.

Spirituality is not something added onto life. It is underneath life, just beneath the surface of consciousness. It represents the answers to the ultimate questions of our lives -- questions we may never have consciously asked, but whose answers ring through our daily actions. Why do we get up out of bed in the morning? Where do we find the hope, strength, inspiration to go on each day? How do we cope with all that's terrifying in life?

Judaism is a way, a language, for asking these questions consciously. It is a way of sharing the answers of the generations that have come before us. And it is a discipline for facing our fears, listening to the questions, and searching out the answers.

In the week's Torah portion, Behaalot'cha, the journey toward the Promised Land resumes. Interrupted for the two year encampment at Mt. Sinai, the trek through the perilous and mysterious wilderness will now continue. But before the march commences, instructions are given for the kindling of the menorah, the sacred lamps. Judaism is that menorah -- the light left on at night -- a gift of wisdom and hope whenever we suspect that there are alligators under the bed.

 * This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.



Tue, August 11 2020 21 Av 5780