How did it happen? How did he do it? How did we do it?
He’s almost 10 now. He still has so many echoes of his tiny self. Those big eyes. The rosy cheeks. The sweet cuddles and the smile that melts my heart.
But now the eyes have a better-proportioned head around them. The rosy cheeks once porcelain and smooth now have freckles and even a well-earned scar or two. The cuddles are only in private. The smile is older, and it’s wiser.
It doesn’t seem long ago that we hired a Jewish studies/Hebrew tutor. We homeschool our sons, so Hebrew and Jewish education are one of the things we “outsource.” His tutor noted early on how much he loves the structure of learning, how much he wants to do more and more, how astute he is. I was like that in Hebrew school. I remember.
So it shouldn’t surprise me. But it did.
The other night, I started to chant the V’ahavta at bedtime. It’s the first paragraph of the Shema, the one that is inside of every mezuzah scroll. It’s the prayer I learned in my Reform synagogue when I was just about his age.
So why was I so surprised?
Why was I moved to tears when a small voice, a raspy voice, a voice I first heard as I pulled this boy out of my body the night he was born–why was I surprised when that voice joined mine? I laughed, and I kept chanting, leaving the endings of the numerous words in the V’ahavta for his voice to fill in. I would say EloKe–and he would finish the word: “cha!” I said nafshe–and he said, “cha.”
He has learned the V’ahavta. My son. Third generation American. Assimilated. Not raised in religious school or in a religious neighborhood. He learned it.
Place these words which I command you this day on your heart. On your soul. Speak of them in your home and on your way. Bind them as a sign on your hands and place them between your eyes. Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Be mindful, my son.
I learned these words and never imagined what joy I would have to hear you sing them with me. I can hear you smiling through the words in the darkness. I’m smiling too. I can feel you snuggle close to me as we sing together. It means something that we chant together.
Look at what God has done for us. Look at what our tradition has done for us. They have given us something to share, to learn, to love.
I will chant with you as long as you let me. And someday you will become a bar mitzvah and I will cry and cry and cry because I remember when you were born, and I remember when you weaned, like Isaac weaned. And I will remember the first time we recited V’ahavta together and I will remember what it is like to fall in love with you with all of my heart, with all of my soul, and with all of my might.
Love the Lord your God, Miles, with everything in you. And one day, lay with your child and chant with them. And remember me.