The Well-known African Proverb, “It takes a Village to Raise a Child” was made even more famous when then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a book about her vision for children in this country with the same title. The ikar, or essence, of this proverb is that as parents we have a large role and responsibility in shaping the types of men and women our children become, but the community around us, the people we surround ourselves with, clergy and teachers, friends and dedicated lay leaders, ultimately have just as much of a role in shaping who they become.
This proverb came to mind when studying this week’s Torah portion. This Shabbat, we read Parashat Ki Tissa and the infamous account of the Egel Zahav, the Golden Calf. The Israelites got nervous and antsy waiting for Moses to descend from Mount Sinai and built an idol to worship rather than worshipping the God that had just redeemed them from slavery. Upon seeing this Moses, who was holding the tablets of the covenant – the ten commandments – in hand, slammed them on the ground and they shattered.
We read in Exodus 32:19 – “He threw the tablets out of his hands and shattered them at the base of the mountain.”
We assume that Moses did so out of anger and frustration. He saw the Israelites – a people who had just been freed – dancing around a Golden Calf and lost his temper. He threw the tablets on the ground in protest suggesting that the Israelites don’t deserve God’s Divine word.
However, I’d like to offer another explanation. The Kabbalists teach that the tablets were very heavy and large, almost impossible for one individual to carry on his own. Moses was able to carry them though because he knew he was not alone. He understood that the People of Israel in its entirety were “carrying” these tablets as well. When he saw that this was not the case he realized that the weight was too great, the burden too heavy, and he dropped them.
God’s word and our understanding of God is the basis of all that we do and how we live our lives as Jews. We strive to walk in God’s ways and live a life as God’s messengers made in God’s image. Through ritual and prayer, both fixed and spontaneous, we strive to create personal revelatory experiences with the Divine. We wish this for our children as well: a life filled with God’s Presence.
Thus, we realize that we cannot do this alone. We cannot give our children meaningful Jewish experiences alone. Even if we have a Jewish home and live a Jewish life, we thrive in a Jewish community. For it is the community that holds up the heavy weight of our tradition, of our rituals, of our opportunities to wrestle with God. We cannot be Jews alone. A Jew cannot live a vibrant Jewish life alone in a deserted island. We need the support of a community to create those vibrant experiences. We, as parents, need teachers and rabbis and cantors and youth group advisors and role models to mold our children. Together, in creating vibrant communities, we carry the tablets of the covenant high above our heads. After all, it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to create meaningful and vibrant Jewish experiences.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky