In many ways the theme of this event is the verse from today's haftorah, Jeremiah 17:8: with regard to the righteous man "he is like a tree planted near water, and to the stream he sends his roots, and he will not see that the heat has come and his leaves will be fresh, and in a drought year he will not worry and will not cease from producing fruit." Debbie based the beautiful invitation to this simcha on this verse. The image has a particular resonance for Gabi, since the streambed where this metaphorical tree grows is where you find fish and birds and frogs, and all the wildlife about which Gabi is crazy. And this verse is a particularly vivid metaphor for us, standing as we are here in a dry land only a few meters from our own little arroyo surrounded by trees which derive part of their sustenance from the waters the arroyo carries above and below ground.
However, this verse is a especially appropriate statement about Gabi on a much more meaningful level. Jeremiah was obviously speaking about spiritual sustanence. The Torah, the totality of Jewish life, has been called Etz Hayim, the tree of life, and Mayim Hayim, water of life. Jeremiah is saying that even in a Jewishly arid environment the dedicated Jew can seek out the stream of Jewish values and thrive.
We find ourselves in a desert as far as the type of Jewish learning and observance we value. A large fraction of the Jewish population of Santa Fe is unaffiliated, and unfortunately the established community is fragmented. And yet Gabi draws sustenance from the Jewish world in which he is embedded, and has internalized a fearsome drive and discipline to pursue both Jewish and secular knowledge. He went to Israel last summer with his Montreal grandparents, and now Israel is "his." From a tape of Torah trope made by the rabbi of our synagogue in San Diego, Gabi taught himself to chant his parasha. As you may know, he has been studying Torah and Hebrew with his saba in a weekly telephone lesson. When we pulled him out the crazy school he began this year, he added a second lesson in Hebrew with his safta. We are technically homeschooling him this semester; more accurately, he is homeschooling himself: he gets up in the morning, takes a dip in the Jacuzzi, and then attacks the variety of subjects he is studying. Rarely does he have to be told to practice piano, and when he plays, he expresses his deep, fierce spirit.
For most kids, Jewish learning is something to parrot back as required by the adults who control their lives, or is a source of closed minded chnyokishness. But Gabi has a real yiddishe neshama. He does not resist Jewish observance, but instead participates with enthusiasm, as you can tell from the past few days. Gabi takes a real pleasure in all that he learns, and in applying his learning. A few months ago we were at a Friday night dinner at Chabad up the street. Rabbi Levertov posed the problem of why God allows murder. We all pontificated about the nature of humans, free will and the role of red meat in inducing violence. Gabi very simply quoted the midrash that Moses was destined to be a murderer, but of his own free will changed his destiny.
Gabi has reached the age when he cannot be told anything. Perhaps that is why the rabbis chose 13 years as the point when a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah; there is little the parents can do if a child doesn't have it by this point. We have every confidence that Gabi will continue to send his roots forward to draw spiritual and intellectual sustenance from all sources of good water, Jewish and secular, and will have the intelligence and integrity to choose between good and bad water.
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