a sense of peace




A dear friend of the family celebrated her Bat Mitzvah this weekend. In keeping with Jewish tradition, she was confirmed and recognized by her congregation as an adult upon her thirteenth birthday. The ceremony was beautiful and I found myself deeply moved by the passing of this age-old tradition from one generation to the next.

The Bat Mitzvah girl had an unusual honor. Her Torah reading fell on the very last portion of the Torah, as another year had ended and her congregation had made its way through the sacred text. Her reading, therefore told of the last days of Moses’s life – the time in which he knew that his days were short. With a sense of peace, he left his people in the care of Joshua on the plains of Moab and climbed Mount Nebo to die.

After the reading, the Rabbi brought the story to life. Moses, he told us, had led the Jewish people to the Promised Land. He had fulfilled his life’s work by guiding his children and sharing with them the message of God. He had then left them on the banks of the River Jordan, full with the knowledge that they would enter the Promised Land. It mattered not to Moses that he himself would never enter, for he knew that his children would.

It spoke, said the Rabbi, to his maturity as a man that Moses knew that he did not need to enter the Promised Land to be fulfilled. It spoke to his faith and his love for his children that he was filled with a sense of peace knowing that they would be taken care of – that they would be OK without him. This, he said, is the calling of a parent.

As the Rabbi spoke, Katie put her hand in mine and I nuzzled it to my cheek.

Over twenty years ago, I stood on the bank of the River Jordan. And I laughed. “That’s it?” I asked my mom. She shrugged her shoulders and said,”I guess so.” From where we stood, the river looked nearly narrow enough to jump from one side to the other. We snapped a photo and continued our journey, assured by our guide that we were standing close to the thinnest section of the great river. Down a ways, he assured us, you might just think you are standing at the edge of the world.

Our friend C will approach Brooke later in the evening at the Bat Mitzvah. She will crouch down to talk to her. Brooke will ask her name. C will tell her that she has seen pictures of her and that she has been looking forward to meeting her. She will not get her attention. I will prompt Brooke to answer appropriately and I will ask C to shorten her sentences. Brooke will ask her name again. C will ask how old she is and try to talk with her – about the party, her dress, school. Brooke will ask her name yet again. C will finally smile and graciously move on.

And as the conversation devolves I will remember the Rabbi’s words and I will ask myself – What if I can’t bring my child to her promised land? What if we cannot give her the tools to take herself across and over and through whatever lies between here and there? Who will be her Joshua when Luau and I are gone?

Calling or no, what if I never find the peace that Moses knew – the peace of knowing that she will be OK when we are not here?

The Rabbi went on to speak of responsibility. To declare oneself a Jew, he said, is to claim one’s moral and religious duty. As a member of the Jewish community, it is impossible to see injustice and to remain silent. It is impossible too, he said, to see a neighbor in need and to take no action. This world, he went on, is impossibly messed up. But still, we are incapable of not TRYING to make it better. It is what we do, he said. We try.

The Bat Mitzvah girl spoke about how she planned to take on her responsibility as a newly minted adult in her community. She spoke of the work that she will be doing for a local autism association. “It is because of my little friend Brooke,” she said, “that I do this. Being so close to little “Boots” and her family has shown me the need to advocate for research and resources for people with autism.” She stood before the congregation and said, “I want to do my part.”

Katie had no idea that this was coming and she looked up at me, shocked. “Mama,” she whispered, “did you hear that?” The tears were flowing – there was no question that I’d heard it.

At the end of the service, the Bat Mitzvah girl’s extended family joined her on the bimah (the elevated stage from which the Torah is read) for the lighting of the Havdalah candles, marking the end of the Sabbath – the Jewish day of rest. The Rabbi explained that the Havdalah candles are braided, and he held them up to show them to the congregation. Each candle was made from many smaller ones – two braided together then braided again with two others and so on. “Each of us,” he said, “has the ability to ignite one another’s fire. By letting our own light burn brightly we lend strength to one another, and as a family and a community we can then shine far more brightly than any of us ever could alone. It is with this communal strength,” he said, “that we can change our world.”

So maybe we can’t see the Promised Land yet. So what if Luau and I can’t necessarily find that turn of the river that allows us all to cross with relative ease? Perhaps we’re not meant to. Perhaps it is simply our job to help to light the candle. To lend to and gain strength from this community of people – all of us here who together may just find a way to deliver our children.

Maybe, just maybe, I can find a sense of peace in that.

23 thoughts on “a sense of peace

  1. Stunningly beautiful. This young girl and her rabbi have just reminded me of everything that is good and true in my religion, the religion I no longer practice but that is very much a part of my soul.

    PS We were camping on the banks of the River Jordan just a week and a half ago, and yes, to someone brought up on the stories and the songs and used to the vast quantities of water found in the East Coast it is in fact shockingly small. Beautiful in its own way all the same though.

  2. …and obviously, Jess, you do keep lighting those candles and so much more. Look how far Brooke has come. Look how far she will go. She is able to make tremendous strides.

    I love you.


  3. i know you will, honey. i know it. and then, you’ll find another big fat gift in that peace that will blow your socks off. trust me.

  4. Your writing is unbelievable.

    This point, the what will happen when I’m gone, will she be Okay?, who will be there? – is the big one, for me. Your analogy is beautiful. Your stories are inspiring. Please keep writing.

  5. Jess, this is so beautiful, so tender and poignant. I wonder, as Michelle wrote, if it’s really our children leading the way for us. xo

  6. You had me at ‘shalom’.

    Schmengie, I fully expected to have a laugh or two, knowing as you do, my love for all things Jewish.

    What I got was so much more.

    I used to joke that I was like Moses, looking for the Promised Land, in my darkest days of identification, early intervention, and utter terror.

    You have turned that around for me. A sense of peace indeed.

    Simply beautiful. I have the kadokhes.

  7. What a way with words.. so touching, and something all of us with our children with challenges can relate to. Something I have thought/felt but never put into words, thanks for giving me my words today, this will remain with me always when I think, what happens when Mike & I are gone.. will he be okay? Thank you for this bit of peace 🙂

  8. Like the rabbi said, we try. We cannot help but try. And as our children make their own journey and we hold their hands, brush the hair out of their eyes, point their shoulders in the right direction, we make our own parallel journey. In which our children are showing us how to be more peaceful, more accepting, more joyful in the present moment. And trying not to worry so much about tomorrow. Well, we can try.

  9. Jess,

    Thanks for the post…

    Neally and I have found Peace in Moses’ words just before he went up Mt Nebo…I love them and have them heavily underlined in my Bible…the last thing recorded about his life:

    “When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you–**they are your Life**. By them you will live long…”
    Deut 32:45-47

    We (Neally much more than me, truth be told…she teaches me) genuinely rest in God’s promises in His Word as we go through this life…He is our Peace.

    Take Care,
    Thank you for your friendship with Neally and our family,

  10. “So maybe we can’t see the Promised Land yet”

    it’s probably always going to be mixed. some of us are there. some of us will never get there. those others, the latter, they are going to exclude, send out hate vibes in subtle ways, sometimes overt ways. and it’s going to be brutal when that happens. for you, brooke, luau, katie. but you’ll have days like this to counter-balance the pain. a day when this amazingly wonderful person could have focused on herself, and chose to focus on others…this is the day you store, savor, break out on the days that hurt.

    and get her e-mail address. on the pain-days, e-mail her and make sure she knows how much that meant. “your words were with me today.”

  11. I am sobbing here…my mascara is running all over my face, at 12:54 am because I hadn’t the energy or motivation to wash my face, and here this 13 year old young lady totally gets what it means to be a woman. I am so ashamend and so moved. And so proud. And so lost.

    My love for you and your words move me so.

  12. I feel peace and warmth come off the page as I read this. It’s like the heat from the candle permeates every word. Just beautiful.

    Sounds like the future is in good hands with kids like this around.

  13. beautiful. really, what Jo said. One of your most textured, powerful posts.

    wonder if katie wants to have a bat mitzvah someday. sounds like something she might really love.

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