Fridays with Amy

My friend recently told me about her “favorite hour of the week” – Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein at Kehillat Israel. “It’s my vitamin,” she’d gushed. I decided to try it out.

I’m hooked. I enjoy these stolen moments of spirituality and lessons in how-to-be-a-human. So occasionally on Fridays, I’m going to write about the best wisdom-nuggets from that morning’s Torah study.

Today: The Innocence of Children (aka The First “Dream Act”)

(For those who want to follow along, this morning we read Numbers, chapters 13 and 14.)

I’ll cut to the chase. God had had it with the Israelites. Totally furious and fed up. (Ever had one of those days with the kids?) God had led these former slaves out of Egypt, shown them the land of milk and honey, but they were too scared to fight for it. “We’d rather die in the wilderness than go there,” they said.

God was ready to kill them. But good old Moses interceded, praising God as “abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression.” God cooled off.

A bit. “Okay, you want to die in the wilderness? You got it.” God let them wander another 40 years in the wilderness, until the adult generation who couldn’t shake off their enslaved mentality was gone. They wouldn’t see the promised land. But God did not consign their children to the same fate. Their children were spared.

“Your children who, you said, would be carried off — these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected.”

At this point in the story, Rabbi Amy paused. “Judaism never holds children responsible. After they become B’Nei Mitzvah they are responsible for their choices, but never before.”

I think how this is reflected in our modern culture – the separate Juvenile court system, a minor’s inability to enter a contract, or even how my son couldn’t log on to vote for MLB All-Stars online, because his birth year revealed his youth. We do not hold children responsible, certainly not for the actions of their adults.

I drove away from the synagogue out to the secular world of errands and work, and flipped on the car radio. The big news of the day brought me right back to Torah study. President Obama had announced a policy to allow the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents, to stay. (Or at least to apply for work visas for two years.)

As the radio report concluded, I thought with pride: We have a Jewish President.

Yes, yes, opponents will say this act was a political attempt to woo voters. Maybe, maybe not. All policies are political — if you enact policies people agree with, they will vote for you. And if you act with kindness and forgiveness to children who are willing and eager to live the American dream, to toil in our land of milk and honey, you are living the values of Torah, and you’ve got my vote.

9 thoughts on “Fridays with Amy

  1. Your post is a good one. Of course, there is the Judeo-Christian tradition. You don’t have to be Jewish to believe that children are not accountable for their parents actions. I will vote for Obama. His humanist leanings come from many sources. Still, I do think it’s nice for you to make the connections between torah study and current events.
    from cousin Susan, a fan.

    1. Good point, Susan, it’s not only Judaism that recognizes this value. I just figured as long as other groups are claiming him as their first, I could hop on that train, too. 🙂

  2. Laura, I love your writing and your kind heart. The fact is that there are and always have been ways to apply for American citizenship, and the parents of these children did them no favor by smuggling them into our country. Now we are faced with the the dilema of putting them in front of people who do it the right way. A problem for Solomon. Joyce

    1. Thank you, Joyce. There are ways of coming to our country with permission, of course. I believe the policy announced yesterday does not put any of these youth on the path to citizenship, so they are not in line ahead of anyone else — they are not even in line. It only allows them to apply for two-year work visas. It doesn’t even guarantee that they’ll get the work visa. Perhaps a solution from Solomon.

  3. Go Laura, Go Laura!!!! I too love the Friday’s I get to go to Torah Study with you and Amy (and Mom) at KI. Sorry I missed this last one, but, it was to be there for my child.

  4. Yes, I do agree that the children are not responsible and that we have to work out a legal way to fix the dilema of all these children who regard themselves as Americans. This solution can’t be by Presidential fiat. All this does and all that Obama has done since day one is alienate those of us who see things another way. If he cotinues another 4 years, our country will be bankrupt and lose all our friends. Jewish President? Ask Netanhayu if he agrees. By the way, if you don’t want this to be a forum for political debate, just let me know. I respect the fact that this is your wonderful blog! Love, Joyce

    1. I welcome your opinions. Even if they make me crazy. 🙂

      It’s funny, and sad, that you feel precisely about Obama the way millions of people felt about George Bush. You didn’t feel alienated for 8 years. Now that you’ve had a President with whom you disagree, you get a sense of how others felt. It’s no different. Maybe it’s always going to be that way…half the people believing the world is ending for 4 or 8 years, until it’s the other half’s turn to feel that way.

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