The last first day


I have been thinking a great deal about the significance of this day, for it marks the end of a 29-year-streak. It is the last time I will bless one of my children as they go off for the first day of school.

Since September of 1983 when my oldest son left the house to go to kindergarten, I have had a child in school or college, (even earlier if we include nursery school). Ever since that fall day some 29 years ago, I have had the joy of asking God to watch and protect my children as they
begin a new school year.

Part of what goes through my mind each year on their first day of school and then, later when they left for college, as I gently place my hands over their heads and ask God to watch over them is the recognition that they are going to be on their own, and that I will not be with them. I will not be able to catch them when they fall, console them when another child is unkind or excludes them from a play group, or help them respond to the vagaries and unknown challenges they will encounter. And so I send them off to the unknown with the words of the priestly blessing from the book of Numbers. “May the Lord bless you and watch over you. May the Lord let His Countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look kindly upon you and grant you peace.”

Reciting a blessing for my children binds me with them in a unique way. It reminds both me and them of our fragility and vulnerability, of our human limitations, of life’s uncertainties and randomness. Quietly and pensively invoking a prayer connects both the one who is saying the prayer and the one who is being blessed to all that and to a higher Divine Being.

I vaguely recall my father saying something when my youngest brother graduated from high school that he was happy his days as a member of the PTA and of teacherparent meetings were over. My feeling and point of reference is different. I think not just in terms of meetings, classes, or expenses, or other things that will no longer be a part of my life.

I will miss sharing that moment, that opportunity to impart spirituality, being united in a sacred bond. I hope and am confident I will have other chances to convey and express an appreciation of the importance of walking life in the presence of God. But no longer will it be as I send a child off to that first day of school.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Tzedek.

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