The odd thing about being a parent is that as soon as you get used to one stage of your kids' development, they move onto the next stage and you have to start all over again, learning what to do and what they need. They always stay one step ahead of us, don't they? And all we're left with is sort of a cross between following them and guiding them as they cross over into the next land.
Transitions are hard, which is a cliché but nevertheless, it's true. Transitions can be awkward or abrupt. They can be uncertain or clear. But they are wrenching, because a relationship that was at least defined, is being redefined.
This is where we find ourselves at the end of Leviticus, at the end of our time at the base of the Mountain. The long list of instructions from God and Moses are coming to an end, and it will be time to move on from the Mountain. Who knows what waits in the wilderness? Well, we do, because we've already read the book, but the Israelites don't know. They don't know if God is going to continue to protect them and if there will be water and food. They're literally going to be setting out, on foot, on faith and a promise.
Moses can only do so much in these last instructions. At the end of Leviticus (Vayikra), Moses sets forth the list of blessings that will flow from obeying the laws set forth by God, and the far more numerous (and graphic!) curses that will ensue if the people disobey. The blessings all have to do with the things that are most important to us-food, family and freedom from fear. (I will grant peace in the Land and you will lie down and no one will terrify you." (Lev. 26:6) The curses cover the same ground, but with greater detail. Misery, illness, famine, beasts, enemies, and devastation.
And then, way at the end of the book, almost as an afterthought, we read another set of guidelines for pledging people or animals for vows. What? After all that lofty language, we read about shekels and home assessments and priestly responsibilities?
By the time you read this, our eldest child will have graduated from college. Other than going off to kindergarten, this feels like the greatest of transitions a child and parent will make. (Weddings are different-they involve a third party.) This is it. She's really done, at least in a formal way. And I'm done, too, in that same formalized way. They ways in which I will be needed from here on out are completely different from how I've been needed up until now. Don't misunderstand-this is all to the good. It's the way it's supposed to be.
She doesn't know what's coming next. It's up to her now to make rent and make a life. She's worked so many jobs through college; life-finances are no surprise to her. But still, there is a threshold she has gone over, and much unknown lies ahead. Like Moses, I can only do so much with all the instructions I want to give her. I certainly don't want to list the nasty stuff that the world could hold for her; she will find out soon enough how difficult life is sometimes. I don't want her to be afraid of the world, just careful.
I'd rather send her off with blessings-friendship and love, success in her chosen field, food on the table, a roof over her head, given what she can afford, where she (and I!) aren't terrified when she lies down! It's not easy ending this chapter. I'm sure I haven't covered all the advice she absolutely needs to hear. I'm sure Moses felt the same way.
I can only hope that every once in a while she comes back to share good stuff with us, and maybe for some advice, guidance, comfort the only things we can really offer with unlimited supply; sort of like how Moses probably felt, hoping the Israelites would refer back to all of his instructions when he wasn't around anymore.
And then, like the seemingly random text about shekels and offerings at the end of Leviticus, I will remind her to watch out for the red sock in the load, make sure she has an extra apartment key, and put away savings.
Off into the wilderness she goes, transitioning like the ancient Israelites, with a healthy dose of guidance, traveling amid a caring community, with hope and faith in the future. Chazak Chazak v'nitchazek. Be strong, baby girl, be strong, and may we all be strengthened.
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.