Out of the mouths of babes: What really matters


We have all been told that we have untold possibilities locked inside us. What we must learn is that, to turn potential into reality, we must not let negative thinking get in our way, nor get derailed by focusing on things that we cannot control or that really do not matter.

Isn’t it amazing that we can learn so much from innocent children?

Recently, a teacher at a Hebrew day school told me a story about when she was waiting for her third-grade class to end its last day before the winter recess. She asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. They started to shout out their answers with great excitement: a football player, a doctor, the president, a rabbi, a cantor, a teacher, an astronaut, a baseball player, a dentist, a lawyer ….

While all this was going on, the teacher noticed that Dovid was sitting at his desk and listening, but saying nothing. He did not seem to be getting into the spirit of the exercise. The teacher asked the rest of the students to wait a minute, and then she asked, “Dovid? What would you like to be when you grow up?”

Dovid sat quietly, deep in thought, and then he answered with just one word. He said, “Possible.”

“Possible?” asked the teacher.

“Yes,” Dovid responded. “My mom is always telling me I’m impossible. So, when I get to be big, I want to be possible.”

That is quite a profound response – which could only have come from the mouth of a child. The problem is, it could mean so many things. One thing it means, for sure, is that Dovid is seeking validation. While the other children want to do things they may or may not be able to achieve, all Dovid wants in life is to be accepted for who he is, whatever that may be.

Is that not what we all want? Does it really matter if we have a title or stardom in our lives? Does it really matter if we are driven to be rich or just want to be comfortable? Would we have been happier if we had been a leader or a follower?

Our Torah tells us that, as Jews, our mission is to live a life of honesty and compassion, righteousness, morality, justice and obedience to the Mitzvot. And if we think about it, does anything else really matter? Because we Jews know that, even though everything says the continued existence of our Jewish people is impossible, we remain possible. Just as Dovid wants to be possible, it is up to each of us to continue to make it so.

As we celebrate the Holy Days of freedom, of Passover, we must learn that anything is possible if we maintain faith in ourselves and in our Creator. Let us always remember to tell the story, to live the story as we are commanded to do.

The story of freedom is to be told and retold, to be taught to our children, children of all ages, year after year, l’dor v’dor, so that we all will always remember what it feels like to be in an impossible situation that ends up being totally possible. We can, we truly can!

As parents, we are teachers; as teachers, we have responsibilities. Just as it is a person’s duty to teach their child, so it is their duty to teach their grandchild, as it is written: “Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9).

But this obligation does not refer only to one’s child and grandchild; it is a duty resting upon every Jewish scholar to teach all those who seek to be their students, even though they are not that scholar’s own children, for it is written: “You shall teach them diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). On traditional authority, the term “your children” in this verse has been interpreted to mean that your pupils are likewise called children, for it is written: “And the sons of the prophets came out” (II Kings 2:3).

As we celebrate the festival of Pesach 5777, I pray that this Pesach brings us joy, gladness, health, wealth, freedom, compassion for the needy, meaning in our lives. Let us remember and teach all of our children that if we work together, respect each other, admit our faults, our differences and mistakes, if we ask for forgiveness, then forgive and let live, if we do all these things, anything in the world will be possible to achieve.

Let us always remember, by working together as a unified and respectful community, anything is and will be possible.

From the North Shore, from our house to your house, we wish you all a chag Pesach samech!

RICHARD E. PERLMAN is the rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid, in Peabody, Massachusetts, and a member of the Greater Rhode Island Board of Rabbis.