The summer is typically a time to relax from the stresses of a demanding schedule and think about nothing but sun and beaches. The summer is means the end of the school year. The Jewish summer is, in contrast, interrupted by the 3 weeks, culminating in the saddest day of the Jewish year, Tisha B'Av. This presents a quandary for camps, Rabbis and communities. The frivolity with which we treat the summer is not conducive to the serious nature of the events of these days.
I would like to suggest that much like at the conclusion of learning a tractate of Talmud, we declare our intention to return to that tractate in the near future - a clear focus on the future, rather then past achievements - the summer is a time to declare our intention to return to the hard work of the school year. In that light, I would like to discussion the following question:
In September, many Jewish children will learn their first words of Torah.
Traditionally these words will be:
פרשת ויקרא פרק א
א) וַיִּקְרָא אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר יְקֹוָק אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר
1. And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying,
Why is a child's first exposure to Torah the technicalities of Sefer Vayikra?
We are not alone in our curiosity, the Medrash poses our question:
ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשת צו פרשה ז
אמר רבי אסי מפני מה מתחילין לתנוקות בתורת כהנים ואין מתחילין בבראשית, אלא שהתנוקות טהורין והקרבנות טהורין יבואו טהורין ויתעסקו בטהורים
"Rav Asi asked, 'Why do little school children begin their Chumash learning with Vayikra and not with Bereishis? It is because little children are pure and unblemished, and the sacrifices are pure and unblemished. The pure ones begin their learning with the study of the pure.'"
As each child begins to find their voices within the Jewish dialogue that is Torah learning, Rav Asi reminds us of the purity of the Jewish child and the sanctity of the learning he or she is about to undertake. With no agendas, beginning from a pure, blank sheet of paper, we introduce children to the learning of Torah with an equal purity.
The study of Vaykira as a child's initial exposure reminds of the sanctity of innocence. It reminds us of the sacrifice we make to protect our children. It reminds us of the prayers that are necessary to be a good parent. And finally it reminds us of the ultimate goal, closeness to God.
As we each approach Torah study, we bring with us years of experiences, thoughts and opinions. The world we live in demands of us attitudes and approaches towards religiosity. Whether one's approach be an embracing of the world through the lens of Torah, or the creation of protective boundaries around a Torah community, or a mixture of these approaches, a reminder that in a few months our children will begin their relationship with God and Torah through fresh eyes should stop us in our tracks and imagine - what would that be like for me? If I were learning Torah for the first time, what would I experience?
In each of our pursuits for something greater - perhaps the summer is an opportunity to reminder ourselves of a purer time - a reminder of when we were children beginning our relationship with Torah through the study of Vayikra. "The pure ones begin their learning with the study of the pure."