Torah Portion

I grew up as a hyperactive child. Of course, noone ever called it that at the time. They didn’t yet have suchclinical labels for every childhood behavioral challenge.

I was just considered to be a problem child. Icouldn’t sit still in class and I was constantly (read: daily)getting into trouble with teachers, playground monitors, and anyother authority figure within eyesight.

I was inconstant motion. I hardly ever slept more than a few hours a night,and always felt that I had to be doing something or goingsomewhere.

Of course, being a problem child did have certainadvantages. For instance, every teacher I ever had knew my name thevery first day of school.

Then, of course, there is a certain notoriety thatcomes with being a kid in constant motion. I did get a lot of extraattention that way, and I was certainly noticed.

Not only that, but I was on intimate terms with myelementary school principal and practically had a reserved chair inher office. In fact, I do believe I held the record at FranklinElementary School for getting the most monitor slips of any studentin history.

Monitor slips were those irritating littlewrite-ups you’d get for running in the halls, or talking too loudlyin the wrong place, or any other infraction of the local schoolrules. I think I once got 22 in a single day.

Indeed, I was sent out of class to the principal’soffice so often that when I was called in because my father had cometo give me the news that my baby sister had just been born, they senta special emissary back to my classroom just to tell my disbelievingclassmates that I had not, in fact, actually done anything wrong thatday.

I did eventually grow up, and I guess I just gottoo big to be sent to the principal’s office anymore. But I supposeI’m nearly as hyperactive today as I was as a child. Now I just knowhow to hide it a little better.

Often, while I’m walking back and forth, talkingin front of a group of parents at my synagogue, or running aparenting workshop somewhere else in the country, I will pause for amoment and say, “By the way, this is what a hyperactive child lookslike when he grows up.”

I figure it might give some hope to frazzledparents in the audience, if they don’t mind having their child growup to be a rabbi, that is.

Sometimes, when someone asks me why I became arabbi in the first place (a question asked of every rabbi I know withsome regularity), I just tell them that I had to, because I couldnever sit still for an entire service and now I don’t have to.

So, with all this life-long history of being ahuman perpetual motion machine, you can imagine the interestingrelationship I must have with Shabbat.

Imagine me, resting for a whole day, let alone theradical idea contained in this week’s Torah portion not only are weto rest for one out of every seven days, but one out of every sevenyears, even the earth itself gets to rest.

Rest is barely even part of my vocabulary. Ofcourse, imagine what a remarkable notion this must have been for ourancestors.

Literally months after hundreds of years ofslavery, they are told by Moses that what it means to be holy andfollow God’s sacred path, is to not work every seven days and thenvirtually take an entire year off every seven years.

After all, in an agricultural society, if youaren’t allowed to sow your fields or prune your vineyards, and youaren’t allow to reap a harvest or even gather grapes, not only willthe land have a complete rest, but pretty much so willeveryone.

The very thought of so much freedom was almost toomuch to handle. And in many ways, handling freedom itself, has beenone of our greatest challenges ever since.

The Jewish people have always understood God asthat power that inspires the enslaved in every generation to strivefor freedom.

In this week’s double portion, we are remindedthat the price of our own freedom is the responsibility that comeswith it to act so that those who are still enslaved go free aswell.

Growing up in constant motion. Photo from “The Jews in America,”1989

Steven Carr Reuben is rabbi at Kehillat Israelin Pacific Palisades.