7 October 2011
Erev Yom Kippur 5772
Two weeks ago at our 10th grade parent meeting, I led our parents through a brief exploration of an excerpt from the Yom Kippur liturgy. In this excerpt, which comes at the end of slichot (the penitential prayers), we sing “Ki Anu Amecha (Because we are Your People),” which affirms our People’s covenant with God by invoking 12 different metaphors for the relationship between God and the Jewish People. “Ki anu amecha v’Ata Eloheinu, anu banecha, v’Ata Avinu . . . Forgive us because we are your People and You are our God, we are your children and You are our parent…”
In chevrutot (learning pairs), the 10th grade parents discussed the implications of these different metaphors for the divine-human relationship, as well as for relationships between parents and children, teachers and students. I asked them to share which of the 12 relationships resonated most with them, and one parent’s comment has stayed with me as we prepare to enter Yom Kippur in just a few hours.
This parent chose to focus on the phrase: “Anu Karmecha v’Ata Nortreinu – We are Your vineyard and You are our Watchman,” or as he put it our “Gardener.” The parent shared that, at first, this relationship appeared problematic to him for it compares us to a vineyard, which seems so passive, as if we just sit there, and the gardener tends to us. But then he realized that a vineyard, a garden, is not passive at all. It grows. It lives. It is full of potential. The gardener waters it, prunes it when necessary, guides it, and thus creates the conditions under which it can blossom.
This is a powerful way to conceive of our relationship with God. So much of our liturgy envisions God as King, Judge, or Father. Imagine praying to God as Gardener.
The vineyard, or garden, is also a meaningful and humbling metaphor for a school. Great teaching, like great parenting, is like gardening. Our students are so full of life, energy, and potential. We plant ideas, seeds of knowledge. We water them with skills and capacities. We nurture them with an ecosystem that supports their learning and growth as intellectuals and people. We prune them when necessary, challenging them to refine their minds, their talents, their character. Ultimately, it is they who learn, grow, and develop, often in ways we hoped and anticipated, sometimes in ways we never imagined!
I feel blessed to be a part of our sacred endeavor to make our garden grow. May this be a meaningful Yom Kippur and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of health, happiness, productivity, and purpose.
G’mar Chatima Tova,
Rabbi Marc Baker