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Monday, March 3, 2014

Vayikra: Do Tweens Know How to Sacrifice?

It was great news when my sixth-grade daughter was promoted to a new ballet level -- but our excitement was dampened when we realized that the timing of new dance class made it impossible for her to continue with ice-skating lessons. We found ourselves at the kitchen table having one of those "You can't do everything," discussions, until finally she decided to forego the skates.

But it bothered me, that she had to make that choice. I wondered if she'd end up regretting it. In my mind, I saw all the bows she would never take, all the trophies she would never accept, her mittened fingers outstretched, her cheeks pink from the cold and excitement. I saw her hot pink skate bag and her white figure skates resting unused in her closet.

She was only eleven. Why should she have to give up one favorite activity just to progress in another?

Sacrifice -- it's at the heart of Vayikra, this week's Torah portion. In Vayikra, God gives instructions to the Israeli people about how to make sacrifices. Our ancient forefathers had plenty of experience in this activity. Among the most famous sacrifices, Abraham killed a ram and made a burnt offering after God stopped him from killing his son Isaac; and Moses commanded the Israeli people to sacrifice lambs so they would have blood to apply to the doorposts of the Egyptians.

In Vayikra, we learn that sacrifices were sometimes intended as a way to atone for a sin. But they were also a way to express thanks, awe, or reverence toward God.

These days, we generally think of sacrifices as trade-offs. We sacrifice -- or let go of -- something we currently find desirable to attain something more valuable in the long run. Sacrifices involve a weighing of options; they can be easy or painful, but ultimately we hope to be left with the feeling that we've done something correct, moral, or noble.

Parenthood is all about sacrifices. We sacrifice career growth to take care of our children; we sacrifice vacations and other indulgences to save for a house or a child's college education; we sacrifice sleep to comfort a child who has had a nightmare; and we even may sacrifice our blood pressure -- hopefully only on a temporary basis -- when our teenagers start to drive. 

But I'm not a fan of asking middle schoolers to give things up. Oh sure, I'm all for making sure that my kids cut back on candy to maintain a healthy body, or trade the fancy sandals for winter boots when it's 32 degrees outside. But when it comes to pursuing passions or seeing how far they can take a new activity -- I say, go for it. I think middle schoolers should ice skate and dance, play soccer and write for the school newspaper, learn Hebrew and act in the school musical, play piano and make pottery, swing a tennis racquet and ride a horse.

I think middle schoolers should play outside on the first warm day of spring, even if it means spending not quite enough time on homework; I think middle schoolers should grab any chance they may get to see a World Series game, even it comes on a school day.

In short, I don't think middle school is a time for shrinking options; I think it's a time to expand options, and to see much that life has to offer.

So while my daughter needed to miss a few ice-skating classes that year, I was determined to get her back on the ice you can bet she'll be back on the ice as soon as I could. And the only sacrifice I hope she'll make as a tween is the kind that involves reverence.

 I hope that every once in a while she'll stop and think about how big and awesome the world is, and how thankful she is to be a part of it.

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