By Rabbi Miriam Berger
I, like so many parents, recently sat full of pride and a little emotional as my son stood, mortarboard on his head, listening for his name in the roll call that made for a perfect graduation ceremony.
OK, so my son is only four years old and his first-class honours was achieved by the huge strides he has made over the past two years of intense nursery attendance at our synagogue.
A course that entailed lessons for life, such as gaining a deeper understanding of sharing nicely and writing one’s name, but I’m sure I was no less choked up than I will be when his first-class degree is in law or medicine – well, a mother can hope!
There have been cynical people suggesting these mortarboard clad graduations are cheesy and just a novelty, but I think they are ritualising in a secular manner that which Judaism encourages us to create ritual around.
“Judaism holds at its core the centrality of marking time, be it the passing of a week every Shabbat, the passing of a month every Rosh Chodesh, or the passing of a year each Rosh Hashanah.
Mordechai Kaplan explains Shabbat by suggesting that “an artist cannot be continually wielding his brush. He must stop at times in his painting to freshen his vision of the object, the meaning of which he wishes to express on his canvas. Living is also an art. We dare not become absorbed in its technical processes and lose our consciousness of its general plan… Shabbat represents those moments when we pause in our brushwork to renew our vision of this object. Having done so we take ourselves to our painting with clarified vision and renewed energy”.
At every age we should be taking opportunities, both religious and secular, to step away from the canvas and take stock of the art work of our life as it stands in order to get a better sense of what we are trying to create.
Celebrating our successes, along with celebrating the passing of time, enables us to attain a sense of the unique beauty of the finished product of our life upon which we will each one day be judged. • Miriam Berger is rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue