Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
What does it mean to graduate? To graduate means to move on to the next stage. So, if you have graduates in your life this end-of-school season, be they from elementary school, from middle school, high school, or perhaps from college or graduate school, take some time to wish them well on their journey.
Where is this road, with all its graduations, taking them? One way to look at life is often described as the acorn theory. The acorn theory teaches that everything the acorn needs to become an oak tree is already inside the acorn. Jewish wisdom teaches that all we need to know to live a meaningful life was given to us by the angels before our birth. We spend the rest of our lives re-membering what they’ve already taught us. From within the acorn theory, every graduation, every experience, is seen as necessary in actualizing that which we were always intended to become.
“Rabbi Zusya said, ‘in the time to come, they will not ask me ‘why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya’?”
After each step of graduation, when opportunities and decisions need to be made, let us bless are graduates with the wisdom to know which paths before them will let their acorn grow.
One of the greatest pressures on young people, both positive and negative, are the unspoken and unfulfilled dreams of parents. For each of them to become truly who they were intended to be, means to loosen the influence of outside voices and to find that inner compass which lets them know they are going in the right direction.
There is a blessing in our tradition said as part of maturation and individuation. The Baruch She’ptarani blessings, said by parents, formally releases the obligation of children from the responsibility of parents. This blessing was traditionally said as part of the bar mitzvah, or in the case of daughters, at the wedding. The blessing gives voice to the transition of formal responsibility from parent to the maturing child. In this sense, the blessing is problematic. Parents forever worry about their children — from before they’re actually born to when their children’s children have families of their own. Further, we are forever responsible, intertwined, one with the other.
Upon further contemplation of this blessing, I understand it differently. Each movement of graduation should be seen as freeing our children from this specific dreams, worries, and aspirations we held for them. The blessing of graduation means greater freedom to grow into the person we were always intended to become. Parents and grandparents will always have a role — to support, to nurture, to guide. But with each graduation a step is taken towards following something like an inner voice rather then outer one.
So this graduation season, find words to let you graduate now that you trust the acorn within them, in that you will support them becoming who they were intended to become.
These lyrics from Michael Franti (HeyNowNow), describe the lure of the acorn that I hope our graduates hear.
‘Be who you are, nothing more, nothing less.
And let the beauty that you love be the very best.
Sing praises to the highest with your feet on the ground.
And reach for your brothers with the words that you sound. And,
don’t let mistakes be so monumental, and
don’t let your love be so confidential, and
don’t let your mind be so darn judgmental. And,
please let your heart be more influential.”
Mazel Tov and Happy Graduation! Go be you! We’re right behind you.