I’m reposting this from my classroom blog – a note to parents about how I talked with first graders about the Book of Life:
To prepare for Yom Kippur, Kitah Aleph learned the traditional greeting “Chatimah Tovah”, which loosely translates to “a good inscription.” In the liturgy of the high holidays, we speak about a Book of Life, in which God writes, and later seals, our fate for the upcoming year. Or, in the words of Leonard Cohen,
..who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay
As a teacher and parent, I struggle with how to frame the meaning of the greeting “chatimah tova”, and how to introduce the concept of the Book of Life, in a meaningful, age appropriate, and perhaps most importantly, not-terrifying way. Here’s a glimpse of our conversation:
We starting off by talking a little bit during tefillah(prayer) time about the prayer we are currently learning – Adom Olam – which includes the word melekh (king) several times. I asked children if our saying this every day means that we believe that God is actually a king. There was general agreement that God is not, in fact, a King. We then talked about how people have many different ways of imagining God. I explained that there isn’t one right way to imagine God, but almost everyone has a different idea, and that usually our ideas change a lot over the course of our lives. (This led to some lovely reminiscences on the part of the children, often beginning with the phrase, “when I was young I thought God…..”) I told them that the rabbis had an idea that God had a book, in which God wrote down what would happen to everyone in the upcoming year (I didn’t actually use the terms life and death.) The rabbis made up this special greeting “chatimah tovah” as a way of saying we hope lots of good things will happen to everyone.
And with that, I wish you all a chatimah tovah and an easy fast. Jump to 1:54 in the video below for a very special preview of Kol Nidrei.