There is a famous story in the Talmud that describes several rabbis arguing about whether a fellow’s oven is fit for use. In the course of trying to prove his point, the rabbi who holds the minority opinion attempts to convince his colleagues that he is correct by calling upon God to support him. After the river runs backwards and a voice calls out from heaven that he is correct, his colleagues scoff, saying that they do not determine legal matters based upon heavenly voices. They quote God, who told Moses and the people of Israel that the law is “not in heaven,” but in their own hands (Deuteronomy 30:12). The story concludes with God laughing and declaring “Nitzhuni banai,” my children have bested me! This is one of my favorite images of God: the parent who is delighted upon realizing that the next generation has finally grown up to be independent adults, who are indeed smarter and more capable than their parents.
Just over one year ago, I wrote an essay about the demise of the Japanese maple tree which adorned our front yard. Its trunk was eaten by ambrosia beetles, and we had to remove it and treat the surrounding trees to protect them from the fate of their neighbor. At the time, I was bereft at the loss of the tree and I could not foresee a future moment when I would be laughing in delight, taking in the visual splendor of the tree’s child. While I knew that our maple tree was female –it had dropped many seedlings in the yard, most of which did not grow beyond a few inches– I was unaware that a sapling had taken root and begun to flourish in the sunshine that now reached its branches. Once its mother had been removed, the child was no longer hidden by her shadow from the sun’s rays. Today, I imagine that old maple tree would be laughing with me, nodding her agreement and rustling in the fall breeze, whispering nitzhuni banai, my children have bested me.