The “Playful Child” on Rosh HaShana

Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, the rabbi of my shul/beit knesset in Modi’in, recently published an excellent book entitled, His Words, Their Voices: Essays on the Haftarot.

In his essay on the specific Haftarah (a section of the book of Prophets) that is read communally on the second day of Rosh HaShana, Rabbi Weitzman struck a chord with me by writing about the “playful child.”

In the last verse of the Haftarah, G-d says of the Jewish people, “Is Ephraim My favorite son, a playful child, that whenever I talk about him, I remember him even more? Therefore, my innards yearn for him; I will definitely have mercy on him.”

Rabbi Weitzman explains:

A playful child is not always the most attractive. He will sometimes play in the mud and get dirty, maybe even extremely dirty. He comes into the house full of mud and dirt and trails it through the house, and everyone is really angry and no one wants to touch him. But they still love him and they forgive him. Why? Because he is a child and that is what children do. 


A child does not always do what he should, but since he is a child, and maybe  even a child who did not always have the best influences and may be swayed on way or another, he can be forgiven. G-d loves His people and desires their good, even though we do not always follow Him and sometimes even act contrary to what He would want, yet still He loves us because we are His children(page 300).

These passages remind me of my biggest spiritual challenge for the coming year. One of my children is such a good boy with a sweet heart, but he is also extremely energetic and impulsive. I start every day with the best of intentions, but too often I get frustrated and impatient with his behavior, and forget “that is what children do.”

In addition to being more patient and understanding with my wonderful boy, I want to be more compassionate to my own inner “playful child” in the coming year. As a person who struggles with low self-esteem, it’s not always easy for me to feel G-d’s love. Too often I find myself lacking: in good deeds, Torah learning, Hebrew fluency, etc.

It is noteworthy that in this Haftorah, all of the tribes of the Nation of Israel are called “Ephraim,” which is the name of the tribe that came of age in spiritually impure Egypt. Like them, perhaps I deserve some leeway for not being a learned Torah scholar after my mostly secular childhood in a non-Jewish area.

I’ll try to remember that I have come a long way since then. I made Aliyah, I’m a regular shul-goer and I’m doing my very best to educate all three of my playful children to be mensches.

Speaking of mensches, go pick up Rabbi Weitzman’s book, you’ll benefit from his insights.

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