Last week, as ענפים (Anafim, “branches” for 3rd-4th grade children) began exploring the text of קידוש (kiddush, a blessing for the beginning of Shabbat on Friday night), several children stopped short.
We were exploring the words that describe שבת (Shabbat) as a זכרון למעשה בראשית (zikaron lema’aseh vereishit- reminder of the works of creation). This reminded the children of the story at the beginning of the book of בראשית (bereishit, Genesis; literally “in the beginning”) about God creating the world in six days, and resting on the seventh day.
“But the story isn’t true!” said one child. “It didn’t take six days.”
“It took millions of years for the planet and all the animals to happen,” agreed another child.
“Yeah! It’s not true!”
I wanted to make sure to welcome this perspective into our שבת (Shabbat) theme, and give the children a chance to explore the idea of “remembering the works of creation” in a way they could connect to authentically.
So, this week, we dived back in time… about 4.6 billion years back.
“Here’s another way to explore the works of creation,” I said. “Take your pick: we have packets on the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras, plus the Precambian eon– that one goes all the way back to before there were living things; just lava and rocks. The pictures on the front will give you clues about what’s in each of those geological eras” The children eagerly chimed in: “I want the dinosaurs!” “When was the ice age, with the wooly mammoths?” “What’s that squishy thing in the ocean called? Is it like a jellyfish? Can I have that one?”
The lull didn’t last too long, though.
“How many years did it take for the earth to form at first, before this part happened?”
“And where did the sun come from? Was that first?”
“How do we know about how long things took before people were there to count?”
“What did the first animals eat?”
“Did the dinosaurs evolve from one of those bugs, or from something else?”
“Is it true that birds are dinosaurs? Or just descended from dinosaurs?”
“Yeah, and how come they didn’t go extinct like all the other dinosaurs?”
“WOW. A little planet COLLIDED with earth!” “Yeah, and the debris made the moon!”
There was so much wonder and excitement in the classroom.
Later in the day, we had a long, quiet יצירה (yetzirah– art/creativity) period by candlelight to help us get into the שבת (Shabbat) mood.
The children experimented with chalk pastels on dark paper, and I invited them to use those materials to reflect on how they interpreted the words “a reminder of the works of creation” from the קידוש (Kiddush).
One child drew שבת (Shabbat) symbols and objects, like a loaf of challah and a קידוש (Kiddush) cup, surrounded by Hebrew roots she knew: “bless/blessing” and “holy/sanctify” and the word “GOD.” “Because I think שבת (Shabbat) is holy. And it’s about thanking God for creating the world.”
Other children created Shabbat scenes with a cosmic background: the collision between the molten proto-Earth and the planetoid Theia that allowed it to begin to cool down and become solid; a home on which life could thrive. “Because, the prayer… one of the prayers says, שבת (Shabbat) is about remembering creation.”