A “tebah” for the Huron

by Clare Kinberg, Beit Sefer director

Last year, on the first day of our religious school, Beit Sefer, I told a story about the word Hebrew word “tebah”תֵּבַ֣ת. When we meet again for the first session this year (10am Island Park) I want to tell the same story. I’m pretty sure at least some of the kids will remember it if I tell it again. I hope so, but it doesn’t matter.

Ann Arbor Jewish religious school

Beit Sefer Students and Teachers on the last day of class last year May 2016

It is Jewish tradition to tell the same stories over and over again. And every time a story is told, even with the same words, it is a different story, because the hearer has changed. You are not the same person you were last time you heard the story. As adults, we’ve heard many stories in the Torah dozens of times. Yet, what you hear and understand from a story, using the exact same words, is different every time you hear it.

Here is the story at I told it last year:

The stories that Jews tell from the Torah are some of our oldest stories. In fact, something like 200 generations of Jews have passed down the stories that are in the Torah. One of the oldest ones, and a story that is told by lots of different peoples, is the story of a great flood that covered the earth, and one family–Noah, his wife Nehama and their children–and the ark they built to ride on the waters of the flood and to save the plants and animals so that the earth could start over.

In Hebrew the word for Noah and Nehama’s boat is tebah. A tebah is a special boat that keeps its passengers safe. In the whole Torah there is only one other tebah:  while Noah and Nehama’s tebah was large enough to hold a pair of every animal and every plant on earth, the other tebah was so small it held only one baby passenger. In the Torah stories, about 100 generations after the great flood, the baby Moses was born and his sister, the prophet Miriam, built a small tebah, a basket more like a cradle than a huge ark, to save Moses’ life. When Moses was a grown man, so the story goes, he led the Jews out of slavery. So while one tebah played a part in saving life on earth, the small tevah played a part in saving the Jewish people.

Since one word, tebah, is used to mean such different things, a colossal ship made of gopher wood and a baby basket made of reeds, perhaps the meaning of tebah, is “life-saver.”

Or maybe it is the stories themselves that are the ark, the boat, that keeps us afloat. The stories I mean are both the stories that have been passed down generation to generation, and the stories we are creating with our own lives.

basket boat used at Ann Arbor Jewish religious school Beit Sefer

Basket-boat

Last year, on the opening day of Beit Sefer, we passed a small boat shaped basket around a big circle of parents and students. As we passed the basket, we each recited, “This basket holds our stories, pass it on.” Then, the person accepting the basket replied, “Thank you, I will learn the stories and pass them on.”

This year on opening day, we are going to make the baskets, and we are going to make a new story, all together. Beit Sefer begins at Island Park at 10am. Parents are asked to stay for a meeting, and to play a special role in writing a story and helping the students launch a tevah on the Huron River. Immediately following the launch, will be our AARC Annual Picnic. Noon to 3pm. Bring protein to grill, a side dish to share. AARC will provide drinks and paper goods.

See you there!