Butterflies, caterpillars and struggles

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

It’s springtime and the trees are coming back to life. Many of our trees and bushes did not survive the crazy freeze but don’t give up too soon — you never know! For those of us suffering from allergies, this is a mixed blessing but I prefer to sneeze and enjoy the beauty of the world!

At the Goldberg Early Childhood Center, this is the time when we start raising caterpillars to butterflies. There are messages galore about why this is such a special activity for children (and adults) but let me share some information from a special book called “What’s Jewish about Butterflies?” by Maxine Segal Handelman and Deborah L. Schein. This is a great book with chapters galore on “What’s Jewish about…?” It is designed for young children but we can all take up the challenge of finding the Jewish value message in so many everyday things. Try it and you will find it raises your level of appreciation!

But for now, what is Jewish about butterflies? The Jewish values abound:

· Bal tashchit — do not destroy

· Brit — partnership with G-d

· G’milut chasadeem — acts of loving-kindness

· Ma’aseh b’reishit — miracle of creation

· Tza’ar ba’lei chayim — kindness to animals

The lesson in the book also tells about the Israel connection — there are more than 160,000 species of butterflies and moths and around 2,300 are found in Israel. The reason given has to do with the geographical location of Israel at the “junction” of Asia, Africa and Europe. Fascinating information!

Now, of course, there is a blessing when you see a butterfly as we acknowledge the beauty of G-d’s creation: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam oseh maaseh v’reishit. Blessed are You, our G-d, creator of the universe, who makes all of creation. Perhaps the first time you see a butterfly this season or see a particularly beautiful one or even if you are lucky enough to have one land on you, it is time for a Shehecheyanu!

A very special message is in this adapted and shortened version of the cocoon and the butterfly by an unknown author:

One day, a man saw a cocoon. He loved butterflies and he knew how a butterfly would struggle to transform from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful one.

He saw the cocoon with a tiny opening. It meant that the butterfly was trying to make its way out to enjoy the world. He decided to watch and saw the butterfly struggling to break the shell for several hours. Unfortunately, even after continuous attempts for several hours, there was no progress. It seemed that the butterfly had tried its best and could not try any more.

The man, who had a passion and love for butterflies, decided to help the butterfly. He got a pair of scissors, tweaked the cocoon to make a larger opening for the butterfly and removed the remaining cocoon. The butterfly emerged without any struggle! Unfortunately, the butterfly looked no longer beautiful and had a swollen body with small and withered wings.

The man was happy that he had made the butterfly come out of the cocoon without any more struggles. He continued to watch the butterfly and was quite eager to see it fly with its beautiful wings. Unfortunately, the butterfly just crawled around with withered wings and a huge body. It was never able to fly. 

Although the man did it with a good intention, he did not know that only by going through struggles the butterfly can emerge to be beautiful, with strong wings. If we don’t want to undergo any struggle, we won’t be able to fly! Struggles make us shine!

This time of year as we celebrate Passover and then the many special days of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut we remember struggles of the past and the ones today. How can we see struggle as necessary for life? What are the many questions we have today about struggle? What struggles should we try to help with and how?

Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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