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    Starting with Vayikra – Vayikra

    Vayikra ArtScrollIn Talmudic times, the first Book that was taught to children was Vayikra. The language and thoughts were difficult, but it focussed on purity, and the sages said, “Let the pure ones come and engage in thoughts of purity”.

    In later centuries the words were written on a slate in letters of honey and the children would lick it off to get a sweet taste of Jewish learning. Not only did honey attract children to the Torah but in the Song of Songs (4:11) the groom said to his bride, “Your lips drop sweetness like the honeycomb”.

    Where did they get the honey? In early Biblical times it was date honey; indeed according to Rashi, “honey” could have been the sweet juice of any fruit. In modern Israel the honey industry uses citrus, apple, pear and even avocado orchards. By the period of the Book of Judges it was bees’ honey that was used, and beekeeping was a well-known activity in those times.

    The custom of giving children honey letters to lick off their slates may be the origin of the current habit of giving children Shabbat treats to enjoy on Friday nights during the service. It makes a mess of the synagogue, but it encourages the children to have sweet thoughts about Shabbat and the Torah.

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