Miri was a special child.
I didn’t know that at first. She had thick, dark hair, round face, and a slow smile. “I’m six,” she said.
But then I learned what it felt like when Miri wrapped her arms around you and hugged. Her face upturned, that slow smile spreading across it. Reaching her eyes, that would grow, and grow and grow, liquid ovals of brown above cheeks tinged deep pink.
It happened slowly.
That first Shabbos, I rushed to get to my hosts on time. When I parked the car, I found myself surrounded by kids eager to help. Sruly and Yitzy and Avi and Miri; they carried my things inside and helped me get settled. I came up to find Miri’s mother had finished ushering in the Shabbos Queen. I stood a minute, getting my bearings, and watched the candles glow. Then I got my siddur.
Miri stood there, small and sweet and pink and shy. “Want to join me, Miri?” I asked. She nodded, and soon came, holding a big siddur. “I daven with my mother kabbalas Shabbos usually,” she told me proudly.
“Oh, wow!” I beamed. “That is so nice! And one day,” I told her conspiratorially, “You will daven with little Chanale too. You’ll be the big sister teaching her!”
Miri looked up at me, those amazing eyes huge and trusting, taking in my words. “Right,” she said.
She slowly looked through the table of contents and found the place. As I sang, Miri alternately whispered along and stared up at me, as if sizing me up, evaluating, wondering, waiting. Finally I could resist no longer, and my hand reached out and caressed her shoulder. She did not pull back. My arm stayed there, and drew Miri to my side. She stayed there, looking up at me, and, now and then, smiling.
After that, Miri and I were friends. She showed me her parsha sheets, sat on my lap, told me about her preference for techina over chrein, her outfit, her friends, and many other things… and hugged me whenever I came. Well, maybe the hugs were my idea. But how could I resist?
Two weeks later, I was again a Shabbos guest in Miri’s house.
Miri watched me put on my makeup, had me do her hair, and kept me company throughout Shabbos. After the afternoon seuda, Miri gave me some of her school sheets to read.
“Can we do part now, and part later…? Because,” I explained, “I didn’t learn the parsha in school, so I need to catch up to you.”
Those big brown eyes looked up at me. “When you learn the parsha, can I learn it with you?”
I was caught between surprise, pleasure, and dismay. How on earth could one learn the parsha with a six year old? But, what a privilege, to have a child ask to learn! “Of course!” I responded with pleasure. “You’ll be my chavrusa, and we’ll learn together!”
I was a bit apprehensive. Well, surely Hashem would help it work out.
Miri and I found Chumashim and a quiet room. We found the page where the parsha started. Now, how were we going to do this?
“How about this,” I suggested. “How about if we read the pasuk out loud together, and then I’ll read the Rashi by myself, and then we’ll continue together in the next pasuk?”
Miri thought that was a fine plan, and so we set off.
Six year olds read rather slowly. If I had forgotten that, I was soon reminded of it. It was not a bother, though. The words were all unfamiliar to her; each one a new task, a new territory to be conquered. She did not know their meaning; to her there was no inherent significance that could hold interest. And yet, she pushed forward. Slowly, ever so slowly, word by word, phrase by phrase. The amazing thing was that she didn’t even seem to find it hard. She was not bored, impatient, or frustrated. When we finished a pasuk, she waited patiently, her finger on the place while I tried to race through Rashi.
She even made improvements to the system. “When you’re almost done,” she told me, “you can say, ‘five seconds,’ and then I’ll know we’re almost ready to start the next pasuk.” That way, she had a headstart on the laborious breaking of inertia to get the next pasuk started.