The High Museum in Atlanta is mounting an exhibit on the beloved children’s author Eric Carle, best known for his children’s board book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Carle’s book, all of 200 words, tells the story of the title insect and its week of eating through all manner of food before (SPOILER ALERT!) transforming into a beautiful butterfly. The most memorable pages for me illustrate how the caterpillar gets a stomach ache munching its way through a whole smorgasbord of food and then, on the day before it spins its cocoon, eats just “one nice green leaf.”
In our house that “nice green leaf” is invoked whenever we feel that we have gone a little too far, eating or otherwise, and need to settle the stomach and the mind.
It occurred to me this year that the wisdom of this “nice green leaf” from Carle’s simple, but beautiful story can also be found at the Passover Seder, the traditional meal and discussion celebrating the Israelites emergence from slavery in Egypt. The Passover story is one of transformation from being a slave to being free. The power of the Seder is both to remind those participating about the liberation from Egypt and to inspire all of us to fully embrace what it means to have the responsibility of being free people. While emerging from the particular story of the Jewish people, the special foods and traditions of this ritual meal reflect on a phenomenon which is part of the human experience – the grappling with the ways in which we are free to act and the ways in which we find ourselves bound to forces beyond our control.
One element of the Seder plate is called karpas, often parsley but any green vegetable that is traditionally eaten toward the beginning of the night to symbolize the rebirth celebrated during this spring holiday. While the karpas usually comes before the feast as opposed to the leaf eaten by the formerly Very Hungry Caterpillar, Carle’s lesson can still apply.
Like the caterpillar we are hungry for all kinds of experiences and they all go into becoming who we are. Yet it is important from time to time to reset our equilibrium, to get back to basics, to remind ourselves what is the essence of what we are about. Especially in order to embrace moments of growth and transformation.
Eating the Nice Green Leaf inspires a chance to reconnect to my core values and renew my central commitments. What is your Nice Green Leaf? What simple truth do you hold on to in your life? How does this truth allow you to grow into the best you can be? And how will you be different when you once more emerge from your cocoon?
Michael Bernstein, a Rabbi, has served since 2009 as Rabbi of Congregation Gesher L’Torah, a vibrant and dynamic Synagogue community in north Atlanta where each person’s story is embraced and Judaism is personal. He was ordained as a conservative Rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1999. He and his wife Tracie have three children, Ayelet, Yaron and Liana.