Friday, May 23, 2008

Parashat Bekhukotai - Elan's Words

This week, read Bekhukotai which usually comes together with parashat Bahar, which we read last week. In that they USUALLY appear together, I am taking advantage of the split to share with you Elan's words of Torah from last week, his Bar Mitzvah:

Sometimes, I have something I call an “Israel Moment.” It is usually when I see or do something that doesn’t happen in Marietta, Georgia. Once, Mira, Amalya, my Dad and I were walking around downtown and a girl in front of us just walked up to a fig tree and climbed up into it. She started picking figs and eating them. When we walked by, she offered us figs and we happily accepted. Definitely not a Marietta, Georgia moment.

Another Israel moment – I was walking home one day and when I got to Derech Chevron there was a guy on a horse crossing the street, cutting off impatient pedestrians and drivers, who were yelling at the horse and rider. Not a “Roswell Road Moment” - an “Israel Moment.”
One of my favorite Israel moments was seeing Gan HaPa’amon on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, where people were staking out places for their evening barbecue very early in the afternoon. It was insane. People were trying to get the best spots. Just seeing so many people celebrating in a small place was definitely an Israel moment.

All year, I had great Israel moments and they make me feel much more connected to eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.

The Tefillin I am wearing today are very special to me. I made them myself. A few years ago, my Dad was sitting with our friend, Noah Greenberg in Tsfat. My Dad saw some paper boxes on his desk and ask Noah what they were. Noah told him that one day, he had a question: How did Moshe make his tefillin, without today’s hydraulic presses and other such modern equipment? Noah came up with the idea to try and make tefillin out of klaf, parchment just like what we use to write a Torah or a mezuzah’s scrolls, that Moshe would have been able to use.

Noah started folding and shaping and eventually found a way to make tefillin. He went to his rabbi and asked if they were kosher tefillin. His rabbi said they were kosher. Noah thought that if kids made their own tefillin, they might use them regularly. So Noah came to camp to test out the idea. Several other campers and I got to test the project out first hand. We started by creasing and cutting the parchment. Then we had to paint it all completely black with paint pens. Once that was done, we started folding the batim, precisely as we were shown, so that they would for the right shape. When they were half folded, we had to take the scrolls, fold them, and tie them up with “gid” or sinew. We put the scrolls inside and then we finished by folding up the bottoms and sewing them shut. After that was done, we lacquered the Shin on the Shel Rosh to give it a shine. When that was done, all that was left to do was to tie the knots on the straps and, then, we had made our own tefillin!

While we were working on our tefillin, we would sometimes become distracted and start talking about other things. Each time, Noah would have us say that “Everything we do today is l’shem Kedushat Tefillin” and we would all refocus. After a day or two, some of the campers would remind the others about our purpose, l’shem kedushat tefillin, without being told by Noah to do it. Even though it meant not going to sports and swimming for a few days, I was amazed and excited to participate in this new project and am very proud to have made this pair of tefillin.

On Chol HaMoed Sukkot, my family came with the Schorsch – Moses family to Neot Qedumim. It was our first visit. Simcha Leibovic took us on a tour of all the different kinds of Sukkot mentioned in the Mishnah. It was amazing to see all the plants and the view, and it gave me an idea of what biblical Israel might have looked like. We saw etrogim the size of watermelons, an Archimedes screw, and other fascinating things. It really gave me an idea of why the Israelites wanted to here so badly and why we kept remembering this place for thousands of years.

These may seem like random things: Israel moments, a tefillin project, Neot Kedumim, and some special people but there is a connection between them and my bar mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah is about my relationship, and my obligations, to Elohei Yisrael, following the mitzvoth that are part of our brit with God. Bar Mitzvah is about our Torah and doing things like learning about tefillin, making tefillin, and now wearing tefillin. Bar Mitzvah is about having a relationship with people, the people of Israel, and it is about having a connection and responsibility to Eretz Yisrael, the land and the State of Israel, which is a lot of what Shemittah is about. Thank you all of coming to join me as I take on these obligations and to celebrate with me as I become Bar Mitzvah.

May we all go from strength to strength and may we all stand together this Shabbat and proclaim:

Be Strong, Be Strong and We Shall be Stengthened.
חזק חזק ונתחזק

Friday, May 16, 2008

Parashat Behar - Elan's Bar Mitzvah

It has been several weeks since I wrote last. The end of each week has been crazy and I have either not had time to write or have not had what to write. This week, however, is different and special. Somehow or another, Becca and I now have a son that is becoming Bar Mitzvah. Elan led tefillot this morning at Neot Kedumim. Tomorrow, he will read Torah and Haftarah at Shira Chadashah. If you are in Jerusalem, services start at 8:30 am and Torah reading is around 9:15 am and kiddush, well, you will just have to show up to find out. The following are the words of Torah I will share tomorrow with Elan and with the kehillah.

Shabbat Shalom,

We were not originally supposed to be here this Shabbat. For many years, we planned to have Elan’s bar mitzvah at Camp Ramah Darom, where I had the privilege of serving as the founding director for eleven years. Were we there, I would have spent the past few weeks trying to make some kind of connection between the specifics of the laws of shemittah, the year of release for the land, and Camp Ramah. Not a simple task. But we are not at camp. We are in Yerushalayim where we have been living this year. The fact that your bar mitzvah fell on Shabbat Behar which deals with Shabbaton, with the land of Israel, must have been a foreshadowing of our being in Israel. It was bashert.

The classic question about our parashah is asked in Torat Cohanim and repeated by several of the meforshim:

מה ענין שמיטה אצל הר סיני. והלא כל המצות נאמרו מסיני?

In other words, what is it about shemittah, letting the land rest, that is so important that the Torah begins the parashah with:

וידבר יקוק אל משה בהר סיני לאמר:

“And The Lord spoke to Moses at Mt. Sinai, saying,”

Why does it take us back all the way to Sinai?

Many of the commentators focus on the question from a temporal standpoint. That is, they are bothered that this appears at the end of theSefer Vayikra, Leviticus, after Matan Torah, the Giving of Torah, and after hakamat hamishkan, the construction of the portable Tabernacle. Others consider the severity of the punishment connected to failing to observe Shemittah. From Rashi, restating Torat Cohanim, we learn that the connection between shemittah and Sinai is here to teach us that while the general rules of shemittah were mentioned in Exodus, we should not think that what is taught here was taught at a later moment in history in a different place; rather, these mitzvoth were taught at Sinai in detail and are simply restated in their specifics here. Similarly, Ibn Ezra reminds us that there is no earlier or later in the Torah and that this parashah is taught prior to the beginning of Vayikra but appears here nonetheless.

אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה. וזו הפרשה קודם ויקרא,

Implicit in the responses of the commentators is the understanding that there is something special, something unusual about this parashah.

In looking at the structure of our parashah, I see the following pattern:

Our parashah begins with God:

וידבר יקוק

“And God Spoke…”

And it ends with God:

אני יקוק

“I Am God.”

Our parashah begins with sacred land, space, where we encounter God:

ויקרא פרק כה

כי תבאו אל הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם

“When you come into the Land that I give to you…”

And it ends with sacred spaces where we encounter God:

ויקרא פרק כו

ומקדשי תיראו

“Revere My Sanctuaries...”

Our Parashah begins with Shabbat for the land, Shemittah:

ויקרא פרק כה

ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק

“…the land will observe a Sabbath of the Lord.”

And it ends with Shabbat for those who work it:

ויקרא פרק כו

את שבתתי תשמרו

“You shall keep My Sabbaths…”

The central sections of our parashah deal with how we relate to our fellow Jews, both in the ethics of our business conduct and at times that they are in trouble, in difficulty. Furthermore, it gives us difficult questions with which to deal, not just theoretical questions but real, everyday life questions like how we relate to the “Other.”

The parashah puts front and center

Elohei Yisrael – The God of Israel
Eretz Yisrael – The Land of Israel
Shabbat Yisrael – Sacred time to Meet God;
andAm Yisrael - The People of Israel

By referring us back to Sinai, the moment of Revelation, our parashah brings us full circle to

Torat Yisrael.

By taking us back to the powerful moment of Standing at Sinai, Parashat Bahar comes to teach us that even in a portion that deals with the micro-details of land transactions and agricultural practice we are able to find the central values of Jewish Peoplehood. In a parashah like Kedoshim, it is easy to see the values. The opening chapter deals with how we relate to God and how we relate to people. Behar comes to teach us that how we relate to the land is also important. That the way we relate to our inheritance demonstrates our sacred relationship with God and the sacred role we are commanded to play in the world.

Elan, I hope that as you grow, the values that we have tried to instill in you and that are so clearly present in your parashah:

Elohei Yisrael – a special relationship with The God of Israel;
Eretz Yisrael – a special, treasure connection to The Land of Israel;
Mitzvot Yisrael – living a meaningful life organized by the covenant between us and God;
Shabbat Yisrael – taking time weekly to break from mastering time to Meet God ;
Am Yisrael – a sense of collective responsibility to Jews in the world;
and to Torat Yisrael – to learning and living our Torah, in all of its broadest definitions

Serve as your guideposts, are the organizing principles of your life and of your menshlichkeit, as they are for ours.

Yesterday, we went to Neot Kedumim to begin celebrating your bar mitzvah. After tefillot and brunch, we went to the area dedicated to Shemittah. We planted acorns from Israeli oak trees in small cups. The staff will tend them as they become saplings and after the Shemittah year is over, they will plant them throughout the preserve.

As we were planting, afterwards as I was looking out over the beautiful vistas and fields of Neot Kedumim, and as I was smiling with great pride at what a mentsh you are, I couldn’t help but think a bit about today’s haftarah. Jeremiah is told that his cousin, Hanamel, will come and tell him to buy his field in Anatot. Jeremiah is commanded to keep an achuza, a possession in the land, even though he is soon to depart into exile. The command to acquire an achuza is an investment in a future return. We hope, Mom and me, that this year has been one of acquiring a possession, a love of the Land, the People, and the State of Israel, and one of gaining a sense of being part of a collective, to Clal Yisrael, for which you have a responsibility. We hope that you, as we also wish for ourselves, will return here soon, to reacquire that achuza, the possession, not temporarily but permanently.

We are so very proud of you and love you very much.

Shabbat Shalom.