Friday, September 12, 2008

TBE Bar/ Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Anna Lipkin on Parashat Ki Tetze

My portion of Ki Tetze is filled with many laws about how people should get along. Some have counted as many as 72 mitzvot in this portion alone, far more than any other portion. Yet if you look closely at these laws, there are some common themes. Mainly, the laws are about relationships, and they help us to look for balance – especially the balance between compassion and strictness.

One of the laws even talks specifically about having balanced weights and measures. It’s talking about being honest in business but it says at the end that striking such a balance can give you long life. It’s a matter of life and death.

Last year, I wrote a poem using the image of a girl walking on a balance beam during the Holocaust. She is holding on to life by a thread, and only her ability to keep her balance saves her. At the end of the poem, she is still on the beam, hoping against hope to survive.

The kind of balance we strike is very different. The portion has several laws that appear very harsh. For instance, when a child insults his parents, he is supposed to be killed. I would never insult my parents, but I find that law to be overly strict. So did the rabbis of the Talmud, by the way, who said that this law was never enforced.

The portion also comes down very hard on the nation of Amalek, who attacked the Israelites in the wilderness. They didn’t fight fair, attacking from behind, harming women, children and the elderly. Because of that, we are instructed to wipe them out totally.

On the other hand, we are supposed to be very kind to animals, like the mother bird, whom we shoo away before taking her eggs, or the fallen animal, whom we help lift up before returning it to its owner. We’re supposed to be kind to people too, like the captive woman at the beginning of the portion or the widow whose garment should never be taken from her, or the poor person, who is allowed to glean from grapes in the vineyard and from the corners of the field.

In tennis, a sport that I really love, I’ve learned that balance is really important, and not just balancing on my legs when I’m about to serve. At times I need to be very competitive to be at my best. But at times, I can be more compassionate. There was one match where I was way ahead and my opponent started crying, so I have to admit, I let her win a few points. I still won the set 6-3, but she felt much better about it and in fact, now has gained some confidence and has become a much better player.

I’ve learned that in tennis, my greatest opponent is myself, not the person on the other side of the net.

For some people, the balancing act between life and death is a very serious one. For my mitzvah project, I am selling t-shirts for the Russian Gift of Life program, which brings people to this country from Russia for lifesaving heart operations.

As I become Bat Mitzvah today, I am coming to understand that I am like the girl in my poem, walking on that balance beam. As I grow, this balancing act will not get any easier, but with the love and support of my family and teachers and the wisdom I’ve gained from Jewish studies, I am confident that I will succeed.

No comments: