Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Lauren Schechter on Naso

Today is Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the soldiers who have given their lives defending our country. These men and women have demonstrated remarkable qualities, such as courage, loyalty and most importantly, leadership.

Leadership: what does it really mean?

In this week’s parsha, Naso, we read about the gifts brought by the leaders of each tribe when the Mishkan was dedicated. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for leader, Nasi, comes from the same root as the title of the parsha, Naso. In modern Hebrew, Nasi means President.

What makes these tribal leaders special? Unlike Moses and Aaron, they aren’t really known at all, but they stand out in a different way.

According to the Midrash – they became leaders because in Egypt, they were taskmasters and they refused orders from their supervisors to whip the slaves, so they themselves where whipped. Because of their loyalty to their people, they were seen as worthy to become the leaders of Israel.

In the desert, it came time to bring the voluntary gifts at the celebration of the dedication of the Mishkan. Strangely enough, each Nasi brought the exact same thing: a silver plate, a silver bowl, and a gold spoon filled with sifted flour, along with a lamb, a bull, and a ram. The Torah then goes on to repeat this twelve times, once for each tribe.

Why does the Torah repeat the exact same thing? Each of these leaders gave with all his heart, and that spirit of generosity and love cannot be measured or compared to another person’s.
In addition, each gift was the only one that came on that given day. So on that day, that person’s gift was special. In fact, that day became a holiday for the tribe.

We also learn that leadership is not always about making a big splash, but about making a difference, even when you seem identical to everyone else.

On Memorial Day, we think of the soldiers and how they look when they are standing together, dressed in exactly the same uniform. But each brings a unique love for the country and a gift that no one else can bring - his own spirit, personality, and life. They give all of this but do not get a lot of credit, and today we give them that.

What the soldiers and tribal leaders teach us is that the best kind of leader is one who can simultaneously blend in and stand out.

Another person who fits that description is Nancy Drew. As you might guess, I’m a big fan of the Nancy Drew series. Most of the time she seems like a normal girl, but when someone is in need of help, she’s the first one to volunteer. She always tries her best but never looks for the credit.
As I become bat mitzvah, I’ve learned that I should try to become the kind of person Nancy or the tribal leaders would be proud of, someone humble, but never afraid to help.

Those who are involved in cancer research are much like the Nesi’im. They work behind the scenes to save lives, but their accomplishments are rarely recognized. For my mitzvah project, I made Hanukkah gift bags and sold them to raise money for cancer research. In addition to this, today during the party, in the lobby, there will be a table where people can decorate bags that hold aero-chambers and Epi-pens. These are medicines that kids like me, with asthma and allergies have to carry around wherever we go. The bags will be given out to underprivileged children in clinics at Montefiore Hospital.

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