Monday, May 17, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Julia Fruithandler on Emor

My Torah portion, Emor, begins by describing for us qualifications for the Kohanim, the ancient priests. We already knew that you could become a priest only if your father was a priest, but this chapter goes much farther. You could be disqualified from serving if you have almost any blemish or imperfection imaginable, ranging from a poorly shaved beard to a broken leg to who he can and cannot marry.

In other words, priests has to be as perfect as they come, at least physically. It would be easy to get upset about the fact that the Torah seems to be discriminating against people with disabilities. Until you think about it and realize that Moses had a speech impediment. Yes, it’s true that Aaron his brother, who was a priest, often spoke on Moses’ behalf. But Moses was the more important leader. And maybe he was the better leader BECAUSE of the speech impediment. Perhaps he was more empathetic because he knew what it was like to suffer, even though he personally had never been a slave.

So one could say that a message of this portion is that nobody is perfect. Yes the priests had to be close to perfect physically, but even they weren’t perfect morally. Aaron really blew it with the Golden Calf, and at that point, as we all recall, he was voted off the island.

Judaism has always understood that no one is perfect. Including Moses, all our great heroes were flawed people. But part of what made them great leaders was that they learned to understand their own weaknesses and even occasionally to laugh at them. Jewish comedians like Mel Brooks and Adam Sandler, two of my favorites, love to poke fun at themselves and at their people. In “Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” Sandler poked fun at the Israeli obsession with hummus and even at the hatred that exists in the Middle East.

A Jewish specialty has always been the ability to laugh at ourselves, even at our weaknesses.

This past summer, I got to experience firsthand what it is like to live with restrictions, just like the ones that disqualified priests from serving. I was sick for a couple of months and was unable to do all the things I love to do, like horseback riding or even just running around. But I managed to get through it and now I feel I can be a more empathetic person because of it – and maybe a better leader.

In part because of what I experienced last summer, for my mitzvah project, I am making blankets for kids in hospitals. Some of them are going to Hospice Care in Stamford Hospital, in memory of my grandmother, who was cared for in hospice during the last days of her life. Also, some of the money that we raise from the sale of blankets will go toward research for a cure for Pancreatic cancer.

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