Monday, May 17, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Maura Welt on Bemidbar

Many of you know that I have a real interest in photography. From the moment I got my first camera a couple of years ago I have enjoyed taking and editing photos. I have taken hundreds of photos and have come to realize that it is not just a matter of pointing and clicking. When I take a picture I am looking for something that truly makes the scene or person come to life. Given a choice between scenery and people I much rather would choose people. Many of my friends have asked me to take or edit pictures of them, especially now that I have gotten good at using digital editing tools. I especially enjoy making double and triple images, which I can make the subject of the picture appear in several different poses in the same picture. I also touch up photos to eliminate any kind of blemishes, which my friends happen to like very much, and I put filters on photos to enhance the image.

So you might be wondering what this has to do with my portion, B’midbar that begins the book of Numbers. After all, the portion has no pictures and it’s true that the Ten Commandments prohibit graven images, which some people interpret to include pictures of people.

Actually, I don’t think that photos of people are graven images at all. If they were like idols we would look at a picture and say, “that person is god”, unless you’re a twilight fan looking at a picture of Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner. I don’t see god in any of those pictures but, there is a little bit of god in each picture because there is a little bit of god in each person, and that’s why pictures move us so much. Pictures help us to understand that life is very precious.

My portion faces a dilemma. Moses is asked to count the amount of people in each of the tribes. In order to count them, people in a sense, become a number. Jews have always rejected the idea of turning people into numbers. It takes away their humanity and identity. Of course the worst case of that happening was during the holocaust. When everyone was not just assigned a number, that number was tattooed into his or her arm.

It is interesting to know that the phrase used to instruct Moses to do the census was “Se-u Et-rosh”. That means to count heads but, literally it means to lift the head. In lifting someone’s head you see their eyes and you truly get a glimpse of who they are and; who they are, is a lot more then just a number.

That brings us right back to photography. Some people say “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I know that from some of my favorite pictures. For instance for me, the holocaust can be summed up in that one classic picture of a little boy with his hands raised in the air, at gunpoint in the Warsaw Ghetto. Also, not to long ago I was looking at a picture of a little boy that really inspired me, that of John F. Kennedy Jr. He is saluting his fathers casket at his funeral.

Now that I am a bat mitzvah I have learned that numbers may be important, but it’s the faces that truly matter. Maybe, through my photography I will be able to lift up many faces, and lift their spirits as well.

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