At the beginning of my portion of Netzavim-Vayelech, Moses tells the people, “You who stand here today, all the people of Israel, even the stranger within your camp, from wood chopper to water drawer - all of you are here to enter the covenant of the Lord, which God is concluding with you this day.”
You may be wondering why it was that Moses mentioned, of all professions, wood choppers and water drawers. Commentators state that these two professions were used to represent all types of menial labor. The Torah was meant for them too – not just the people who have more glamorous jobs like my Mom. On this Labor Day Weekend, that’s an important thing to consider.
But maybe it was something else. Maybe Moses specifically wanted to appeal to wood choppers and water drawers because, oh, perhaps a tree had just fallen on his house during an enormous rainstorm?
I can relate to Moses, because that’s exactly what happened at my house last March.
People around here will not soon forget that storm, which on a Saturday night brought wind gusts of over 75 miles an hour and knocked down thousands of trees. I know of ten just on my block. Only one fell on my property, but, unfortunately, it fell right onto the house. It was a HUGE 120 plus year-old tree.
We were eating dinner at about 7 – it’s hard to say since the power had already gone out a few hours before. We were all in the family room when suddenly we heard a boom and then a couple of seconds later, another cracking sound. We held our breath and then realized we were in fact okay…..My mom and I ran upstairs with a flashlight and when entered my parents’ bedroom, the ceiling was split and the tree was inside. Suddenly it was raining in the room. My mom screamed, “There’s a tree in my house. Get it out of my house!” It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
Our fabulous neighbors, Anna and Larry, put up a giant tarp to catch the water as it came in and then funneled the water out the window. We then saw that while part of the tree was stuck in the roof, most of it had fallen onto the deck, crushing it.
So like Moses, what we needed that night was a woodchopper and water drawer.
In verse 19 of chapter 29, Moses is warning the people that future generations will look at the devastation of the land and wonder why so many bad things had happened to the Israelites and to their environment. The commentary in our Chumash suggests that they will ask, “How did those who lived before us permit themselves to despoil the earth, air and water, not leaving us a livable environment?”
It is very natural following a disaster to look around and wonder why it happened. On the night of the storm, we drove to the Hyatt and saw all the devastation in Stamford. The next morning we came back and it was pretty bad. All I could think about was how lucky we were to be alive and how much work we were going to have to do to get the place back into shape…along with the clean up and fixing, there was the decorating, figuring out the insurance, and all of this at a time when we supposed to be planning MY bat mitzvah, just a few months away.
I never saw this as a punishment or anything, the way Moses spoke of the disasters that would happen to the Israelites who did not follow the covenant. But with all the weird weather we’ve been having, it does make you wonder whether we need to be doing more to take care of the environment. There have been a few tornados around here this summer. And we never have tornados here!
We may not be able to control the weather, or where a tree is going to fall, but there is much we can do to protect the environment.
The good news is that just a few weeks ago, my house was finished, just in time for my bat mitzvah. We have a brand new deck, family room, bathroom, closet and bedroom. And, most importantly, we appreciate, more than ever before, being together as a family, and being in a place that we can call home.
There are many people far less fortunate than I am, some of whom will be helped by the money I am raising through my mitzvah project, “Candles for a Cause.” I have been selling candles and holders for the last 9 months and have almost reached my goal of raising $1,500 for Kids in Crisis. When I am done, this money will go towards feeding 20 kids meals for an entire week. I’m raising money to help them get back on their feet, with food and school supplies that are in these baskets on the bema.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Monday, September 6, 2010
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jenna Plotzky on Nitzavim-Vayelech
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