Sunday, March 13, 2011

TBE Bar Mitzvah Commentary: Matthew Kobliner on Vayikra

When I heard what my portion of Vayikra was about, I realized that it is the perfect portion for me. No, it’s not that I’m in to sacrifices. But when you look at it more closely, the sacrifices were actually gigantic cookouts – and if there’s one thing that I like to do more than anything else, it’s cook. OK except maybe watch TV. But cooking comes a close second.

Many different foods were offered as sacrifices, including animals, birds and grain. The offerings, or at least most of them, were really meals for the priests.

I started cooking when I was about 6 or 7. It all begin as sort of a competition with my sister: who could learn the most recipes and cook them so they would taste good. Ari would whip up eggs in a pan and I specialized in using the microwave. I make lots of things, but my specialty is my secret muffin recipe. What happened was that I once accidently put in two sticks instead of two tablespoons of butter and it came out tasting divine. There are also some other changes that I made to the original recipe, but I can’t tell you.

Through my cooking, I’ve come to understand how food brings people closer to one another. Think of how the pilgrims and the Indians made pace over the first Thanksgving meal. It’s interesting to note that the Hebrew word for sacrifice is KORBAN, and it comes from the word KAROV, which means “to bring close.” By bringing a gift of food to the priests our ancestors felt closer to God. Eating together as a community helps us feel closer to one another. That’s why I’m looking forward to the Kiddush!

My mom has taught me that certain foods have special qualities. You’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat.” Well I think that’s really true. For instance, certain animals that are really violent and aggressive, like lions and tigers, are not kosher, because the Torah doesn’t want people to be violent and aggressive. But interestingly, candy is kosher even though it makes us a little hyper.

There’s a traditional blessing for learning Jewish texts, “May the Torah be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” And it’s actually a custom to put honey on Hebrew letters on the first day of Hebrew school so that a young child will find learning to taste good. Even today, some teachers reward us with M and Ms when we learn.

Now that I am a bar mitzvah, I’m looking forward to sharing lots of meals with those who are hungry. For my mitzvah project, I’ve been cooking for an organization called “Kids in Crisis.” I’ve made them all sorts of food, tacos, burritos, penne pasta – but no muffins yet.

I’ve come to learn though that the cooking, as important as it is, in not as important as the sharing. That’s what turns a simple sacrifice into a mitzvah.

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