Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Elena Singer-Freeman on Tzav

Shabbat Shalom! My name is Elena Singer-Freeman, and Torah portion is about the offerings that Aaron and the high priests brought. The rules about offerings are described with every step explained in great detail. To many, this portion may just seem like a boring rule book, however there are some deeper meanings that I would like to discuss. First of all, by doing things in a certain way you become connected with the community that does these things in the same way. This means that learning and following rules can be a route to feeling that you are a part of a group. Secondly, sometimes it’s not enough to just do something, it needs to be done the right way. In these cases, rules ensure success and show respect. And finally, the journey can be as important as the destination. Sometimes, the method is more important than the result.

Let me try to explain these ideas in a way that I can relate to. I don’t know much about offerings, but I do know a decent amount about academics. So, I’m guessing most of you know what scientific notation is. Even if you don’t, it’s basically a bunch of rules telling you what to do and what not to do while writing your wickedly complicated answer to a math or science problem. These rules sound dumb. But really, they’re not. Scientific notation helps scientists and mathematicians communicate and connect, almost like their own language. Following the rules of offering (back then, we don’t do it now) connected the high priests to each other over generations. When priests sacrificed a goat, they knew that they were following in the honored goat hoof steps of the many priests who had come before them. 

Here’s a another example; grammar. Why put a comma here instead of there? It seems like just another rule that makes no sense! Well, take this example; If I said, “I like cooking my family and my pets” you should call the police. BUT if I said “I like cooking, my family, and my pets” you would tell your friends that I am a well rounded person!  Grammar helps everyone speaking the same language communicate more clearly. Similarly, always following the same steps when making offerings, might allow the Israelites to better understand the priests’ rituals. Improving our understanding of rituals will give them more power.

A second reason that rules are valuable is that sometimes things need to be done well, not just “done”. For example, in gymnastics, judges care about the skills and difficulty level in your routine, however they care just as much, if not more, about how well the skills are performed. To achieve “well done” skills, you need to take the hard route- no shortcuts. This means performing many drills and strength training to deliver the skill perfectly in competition; no bent legs!  When I do a skill well I have a sense of pride. Similarly, making offerings the right way, would give the priests a feeling of the importance of what they were doing. Also, perhaps offerings done the right way gets you extra credit points with G-d.

Finally, in my portion, what’s more important than the offerings themselves, is the process that gets you to the end result. This is the difference between the journey and the destination. Returning to academics, math teachers love correct answers, but they won’t give you full credit unless you show your work. For all they know, you could have guessed that x≥y^37. They need to see your work so they know that you understand the journey that brought you to this answer. Offerings are all about the journey. You can end up with the same dead bull in many different ways, but it’s all about how you killed it. A sacrifice that is the end of carefully enacted ritual steps demonstrates respect and love for G-d. All other routes to a big mac lack meaning. In Judaism, some of the laws might seem as obscure as the rules regarding commas. For instance, the fact that a matzah can’t rest for more than 18 minutes before it is put into the oven might seem pointless; what difference would another minute make? It would be the difference between a kosher and non-kosher matzah. The end result; the matzah coming out of the oven may look exactly the same, however it’s the journey that counts.

Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is not just about standing up here and reading some Hebrew, it’s about the many months, even years that I have spent preparing for this special occasion. Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” This year I had to balance the demands of my gymnastics training with my commitment to my Jewish education. I arranged to read books about the Holocaust on my own and miss one of my weekly gymnastics practices in order to continue my progress in both areas. I am currently working to find a way to maintain my athletic training when I attend overnight camp. Difficult choices and personal sacrifices are all part of the journey, which is more significant than the end result.  The end result of standing here today is pretty cool, though. 

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