Friday, June 16, 2017

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sarah Eisenstein on Behaalotcha

Let me begin with a story, since I love to tell stories, especially this one, which has to do with my dad’s bar mitzvah. 

His rabbi was very strict and formal - unlike Rabbi Hammerman – and yes, Rabbi Hammerman told me to say that.

So in my dad’s bar mitzvah speech, he was not allowed to tell any jokes… and jokes are pretty much what my dad is made of!

But on the day of his bar mitzvah, he left his speech at home.  And while my grandpa and the rabbi were fuming on the sides, my dad had to reach back to try to remember what he could…but all he could remember were the jokes he was going to put in. 

So he gave his speech and the congregation was roaring with laughter, while the rabbi was pouting in the background.

 By the way, there’s no restriction on how many jokes I can use.  After all, my portion of Beha’alotcha is the funniest in whole Torah.  It’s so funny it actually has the word “ha” in it!

This is where you are supposed to be laughing!

Life is filled with stories funny and sad, and they all come together to teach us lessons and help us grow.  The stories in the Torah help to map out the journey of our lives, and in many ways my journey to adulthood beginning today.

My portion also contains many stories, both humorous and serious, and each has lessons that can help me on my journey.

It so happens that the theme for my celebration is based on my interest in Asia, where my grandma is from.   Having a diverse background has helped me to appreciate how travel can change our perspective.  The more we experience, good and bad, the more we grow - even from our mistakes.

In my portion, the Israelites begin their journey toward the land of Israel, after months of staying put. These verses are framed by two nuns, Hebrew letters that are facing backwards.   It’s a little strange and no one really knows why those backwards nuns are put there in the first place. 

Maybe it’s to teach us that while we always need to be moving forward, at the same time we need to look back and learn from what we’ve done in the past.    Or perhaps it’s to prepare us for the fact that for every two steps forward, there will be one step back.  There will be lots of setbacks – or step backs - along the way.

Incidentally, the prayers where we take the Torah out of the ark, along with the prayer when we return the Torah to the ark, begin with these verses that are between the nuns.   Back in those days, the Ark would actually lead them on their journey.   Today the ark stays in one place, but the Torah’s journey to and from the ark is a reminder for us to take the lessons of the Torah with us on OUR journeys.  Just as the ark goes on a journey, so do we.

One example in my portion is a story where Miriam and Aaron gossip about their brother Moses.  As a result, Miriam gets afflicted by a terrible disease, leprosy.  But Moses forgives her and prays for her recovery.  This is an example of how we should always be open and forgiving, as Moses was.

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