I don’t know how the Torah portions are assigned – but for some reason the stars were perfectly aligned when I got mine. For those who don’t know me, my dad was born in the City of Brotherly Love.
So I am a huge fan of everything from Philadelphia – well maybe everything but the hoagies. But I love the Eagles, the Phillies and the Sixers.
And rabbi, I am soooo sorry that the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl last year. (pause)
Not only that, but like any true Philadelphian, I love American history.
I’ve been on the Freedom Trail and at the JFK Library in Boston, to the Spy Museum in Washington, the LBJ Museum in Austin, Texas, and of course, Independence Hall in Philadelphia. And just a few weeks ago, I went with my Hebrew School class to the Lower East Side of New York, where so many Jews first set foot in America. It was interesting to learn about how families were able to hold together despite hard times and crowded conditions. So I am fascinated by American history and Jewish history.
Oh, and by the way, I LOVE the musical Hamilton! My favorite characters were Thomas Jefferson and King George III.
So what does all this have to do with my portion?
It comes down to one line.
The portion, Behar, speaks about the Jubilee year, the 50th year, when all slaves were set free. One verse tells about how the shofar is sounded at the beginning of that year, and it says, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
That’s the same verse that is found on the Liberty Bell. By the way, I really liked visiting the Liberty Bell, although I don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be.
The interesting thing is that in the portion, the verse is talking about freeing slaves. But on the Liberty Bell, it’s talking about freedom from Britain and my buddy, King George III.
It’s definitely not talking about freeing slaves – because that didn’t happen for about another 90 years.
American history is filled with lots of compromises, and that one was one of the worst. But the laws of the Torah also are built on compromise. They had slavery too, and it was laws like the Jubilee year that were designed to correct them.
By the way, there’s also an American JEWISH history museum in Philly, right near the Liberty Bell. But one could say that in America at least, freedom comes with a Philadelphia accent. That’s what makes Philly special! Ooops… sorry, rabbi.
For my mitzvah project, I went to Stop and Shop and stood in front and asked people to help buy and donate food for the Jewish Family Services’ Passover food drive. I collected several hundred dollars’ worth of food, enough to fill three cars. Then we brought the food down to the kosher food bank and helped them put it away. During Passover, I thought about how through my efforts, people who otherwise might not have afforded Passover food were able to celebrate the holiday. Also, the food in the baskets in front of the Bimas today are also being donated to Jewish Family Services.
And so today, I am becoming part of American Jewish history. And this is definitely the room “where it happens.”
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