Jordan's D'var Torah
Those of you who know me know that I’ve been looking forward to this day every day for the past 13 years. Since this day was scheduled, every morning I’ve woken up and looked at my calendar to see how much time was left until today – not in days but in minutes! And I couldn’t be happier than to be sharing this day with my sister!
Can I get that computer now? ☺
But seriously, one thing that’s important to know about me is my interest in technology and science. I love the idea of exploring new things, both on this planet and beyond. There’s so much to discover. The pursuit of truth is done through the scientific method.
1) Make an observation. ...
2) Ask a question. ...
3) Propose a hypothesis. ...
4) Make predictions. ...
5) Test the predictions. ...
6) Restate your observation
All of this demands constant questioning, and never accepting things on face value.
My portion gives us an example of how important it is to ask questions, even of the Torah itself. The portion sets up an objective definition of who is qualified to be a Jewish leader – a priest. But some of the qualifications don’t apply to our time. For instance, the text states that a priest couldn’t officiate if he is blind or lame. These days, Jews encourage more inclusiveness in choosing religious leaders – many rabbis and other leaders are physically or intellectually challenged. And it is quite fitting for us to question the conclusions drawn by the Torah.
The key is to struggle with ideas that don’t make sense – just as science does. In fact, the word Israel actually means “to struggle with God.”
The importance of asking questions is taught early, as it’s the youngest at the table who asks the four questions during Passover. We’re always asking questions –
One of the greatest scientists of all, and the greatest Jewish scientist too, Albert Einstein - who by the way overcame learning challenges at a young age - saw no conflict between science and religion. In fact, in choosing to feature disabilities like blindness and immobility, my portion is simply anticipating a famous quote by Einstein – or maybe Einstein was commenting on my portion - when he said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
As I become a Bar Mitzvah, I’m proud to be growing up in a religious tradition that values the power of the mind, the ability to ask questions, and the scientific method.
For my mitzvah project, I am volunteering, donating collected items and money to Lucky Dog Refuge. Lucky Dog works with dogs most in need of saving. Those that have been abandoned by their families, are stray, starving, injured and sick.
The staff works to heal and help each dog and then find them forever homes filled with love. If you are interested in learning more, you can find a URL in the back of the program.
Brooke, now it’s your turn to share your words of wisdom.
Brooke's D'var Torah
If someone were to ask me what are the four things I love to do most – aside from Hebrew school, that is - they would be dancing, reading, hanging out with friends…and makeup.
I found that my portion Emor speaks to all of them. That’s because it describes the cycle of
the Jewish festivals in great detail.
All of these holidays involved getting together with friends back in the days of the Bible, just as they do now. People would make long trips to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. So that’s the hanging out part.
As for reading, they would hang out there and read from the Torah – the holy book. Plus, on one of those holidays, Shavuot, we actually celebrate the giving of the Torah, although that it’s not mentioned specifically in this portion.
On another one of the holidays mentioned, Yom Kippur, we are commanded to refrain from eating. But the fast also includes refraining from putting on makeup. That’s pretty sad for me, because I love putting on makeup. Yom Kippur is really going to be hard for me this year, now that I am old enough to fast.
So that just leaves the last festival, Sukkot, and dance. In this portion, we are commanded to be happy on this holiday. How can you command someone to be happy? All I know is that when I start to dance, I get happier. Reading makes me happy too, by the way.
So what do we do on Sukkot? We do a lot of dancing. We circle the sanctuary every day of the holiday, and on the final day, we circle with the Torahs. On Simchat Torah we dance and dance and dance – and get candy!
When we circle on the festival, we carry four items that represent different parts of nature, to show that the whole world is dancing with us. One of those items is a branch that is called arvey nachal – which in Hebrew means “willow of the brook.” So yes, even I am mentioned in this portion, even if the brook there is spelled without the “e.” And my friend Willow is mentioned too!
So these are things that make me happy.
But another thing that makes me happy is when I can make other people happy. My friend
Emmet made other people very happy, just with his smile and because he was funny and energetic. Now, the playground outside this synagogue is helping to keep that happy spirit alive, so kids can have fun and be energetic there. For my mitzvah project, I’m raising money to beautify the playground (even though it’s already beautiful), and to plant flowers there for the spring.
The festival cycle brings joy to daily life. And so does the playground. And now, as I become a bat mitzvah, I hope to bring happiness to other people and to the world, so that every day will feel like a holiday.
A great Hassidic rabbi said, “If we are constantly joyful, we shall be released from every hardship."
It doesn’t take much to keep me happy – just friends and family, a good book, a little makeup and a chance to dance.