Posts Tagged 'Bar Mitzvah'

A Matter of Perspective

Yesterday we celebrated Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah. For the occasion he prepared a Shiur. He allowed me to post he class here. It was a true pleasure celebrating the extraordinary person he is becoming. So here is what he said:

To quote from a book that my family enjoyed reading together “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

In preparation for today I wanted ( or at least my Abba wanted me to) do a siyum. Over the last year I have learned Masechet Megillah as part of my Bar Mitzvah Bucket list. I wanted to share a short shiur– lesson as a completion of what my father and I learned.  

My favorite sugya in the Gemara was Megillah 16a which tells a crazy story:

When Haman goes to get Mordechai to dress him in the king’s clothes and parade him around town,  he finds Mordechai himself giving a shiur to the  Sages on the halakhot – laws of kamitzah. What you say is the kamitzah?

Image result for ‫קמיצה‬‎

Good question self. Well the kamitzah was the three finger measurement of fine flour used in the meal offering in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Mordechai sees Haman he tells the Sages to leave so they don’t get burned by his coals.

Which is interesting in that part of the meal offering itself, but back to the story in the Gemara.

Mordechai bravely stands alone before Haman, puts on his tallis and starts davening. We are left with a bizarre image of Haman patiently waiting for his mortal enemy to finish his prayers while Mordechai thinks he is about to be killed. After Mordechai finishes, Haman tells him that the king has commanded him to clothe Mordechai in the king’s clothes and parade him around town on the king’s horse. Mordechai says that he can’t do that because he is dirty and needs a haircut.

Why is he dirty and need a haircut? Excellent question self.

Seeing that his fortune has changed from nearly being killed to being paraded around town by his enemy – Mordechai leaves his state of mourning  and starts to toy with his adversary.

While that occurs Esther closes all the barbershops and bathhouses. She is mean that Esther.

In order to obey the king’s decree Haman had no choice but to cut Mordechai’s hair and bathe him. Haman then dresses him in the king’s clothes and bends down so that Mordechai can climb onto the king’s horse. As Mordechai is climbing on to the horse he kicks Haman. Haman responds quoting Proverbs (24:17) and says “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.”

While doing so Haman’s daughter, lets call her Antikke is standing on a roof and sees Haman walking and Mordechai on the horse. Antikke thinks that the person being lead around in the King’s clothes is Haman her father and the person leading him around is Mordechai. Thinking it is Mordechai from that distance she throws a chamber pot full of poop onto her father’s head.

When I think about this story in the context of the entirety of Megillat Esther I think we can learn some important lessons but I will let you be the judge of that:

1) There are many perspectives in this story that are alternating between comedy and tragedy. In the beginning of the story Mordechai’s perspective is that he is about to be killed. Antikke’s perspective is that she thinks she will punish her father’s enemy but instead punishes her father. Throughout the Megillah it seems that  G-d isn’t actually present, especially in this story we, with the reader’s perspective  see a majestic plan unfolding.

 

2) I as a reader find it problematical that the so called victims of the story are mistreating people. For example Esther’s effort to close the barber shops and showers just seems cruel in that it is engineered to shame Haman. Similarly when Mordechai kicks Haman. He didn’t just kick him, he responds to a Torah quoting Haman by  dismissing him outright, being mean spirited and being dismissive of non- Jews. This is resonant with what we see at the end of the eighth perek when the Megillah. There we read “Moreover many from among the people of the land declared themselves Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.”( Esther 8: 17)  I appreciate that they were feeling oppressed, but why do they need to make others feel oppressed?  

This is especially troubling because of current events where groups are being persecuted as in the Megillah. I hope that we come together as a nation to end persecution of anyone. The root of hatred is fear, we cannot fight it with more hatred, only with more love. This can only happen when we don’t tolerate bad behavior but also don’t behave badly ourselves. We have to strive to keep the highest standard of conduct.

I wanted to summarize what I have learned in light of my becoming a Bar Mitzvah.  There seems to be two main ideas here:

1) In this sugya as in life the line between comedy and tragedy is perspective. As Abraham Lincoln said- We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. In becoming a Bar Mitzvah I think about this quote whenever something goes wrong or someone does something wrong. I remind myself to regain the right perspective so that I can bring my best self. I try to do this because, lets say if, not that this ever happens, but imagine that Shama and Emi are fighting, and no one was around. They both tell my mom what happened individually and no matter how hard they try, they will tell the story slanted towards themselves. So in order to hear what really happened you have to see the situation from both perspectives. In any conflict there are always three perspectives: his side, her side and the truth.  I think this is why my family liked Wonder so much, because every chapter was told was a different perspective.

2) The other big idea is that we have to be just in our ends and our means. As we saw in this sugya even Mordechai himself might confuse the blessed Mordechai with cursed Haman in being unnecessarily cruel to his adversary. It is a hard lesson to learn for myself or even for our people but I realize that being the victim is never an excuse for behaving poorly.

Thank you friends and family for helping me get through this journey of sorts. Thank you all who came from out of town, from Canada to Argentina. Thank you Abba for learning Masechet Megillah with me and helping me with this speech, thank you Mami for teaching me troupe and the Mincha service, thank you both of you for helping me navigate through this strange world and thank you Shama, Emi and Libi for cheering me up when I was down, and making me feel proud of who I was, from any perspective.

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Knowing Heart: Ki Tavo and Intuition

Recently I was talking with a friend about Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion. She was helping her daughter write a Dvar Torah for her Bat Mitzvah. Her daughter was focusing on the idea at the end of the portion. There we read:

And Moshe called to all Israel, and said to them: You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;  the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders; but the Lord has not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.( Deuteronomy 29:1-3)

It is interesting in that the Torah is challenging the idea of intuition. What does it mean for the heart to know? On this Rashi says that it means “to recognize the kind acts of the Holy One, Blessed is God, and therefore to cleave to God”. What does it mean to cleave to God? In an age of fundamentalism I am very afraid of people doing acts of terrorism because of what they think they know in their hearts. I had not thought about it until looking more closely at this line, but what is the juxtaposition in this portion of the Torah. What does that mean for the heart to know as compared to the what the eyes see or what the ears hears?

This reminds me of the final chapter of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Blink. There he writes about how orchestras hold “blind” auditions where musicians literally play behind a screen. So-called expert judges are able to hear with “just their ears” rather than look first and, in that blink of an eye, make instant (often unfair) assumptions based on what they see. A tiny woman, for example, could never be a great French Horn player because she couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung capacity. Gladwell writes,“Until they listened to her with just their ears … they had no idea she was so good.”

It seems that good intuition is based on determining what is the right thing to focus in on and what is the right thing to ignore. The scary thing is how much people ignore of the world so that they can maintain their claim on what they know in their hearts. Coming of age at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is really the beginning of a process of defining your own lens for how you will start to see and hear the world and determine how you will know things in your adult life.

-link to another piece on blink Blind Taste Test

 

 

Revolutionary Growth

It was a real pleasure attending the URJ Bienial last week. While I am not quite ready to make aliyah to Reform Judaism, I have to admit that I am taken by Rabbi Rick Jacob’s ideal of audacious hospitality.  The Reform community is strong and under Rabbi Jacob’s direction they are moving in a great direction. It was exciting seeing over five thousand people unapologetically  together taking on the Jewish future. Being there I got a sense that they all understand their collective mission to manifest the welcoming tent of Avraham and Sarah. One of the most impressive aspects of Rabbi Jacob’s leadership has been his marshaling of serious resources behind the Campaign for Jewish Youth. One of the main agenda items taken up by this campaign has been Rabbi Bradley Solmsen’s B’nai Mitzah Revolution. At the Biennial I got to learn more about the revolution. They shared some of the innovations they are taking nationally in terms of refitting this coming of age ceremony for the 21st Century family. If you have not seen it, I would encourage you to check out this website.

I was thinking about this revolution when looking at Shmot, this week’s Torah portion. The Levite child is saved from the river by Batya, Pharoah’s Daughter. She gets his biological mother to nurse him. After this we read:

And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out to his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. ( Exodus 2:10-11)

On this, Rashi points out the redundancy of saying that he grew up twice. The simple meaning is that the first growth was Moses being weened and the second is his coming of age. Interesting enough that is not the answer that Rashi brings. Instead he quotes the midrash:

Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rabbi Ilai said the first mention of growth is in terms of his physical stature and the second mention of growth is in terms of attainment of rank as Pharaoh appointed him over his household. ( Tanchuma Yashan Va’eira 17)

For Rashi, this growing up happens later in life. According to Rashi, Moses comes of age in growing physically and later comes of age with his responsibilities. It is clear to me that today, more than ever, our children are not grown up when they become a bar or bat mitzvah. While I truly appreciate the need to rethink what is B’nai Mitvah, might we just say that becoming 12 or 13 is not the right time? While we might claim that our children are physically grown in some ways, they are clearly not yet the age of being responsible or having achieved any rank. This ritual cannot carry the burden of a Jewish future. ( I encourage you to read another post on this topic.) Thinking about this imagination of Moses taking over Pharaoh’s household, might I suggest another revolution?

What would it look like for us to have a Wedding Revolution? A few months ago I responded to Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, the Rabbi of the esteemed Park Avenue Synagogue, who was pushing the Conservative community to rethink their stance on conversion and intermarriage.  And while I might ultimately  disagree with him on halakhic grounds, that is not the thrust of the argument I wanted to share. Rabbi Cosgrove’s sentiment was echoed in Rabbi Jacob’s call for audacious hospitality. Why marginalize people who want join our community? Let’s get them in the door through the coming of age ceremony of getting married and then worry about converting or not converting.

I see that the issue of conversion and intermarriage today presents itself as a wonderful opportunity for liberal Judaism to redefine the paradigm of conversion and intermarriage within the context of their own values. Instead of sliding down the slippery slope of loosening their standards, why not define themselves robustly in accord with the communities’ highest values? For the Conservative Movement there is an assumption that only someone with a Jewish mother (and not necessarily Jewish father) is legally Jewish. Simply put, this is sexist. The Reform Movement has one approach to dealing with this sexism; they claim that both situations are fine.  According to their ruling if either your mother or father is Jewish so are you. Orthodoxy has the opposite approach. In the name of keeping the tradition they are fine being sexist. But might we be missing another option?

So here is the revolutionary idea. Can we make everyone undergo a “conversion” of sorts in order to get married? I am not limiting this to a halakhic discussion; obviously someone who has two Jewish parents does not need a legal conversion.  But this new mandate would deal with the sexism and the experience that anyone is being excluded. It is just the part of the new wedding ceremony. Surely all of the work that a would-be convert needs to do in the process of preparing for conversion is something that we would like for every Jewish adult.  So why not mandate that everyone go through this process?  One objection is that the current conversion process is not pleasant. Why would we subject “real” Jews to this treatment? Well that is its own big problem that needs to be fixed. Converting to Judaism should be a wonderful experience. I have no doubt that this process needs a healthy dose of transparency and in turn its own revolution.  Another objection is that it would be too rigorous. I do not claim that non-Orthodox Jews should share all of the values and behaviors of Orthodox Jews, but please stand for something. The part I most enjoyed about Rabbi Jacob’s keynote address was his articulating that Reform is not less authentic then Chabad or any other form of Jewish life. I would assume that every branch of Jewish life will have their own assumptions about defining an authentic conversion, but why not recreate the new wedding/conversion to conform to these values regardless of gender or lineage. And do not claim that it is too hard. Comfort is not a Jewish value. Being Jewish is marvelous and making a Jewish household is worth the effort.

Another objection is the right time for this innovative rite. When would someone undergo this “conversion”? And here is the genius of Rabbi Cosgrove’s argument of joining the issues of conversion and intermarriage. While conversion for the sake of getting married is prohibited by halakha, marriage is the perfect occasion for a Rabbi to guide a couple through this new “conversion” ritual. Surely this would make Rabbis better gate keepers if we had a way to offer all people interested entrance. Blind to their gender or lineage they would go through this process. Surely getting married is a more logical time to claim that someone is ” grown up” and ready to attain the rank as co-head of a household.

Coupling these issues of conversion and marriage for Conservative and Reform Judaism also presents Orthodox Jews a wonderful opportunity. Just look at how having a Bat Mitvah, an innovation of Liberal Judaism, has been migrating in different versions into mainstream Orthodox circles. This new marriage/conversion ritual might not be halakhic, but it sure seems like an interesting public policy a  humra – religious stringency, that will benefit the the entire Jewish community. Our different religious values speak to our most basic and common human needs. Over time this ritual will make the Jewish people much stronger. Audacious hospitality deserves more audacious revolutions.


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