Archive for March, 2011

Nathan’s D’var Torah

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Our Torah portion is Vayikrah, the first parasha in Leviticus. These chapters describe the details of animal and meal sacrifices that were performed at the mishkan. The sacrifices were performed for forgiveness, for festivals, and for a gift to God. Our haftarah was written by Deutro- Isaiah when the Jews were in Babylon. The last section talks about how idols were false and useless. He tells a story about a craftsman who selects a tree from the forest. With half the wood he makes a beautiful statue and prays to it. He burns the other half of the wood to cook his meat and to keep his house warm. The prophet complains that all this work is for no purpose.

I wondered why it was so useless and bad to pray to a wood statue and so good to sacrifice an animal. Both sounded pretty similar to me. The wood statute and the animal were the result of a person’s work. Also, both involved a physical god, either the statue or a god who likes the smell of meat. It even seems better to use wood, rather than killing an animal. However, they are different in an important way, the intention of the worshippers. I think the intention of the Israelites was to build a community.

We don’t know the intention of the idol worshipper, but in this haftarah the craftsman prays alone to his hand-made god. For the Israelites, the sacrifices were performed for forgiveness from the community and to feel closer to God. The Israelites had one God that was shared by everyone. The whole organization of the temple, priests, and shared rituals, built a community for the Israelites.

We don’t sacrifice animals any more, but we build community by praying and working together. Having a community means that we help each other. For my Bar Mitzvah project, I wanted to make buildings more energy efficient, but that is hard to do alone. Cantor Rachel suggested that I contact Yachad, an organization that improves housing for the poor. Friends from Adat Shalom, volunteers from Yachad, my family, and I repaired and painted a home for an elderly lady. Through Yachad and this community of volunteers, I was able to make her home more energy efficient and beautiful.

Becoming a Bar Mitzvah, means that I am a full member of the community. Before I didn’t have that many jobs because people took care of me. But now I have take on more responsibilities. Sometimes it’s hard to get things done with other people. In my family, I struggle to even get my brothers to listen to me.

We’ll never go back to animal sacrifice, but if we put as much care and energy into building community as the Israelites did for their animal sacrifices, we can have a community that will support each other as we go through good and bad times. So we can either carve pretty statues alone or we can do the messy, but rewarding work of making a community. Shabbat shalom

Boy to Man, House to Home

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Every year, thousands of young Jews get Bar/Bat Mitzvahed. It is a special day for them, their family, friends and congregation. However, it is not as common that it is also a special day for a complete stranger.

B’nai Mitzvah, Nathan, chose to work with Yachad in honor of his Bar Mitzvah this month. He wanted to enter the Jewish community by participating in one of the most important aspects of Jewish responsibility- tikkun olam (repairing the world) and he truly wanted to have a direct and meaningful impact on someoene’s life and also the environment. Because of this, he chose to do a Yachad Mitzvah Party with his friends and family.

Yachad matched Nathan and his group of volunteers to Mrs. Doris Smith’s house in the Petworth neighborhood of DC. Mrs. Smith, a long time Washingtonian had been living in her home for over 30 years and after retiring from a government job, raising two children, and losing her husband, she found her home in a bit of disrepair. That’s where Yachad and Nathan came in. A week before his Bar Mitzvah, he and his group painted, patched and helped make the home more energy-efficient. Mrs. Smith worked hard as well to prep her house for the volunteers and the day of, helped make the volunteers feel at home.

Check out some photos from the day and also read Nathan’s D’var Torah about his experience with Yachad. If you or someone you know is interested in hosting a Mitzvah Party for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or any other reason at all, please contact us.