In my office I have a picture of me at my Bar Mitzvah. I’m dressed in a suit with a fresh haircut. I have a smile on my face. And I am holding a Torah with beautiful silver ornaments. Did I really understand what I was holding? Did I understand that I was holding the sacred heritage of our people and passed from one generation to the next? I think not. I’m pretty sure that I was thinking about the Torah portion that I would soon be chanting. I was probably a little anxious about it, as are most kids. That doesn’t change with time.
Now, so many years later, I find myself holding our sacred Torah, and I understand so much that I couldn’t imagine or understand at my Bar Mitzvah.
I’ve learned that Mitzva means “commandment” and there are 613 of them in the Torah. A great number of which are no longer applicable because we no longer have the sacred Temple in Jerusalem and we no longer offer animal sacrifices in our worship.
I’ve learned that most of the MITZVOT concern our dealings with other people as they focus upon the pursuit of justice and performing acts of loving kindness. And of course, there are the Mitzvot/Commandments that tell us how to observe sacred times of the year. To retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and to speak of how much we cherish freedom. To hear the sounds of the Shofar and its message of honest introspection and renewal. To observe the Sabbath in a meaningful way, that we might be reminded of that which is holy in our own lives. To light candles and drink of the cup of wine—symbols for our quest for tranquility and rest, and a true sense of gratitude for the blessings of our lives. These are the Mitzvot that summon us to stop, and make these observances rich and meaningful.
Again I find myself holding the Torah on this special Sabbath. We will be reading of the Creation of the world. As the debate between theology and science will never be resolved, we read of a Power beyond ourselves that brought this incredible world into being. An “enabler” who/that made it possible that we humans would have the capacity for so much good, and evil also.
And something more that I have learned about the Torah: the devotion with which all previous generations cherished the values and ideals that are the essence of Torah. And I’ve surely learned of those holy martyrs of our people whose lives were extinguished because of their refusal to give up the ways of Torah.
I want to hand you the Torah. But the only way I can do it is if you join us for Shabbat services more often, and consider participating in our Saturday morning Torah Discussion Forum. Also, I will be teaching an Adult Confirmation class, two times each month, beginning on Thursday evening, November 21st. I trust that in each case you will be rewarded with something enriching and spiritual.
I wish you a Sabbath of health, love and tranquility.
Rabbi David Greenberg