Shabbat Shalom! I would first like to thank everybody for coming all the way out here to Santa Fe. I would like to make one point about my Parshah and my Haftorah.
My Parshah of Bechukotai and my Haftorah from Jeremiah deal with good and bad, and the resulting rewards and punishments. The Parshah and the Haftorah have different concepts about good and bad, and their consequences. These differences exist because Jeremiah and the Torah spoke to the Jewish people at different stages of our historical and moral development. Although we regard the Torah and the Prophets as eternal, the texts are clearly written as speaking to the Jewish people at specific points in history. In Vayikra, God is speaking through Moses to the Israelites in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites are wanderers who have just left slavery and will become farmers whose existence depends on the success of this year's crop. Therefore, the Torah defines good and bad as observing mitzvot and not worshipping idols, and rewards and punishments in terms of the success of crops and the fear of invading armies. Jeremiah speaks to Jews living in a wealthy, sophisticated capital city in contact with the great empires of Egypt and Babylonia. Besides talking about sin, Jeremiah talks about knowing and trusting in God’s power. The rewards for proper behavior AND faith are not only practical but also spiritual.
The Torah says that you have to follow its laws. The first Pasuk of my Parshah says: "If you follow My ways and you listen to my mitzvot, these shall happen to you." When you are bad the Torah says in Chapter 26, verse 14, "But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments," and goes on to say what you will suffer. You are told to observe mitzvot and there is no mention of trust or faith in God.
The Torah says that if you do not follow Hashem's ways and laws then you will not have security and you will be so scared of your enemies that you will run when no one is chasing you. You will be so afraid that the sound of a leaf blowing in the air scares you. If you do what God wants, there will be peace in the land and no wild beasts or armies will bother you. At the time that the Israelites left Egypt and entered Eretz Yisrael, there were so many wandering tribes that security was the main issue.
Another type of reward or punishment is whether you can grow enough food. Chapter 26, verse 4 says: "I will grant your rains in their season, so that the Earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit." One of the punishments for not following God’s commandments is stated in Chapter 26, verse 19: "I will make your skies like iron and your Earth like copper." Chapter 26, verse 26 says: "When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven, they shall dole out your bread by weight, and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied." There will be so little wheat that ten women have to bake in one oven and even then they will allot the bread by weight because there is so little. You will eat and you will not be satisfied. The Torah says that your land shall be so desolate that your enemies will not want it. If you lose your crops, you will die of starvation. If you have no security, you will go into exile in the enemies' land. The Torah is focused on food and security.
I couldn't help but notice that in my Parshah there are 11 Pasukim that say what happens if you are good and 31 Pasukim that explain what happens if you are bad. For the Torah, the fear of punishment is a more effective reason for following God’s commandments.
Jeremiah has a more sophisticated idea of what God wants. Jeremiah does talk about sin--in the first verse of chapter 17 he talks about “The sin of Judah” and he attacks the Jews worshiping idols. However, he is mostly interested in faith and trust. In chapter 17, verse 5, he says “cursed is the man who trusts in man...” and in verse 7 he says “blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord...” God is interested not only in what you do but also in why you do it. In verse 10 Jeremiah says “I the Lord search the heart and test the kidneys, and give to each man according to his ways and to the fruit of his actions.” In Jeremiah’s time the heart was believed to do the thinking and the kidneys controlled the emotions.
While Jeremiah does speak about material rewards and punishments, he has a more complicated view. In verse 11 he says that if you gain money improperly, you will lose it in the middle of your life. If you lose the money while you are still young, you can get it back again. If you lose your money when you are old, it won't matter as much because you will die having had that money to use most of your life.
The rewards will also be spiritual. Verse 8 says that he who trusts in Hashem "shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not see when heat comes, but its foliage shall be luxuriant, and shall not be anxious when the year of drought comes, neither shall cease from yielding fruit," as it says on my invitation. While this Pasuk uses an agricultural image, it is not really talking about having enough to eat but about your soul and how it will thrive if you not only follow Hashem's laws but you follow them because you want to follow them.
In summary, in my Parshah the people were wandering in the desert for 40 years. Hashem had to treat them and give them laws in such a way that you would to a small child. They may not believe in them but they had to follow them. Jeremiah was in a more sophisticated society and talked about not only following Hashem's ways and laws but about believing in Hashem. What we learn from the way that the idea of good and evil, and mitzvot and sin developed is that God wants us to participate in the Brit from understanding rather than from blind, unthinking obedience.
Dear family and friends,
I would like to thank everyone from out of town for coming to my Bar-Mitzvah. I would like to especially thank my Saba and Saftah, Bobba and Zeida, and most especially all my friends from San Diego, as well as everyone else who came from all over the world to celebrate my Bar-Mitzvah with us. It really means a lot to me. I would also like to thank my rabbi in San Diego for teaching me the trope for my Parshah. I would then like to thank my Bobba and Zeida for taking me to Israel to further increase my studies for my Bar-Mitzvah and to actually see where Jeremiah lived. When we went to Israel, one of the places we visited was Migdahl Ohr. Migdahl Ohr is led by a rabbi who has given his life to taking kids in from the streets and also taking in abused children. This place started out with 10 people and now has over 6000. These children have grown up to be everything from government officials to every walk of life. When I went there, it made a huge impact on my heart. That is why I am going to give a significant part of my Bar- Mitzvah money to this organization as tzedakah. I would like to thank my Saba for teaching me everything for my Bar-Mitzvah ranging from my Parshah and my Haftorah to my Dvar Torah and my Saftah for teaching me Hebrew. I would like to thank my Uncle Paul for helping me out with musaf and my brother for helping me with davening and trope. He also distracted me a lot which also helped. I would then like to thank my Bobba for coming in early to help and my Auntie Shira for helping my mother cook. And last but absolutely far from least, I would like to thank my parents for making this Bar-Mitzvah possible: my mother for doing all the cooking down to the last cream puff and my father for teaching me the Haftorah trope, the rashi for my Parshah and numerous other things which are the most important as well as helping me with my Dvar Torah. You two have supported me throughout the whole process and even told me that I would get nervous, just to make me feel better. Thank you and I love you. Again, thank you everybody for coming.
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