May I be excused for a little self-indulgence this week? It’s my son’s Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat and it’s been on my mind. As many life cycle moments as I have experienced with the wonderful members of this wonderful community - and I am probably in the low thousands at this point - there is something about being a father of a child about to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah at the very Synagogue in which I celebrated my own Bar Mitzvah, and now serve as Rabbi, that has me astounded and humbled and excited.
It’s listening to Carmi practice the last part of the Kedushah for Musaf that really gets me. ‘LeDor vaDor’ - from one generation to another. In two words the liturgy captures the essence of being a Masorti Jew - a person engaged in passing on a gift and a tradition from the past into the future.
Here are three elements of our remarkable tradition for you Carmi; a story, a feeling and an observance.
In the creation narrative the first human - an Adam who is both man and woman at this point - is created in the image of God. It’s the most powerful idea I know, predating the rise of democracy, human rights and equality movements by thousands of years, and more powerful than any of them. To be a Jew is to see in each human being an animating force which is divine and to allow that sensibility to shape our every interaction with every human with whom we share this planet.
In this week’s parasha God tells Moses that the Children of Israel shall be a ‘Goy Kadosh,’ usually translated as a ‘Holy Nation.’ But the root ‘Kadosh’ really means ‘Other’ or ‘Beyond.’ In that line from this week’s Haftarah, God is praised as thrice-fold ‘Kadosh’. And the point of our Kedushah is that we are called to be distinctive in our faith and sense of peoplehood. We are not just another version of everyone else. There are times when our distinctiveness is purely a delight - 8 days of Chanukah!, but there are also times when our commitment to distinctiveness will be tested. There will be times not to do what we might at first flush wish to do, there will be barriers to immediate self-gratification that need to be erected and maintained to allow us to find our own distinct path of otherness. There will be some who won’t understand - don’t worry about it. The great goal of existence is not to long to be the just the same as anyone else; in fact quite the reverse.
And finally Shabbat - what a gift to a child coming of age in 5779. We live in a world that does not encourage us to commemorate that work should not empty each of the seven days of the week - the reason for Shabbat given in this week’s Torah Reading. There are many ways to rest and I suppose one could eke out every second Tuesday and the alternate Thursday for watching 12 hours of Netflix. But Shabbat is our time, it’s a time for family and a time to step back and be re-souled by rituals and in ways that have been honed by our tradition for thousands of years; from one generation to the next.
That’s all the Torah - as Hillel said after a pithier attempt to pass on our tradition on one leg - the rest is commentary, now go learn.
Good luck Carmi, I’ll be in the front row, snuffling away into a tissue, more proud than I can possibly express.