I am pleased to share Samara Angel’s Dvar Torah on Parashat Kedoshim from her recent bat mitzvah at Congregation Nevei Kodesh.
by Samara Angel
Shabbat Shalom! I am so glad that you could all be here with me today as I celebrate my Bat Mitzvah. I am grateful that you are all part of my life and my transition into Jewish adulthood.
Some people I know enjoy being Jewish because of our holidays. While I personally love Purim, Sukkot, and especially Hanukah, I also love being Jewish for the feeling of community. The thing that is most impressive to me about Jewish community is that everyone watches everyone else’s back, and we all look out for each other. There aren’t many Jews in the world, only about 0.2% of the population, so when you meet another Jew on the street, you have a connection from your heritage; it is like you are family.
Yet it can be hard to be the only Jewish kid in a given place, and I occasionally feel that I am alone. It is at these times that I wish there were more Jews in the world. Another thing that can be hard is understanding why our traditions are the way they are. For instance: What does all that this Hebrew mean? And why is it so hard to understand?
When I started studying for my Bat Mitzvah, I knew that I was preparing to make a passage into Jewish adulthood, but I didn’t really understand *why*I was doing it. I never really learned the importance of why I was doing what I was doing. Then one day, in Crossing the River class, I was looking into the candle that is always lit when we are studying, and I realized G-d had a plan for me. I would find out what was so special about this process as I went through it. I feel that G-d and the Torah are intertwined; and as I learn and apply more Torah to my life, I am gaining a deeper connection to G-d.
To me, the Torah is a guide, something that is there to help. I have always known how special the Torah is. Yet, while studying for my Bat Mitzvah I learned that the Torah, although written thousands of years ago, is very relevant to today. In the parshah or torah portion I studied for today, I have learned so much about my life. I apply the things I have learned every day, and I think how amazing it is that I use the Torah so much in something other than services. The coolest thing though, is that I have learned so much in one parshah, and there are 53 more parshiot in the Torah to learn from.
I think that it is amazing that Jews all over the world are reading the same Torah Portion today, Kedoshim, and even more amazing that Jews all over the world are saying “Isn’t it amazing that Jews all over the world are reading this same Torah portion?” It gives a sense of community to know that hundreds of congregations and thousands of people are all chanting, studying, and analyzing this very parshah.
Kedoshim is different than many parshiot in the Torah because it doesn’t have a story line. Instead it has laws, many laws of all kinds which all fall under the category of two little words with a big meaning: *Kedoshim Tihiyu*, You shall be holy.
Holiness is a concept, but what does that mean? The Torah says *Kedoshim Tihiyu* *ki kadosh ani Adonai Eloheychem.* You shall be holy for I the lord your G-d am holy. What does it mean to be holy? And what is holiness anyway?
I honestly don’t know. But one experience I had with holiness was a little while after my Grandpa died. I was about 9 years old and I was in the car driving home. I was looking out the window at the clouds and I saw one that looked like an archway. Then I saw another cloud going through it, like a spirit passing into heaven. This made me feel a deep sense of connection with my grandpa, like he was telling me that he was going into heaven. And then I knew that he hadn’t truly gone away, and he would always be watching out for me. This experience was very holy to me.
Holiness can be in all of our lives, if we know how to open up to it. Holiness is a higher connection to G-d and to ourselves. I personally open myself up to higher experiences whenever I have profound feelings, like being sad about important things, or being truly content. It is when I open up my heart and allow myself to have deep feelings that I experience holiness.
One thing I feel sure of is that you can’t fake being holy. I also know that you are not holy just because you have studied a lot of Torah, or because you sometimes are a kind person. Being holy is a way of life. It’s deciding to be open to a different level of awareness.
The Torah tells us to interpret each law, to read between the lines and apply each one to our own lives. In this sense, my parshah is the ‘free’ parshah, because everyone can apply their own story, and interpret the laws to their own lives.
Of the many laws in Kedoshim, I want to concentrate on the deeper meaning of three.
The first law is *lo tekalel heresh *or do not curse the deaf. This, of course, means don’t say unkind things that will embarrass a person who cannot hear them. But it might also apply to how we treat a person who is not really deaf, but simply cannot understand the language being spoken. For example: saying to a person who cannot understand Spanish something such as: tu eres un burro, or you are a donkey. They might then laugh and say si, or yes, thinking that you were telling a funny joke or complementing them, but they would be making a fool of themselves.
The second one is *lifnay iver lo titen michshol,* or: do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind. This literally means to avoid doing something that might hurt a person who can’t see. But who would try to trip a blind person? Not me! However, this might also mean to never take advantage of somebody if they aren’t familiar with the place they are in; like, if a taxi driver in a foreign country drove 5 miles to get you to a destination only 1 block away. You can’t defend yourself, because you don’t know the streets or even the language!
The last law I want to focus on is *vahafta lorecha camocha*, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is very important to me. I hold fairness in high esteem, and if you love your neighbor as yourself then you are being fair to them. It isn’t fair to be unkind to somebody, for whatever reason, and you wouldn’t want someone to be unkind to you. As a human being, I admit that I have sometimes been unkind to others, but I know that I don’t like it when people are unkind to me, so I try very hard not to be unfriendly to others.
We all know it is important to treat others the way we want to be treated, but why? I think that this is because the Torah teaches us that we’re all created *b’tzelem elohim,* in G-d’s Image, which means that if we are treating each other unkindly, we are treating G-d unkindly as well. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we try not to judge them. But it is hard not to judge others. Why? I think it’s because it’s human nature to judge ourselves, and if we judge ourselves, then we are likely to judge others as well. So, if we can learn how to be less judgmental toward ourselves, we can learn how to be less judgmental toward others. My realization about judgments led me to create my Bat Mitzvah project.
I try not to be judgmental of others, but everybody judges. It’s hard to be holy if we judge other people because judging closes our hearts. Judging implies that we are better than others, and to be holy, I feel that we need to understand that everyone is equal, because everyone is created in the image of G-d. One day, I noticed the judgments I was making, and I realized how much everybody judges others. For my Mitzvah project, I chose to create a website called Noticing Judgments, where you can pledge to notice the judgments you make and also take an 18-day course to notice your judgments, every other day with a specific topic of judgment. I am hoping to get 500 people to sign up and take the pledge. So far over 100 people have pledged. If you haven’t already pledged, I would love for you to take the pledge. I am so excited to have had the opportunity to make so many people aware of their judgments. I know that I have learned a lot from this project.
Yasher koach, Samara! Boulder Jewish News encourages Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to submit their d’var torah for publication, so that the community may learn from our young adults. Information about Mitzvah/Tikkun Olam projects is also welcome. For more information, please email email@example.com.