We are pleased to share Nadiv Edelstein’s Dvar Torah on Parashat B’Midbar from his recent bar mitzvah at Congregation Bonai Shalom.
by Nadiv Edelstein
My bar mitzvah portion is from —B’Midbar. The first section is particularly interesting, but subtle.
שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל
‘Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel ….’
The parasha seems to focus on census taking, but beyond that, other important ideas lie half hidden here. If we look at the Hebrew, it describes the way one counts people. Literally it says “lift the head” – “s’u et rosh”. What stands out to me is that we count people as individuals, that is, lift the heads of each individual so that each person counts in his or her own right.
This greatly differs from just counting numbers of people. God asks that people be counted as individuals.
Rambam, a famous Medieval Torah commentator also known as Maimonides, teaches that Moses, our leader, must find out how many people are with him specifically to know who will be able to defend the Israelites. Rashi, the French Rabbi and commentator, on the other hand, believes that God is telling Moses that he must raise heads–showing that Tikun Olam (literally, ‘repairing the world’) depends upon each of us, ‘our heads.’
I agree. Every person is an individual and every person is counted as a part of a community. When we look at each person, we want to see how they are unique and what they offer as part of the community.
I’d like to consider the idea that this process of checking each person is to consider each individual’s contribution to our whole society. There are so many things I consider important which need to be done to help others. What role do I play? Where is my place?
For me, at this point in my life, I hope to focus on the importance of farming and local agriculture. (I am the son of a kibbutznik and moshavnikit!) I wish to make a difference in my community by addressing something I think is important – sustaining our local agriculture.
Michael Pollan, in his book “In Defense of Food,” says: “shake the hand that feeds you” referring to the fact that groceries don’t feed you; farmers do. It all starts with local farmers. Do we really know the faces of the farmers who provide us food?
It makes sense to approach our local agriculture in a couple of ways. First, I want to learn and to educate. Second, I want to act and hope that others will act, too.
Colorado is a large agricultural state. Most of the food we eat, though, is NOT grown here. Transition Colorado, a local nonprofit, is promoting the local food pledge. Learning about the local food pledge and educating others about this pledge is one way to influence the actions of others. This pledge asks us to purchase 10% of our food from local farmers. If you like coffee or bananas, you can still purchase them even though they might not grow in Colorado. They would be part of the 90% of food substances which are not locally produced.
But many other products are—corn, wheat, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, apples and peaches. Where in Colorado can we buy the locally produced vegetables and fruits? How about going to your farmers’ market and purchasing food there? Or you could join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture Program), like my family with the Boulder Jewish CSA with Red Wagon Farm.
Think of the benefits buying local food has. We hurt the environment less since we waste less fuel on transporting the food to the market. We renew our commitment to our community’s lands. We stimulate the local economy and support our farmers. I have spoken about this to groups in a number of different forums: to my congregation, Bonai Shalom during Yom Kippur Services; at the Mizel Museum in Denver; at the Hazon Food Festival; and for an interview for an article about local food sources.
Beyond learning and education, my second approach is to act.
I am learning about beekeeping and have built a hive to support the plants, flowers, and trees in our neighborhood. (My original idea was to put chickens in my backyard, but aside from a local ordinance that doesn’t allow raising chickens in Louisville, my mom NEVER SUPPORTED that idea!)
Beekeeping is important because it adds pollinators to the ecosystem. Without bees, most of the food we enjoy would be gone! Foods that bees pollinate include fruits and vegetables—kiwi, strawberries, watermelon, oranges, mustard, and many more. Bees are altruistic workers and can provide for themselves and us, whether they pollinate plants in our yard or our neighbors. Some cool things you might not know about bees. In their quest to make honey:
- they support local agriculture
- fly a total of 55,000 miles
- tap 2,000,000 local flowers
- to produce ONE pound of honey and
- 1/3 of all food is either directly or indirectly related to bees
The Torah is full of wisdom about agriculture and our relationship with the land. My parasha, B’midbar, reminds us of that we are a community where every individual counts, just as the bees in the hive. And, as with the bees, it is important that we work together as a community.
As a Bar Mitzvah, I hope to take my place and play my role as an individual and offer my uniqueness to the community and to the earth.
I think it important to remember again that God asks that people be counted as individuals. He commands us to lift up the heads of others and see them. “S’u et rosh”.
Yasher koach, Nadiv! 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.