This week we offer you a special take on the weekly Torah portion. Jacob Artson, Rabbi Artson’s son, turned 13 this week, and he celebrated his becoming a bar mitzvah by leading the Torah services on Rosh Hodesh Elul, where he delivered this D’var Torah on Parashat Shoftim. May he be blessed to teach Torah for many years to come, and may we be open to the many teachers to come our way!
Bar Mitzvah Speech
The parashah this week is Shoftim and it has some amazing insights in it. I want to tell you about two that particularly struck me.
God explains to the Israelites that when they enter the Promised Land, each tribe will be given its own land, except for the Levites. The Levites earn their sustenance by serving in God’s temple and eating from the sacrifices. What if our world worked the same way? Would we treat the Levites as God’s servants, deserving the best we have to offer? Or would we give them our leftovers and expect someone else to care for the Levites? Would the Levites have reason to respect us, or would we prove to be miserly with our deeds? I have been very blessed throughout my life to have been supported by many fantastic teachers, therapists, physicians, facilitators, and friends. I have seen the most godly aspect of humanity every day. This gives me great faith in our community and a great sense of gratitude for all the gifts that have been bestowed on me. Like the Levites in the parashah, I may not have a piece of land of my own, but I have sustenance in great abundance because the community has given me its choicest people and gifts.
The other rule I noticed is among the rules of warfare. The Torah says that any soldier who is afraid is not required to fight in a war. I think this is a rule that probably was never enforced. Fear is made so much less scary when we know we don’t have to confront it directly. Knowing that he can be excused on account of his fear probably helped the soldier regain his confidence so he could serve in the army along with his neighbors. A few years ago, when the intifada was at its height, there was some concern about whether the Ziegler rabbinical students would go to Israel for their third year. My Abba told them that any student who wanted an exemption would get one, but not one student elected to stay behind.
This teaching is true in my life too because I often have to do things that are really scary to me. Some autistic people like Temple Grandin even talk about fear being the primary emotion in their life. I think the primary emotion in my life is not fear but love of family and community. Like the soldier whom the Torah excuses from war, I have a lot of fear, but I have something even more powerful to overcome it –- I have God’s love and I have the love of all of you celebrating with me. I think that the soldier eventually overcomes his fear by having permission to feel what is natural. Then he can join his comrades and they can draw strength from each other.