My Dvar Torah

This is my Dvar Torah, my speech about my Torah portion.

“Shabbat Shalom!” *Pause* “My Torah portion is Shoftim. This portion…” *deep breath* *talk fast*”…deals with the appointment of judges, warns the people of Israel not to worship other gods, tells the people not to sentence a person to death on the word of only one witness and to bring difficult cases to a higher court, gives regulations for kings, sets the offerings for the priests, describes the difference between a true and false prophet, sets cities of refuge for accidental murders, talks about the preparations for war, and wraps it up with the rules to be followed when a murdered body is found outside a city.” *Slow down* Whew, that’s a lot of rules! Did I miss any? “:) “Of course, if any one almost b’nei mitzvah had to deal with all that, they would need to start preparing when they were six and not stop until they were thirteen. Thank goodness I don’t have to do all that. I’m only doing the preparations for war part. And as for my Haftara portion, it’s one of the Seven Haftorot of Consolation. Rosh Hashana is coming up, you know…” 🙂 “On the surface, someone might say ‘Hey wait a minute, this Haftara portion has nothing to do with Shoftim, it was chosen to fit the season!’ They both, however, are about how God loves us but might not show it immediately. In the Torah portion, God/Moses is trying to limit dangerous cultural norms. People want to hold on to habits even when the habit is dangerous for them. For example, one could say that war is a habit of humanity. In this parsha, God/Moses makes rules that severely limit Israel’s ability to go to war. Kings might say, ‘But now I can’t wage war with everyone at home because of this! God must hate us!’ but in the end, we have a better society that hasn’t been torn apart by war. A lesson from my Torah portion is that we have to limit these dangerous societal habits rather than prohibiting them. For example, take two horrible problems around my school in Hartford and how people dealt with them: Gangs and Phones in school. The way people dealt with gang violence was to say, ‘If you absolutely must do this kind of stuff, go do it outside of the school property.’ Given that I haven’t had to deal with the Mafia much lately,” *grin at Tess/Levana* “I’d say we’re doing pretty well. But the way people dealt with kids having phones was to say, ‘Nobody can even think about having a phone during school hours on school property’ People thought ‘Hey! I can’t be constantly connected! I will miss out on so much! I know, I’ll ignore them completely.’ But back to a lesson, the lesson I want you to get is: If you try to control everything, you end up controlling nothing, so be happy with the something you can control. Of course you can’t write a speech about a war related parsha these days without talking about the war in Gaza. I think it is not following the rules set out by Moses in my parsha. On the other hand, moses never expected a war like this, where both sides are on the defense and the offense. Both Israel and Hamas are endangering the civilians who are just trying to have a life. And I imagine many of the civilians are ‘afraid and disheartened’ but they can’t very well be expected to leave the fighting because both governments aren’t letting them go anywhere because of the fighting. And we are not following the mitzvah of bal tashchit outlined in this Torah portion. It says that we may not destroy the people’s livelihood to win a war because the tree, field, business, or whatever can’t go hide and you aren’t fighting the individual people who will be damaged by that, you are fighting the country they happen to live in. Now there’s a ceasefire, which is definitely an improvement, but I hope it develops into something more lasting.

My mitzvah project was the blog Blog Mitzvah. The Web address is printed in your handout, I went on line every few days and posted my thoughts about my Torah portion and issues that caught my eye. People get all excited about donating money, but I have very little money and, I’ve got to say, walking up to the microphone at lunch and asking people to donate money sounded about as appealing as eating school lunch soy tacos. But what I do have is ideas. I wanted to give people ideas to think about so they sat down and read Torah and engaged in intelligent, meaningful conversation. That is something I believe people should do a lot more of. As the song says, the world stands on three legs: Torah, Prayer, and Acts of loving kindness. Our B’nei Mitzvah program focuses a lot on prayer and acts of loving kindness. A B’nei Mitzvah has to go to a whole lot of services and spend time in the Hebrew School learning about the services. So we spend a lot of time thinking about the prayer. And everyone must complete a mitzvah project during which they learn about acts of loving kindness. But sometimes kids only think about their torah portions when they are meeting with the   Rabbis or writing a Dvar Torah. My Bat Mitzvah project aimed to change that and bring Torah into people’s every day lives. And I learned that it’s not always easy to let G-d into your every day life, but you always have to try. Also, I learned that tzedekah, the Jewish value of giving to those who are in need, can mean something more than donating money or chopping vegetables for foodshare. And sometimes you don’t get service learning for it. But it’s always worth it, even if you don’t get it right away.

I’ve waited a long time to become Bat Mitzvah. You could say I’ve waited thirteen years! I think I knew pretty early on that, like Hanukkah, it’s not about the party. Sure, the party’s nice and all. But just like Hanukkah, there’s more to it. I mean, I am an adult now. Theoretically. And I can’t feel any changes. It’s not a miracle, you read your Torah portion and POOF! You’re a grownup. But at thirteen, you’re ready to take on some more responsibilities. I mean, Even I’ve got a phone now. Just like being another year older gives you more responsibilities in the secular community, becoming Bat Mitzvah shows G-d that you are ready to take on the responsibilities of a Jewish adult.

But if I had to do it alone, I would explode from stress. Like, even more than I already did. Thank you to Mama and papa, for getting my rear in gear. Thank you to Rabbi Shaffer and Rabbi Pincus, for giving me ideas when I am flat out of ideas. A zillion thank yous to Ms. Sisitzky for being awesome and putting up with my old belief that I don’t need to study. I do now. Who thought seventh grade was going to be so hard? Thanks to cantor, for making Saturday services fun. Thanks to everyone I missed for a zillion trillion reasons. Stay awesome!

Shabat Shalom!


I did it!

Well, it’s been eight days since my Bat Mitzvah, and here I am again. It doesn’t mean I should stop doing my mitzvah project. Instead, there’s a few lines that I read during the service that sum up why I’m still here, even though I no longer have do this.

“And when the service ends and the prayers have ceased,

Help me to bring their spirit into the world in which I live.

May I love G-d above all, and my neighbor as myself,

And be a living witness to the truth that never changes.” –Mishkan T’filah: Services for Shabbat ; a Reform Siddur

This really sums up everything about my Bat Mitzvah project. I wanted to bring the Torah into your everyday lives, so you would think about it and apply it to how you lived. And hopefully, it worked. Because you should keep thinking about Torah, even if I don’t post as regularly or as often. I hoped I inspired you to think about Torah a little differently. I know you guys inspired me, too.

By me, with help from G-d and the Siddur.

Seven Days To Go

In exactly one week I will be having my Bat Mitzvah ceremony. I have been preparing for tomorrow for over a year. It’s a big deal and sort of stressful. But what I’m having trouble coming to terms with is how little changes. When I was younger, I understood that a Bat Mitzvah was not about the party. But if it wasn’t about the party, what was it about? I concluded that something must change, on a religious level: I would, over the course of studying, figure out what I meant when I thought or talked about G-d and emerge from it better able to engage with G-d through the new things I would be able to do as a Jewish woman. Well, I’m running out of time. I haven’t really figured out what I believe about G-d, much less come up with a deep understanding and spiritual link to Him/Her/G-d. I’m still not entirely sure what the responsibilities of a Jewish woman are, how that works with being a seventh grader who can’t keep a sheet of Very Important Paper safe for more than 4 days, or whether I’m ready to fulfill this responsibility. I don’t know how this is going to change my connection to G-d and I’m not sure I want it to. And you know what? In ten days, I’m going to dress, eat breakfast, brush my hair, pack three binders, three pieces of homework, and assorted bits of school and roleplaying stuff, run off to catch my bus, and settle in for my fourth day of school just like everyone else in my grade. So if I’m going to change, I’m kind of still going to be the same confused thirteen year old I am now. Isn’t that a comforting thought?  Maybe, just like the oldest unit at camp has to continuously work on ‘becoming olim’ and living up to their name, a Bat Mitzvah has to work on becoming Bat Mitzvah. Because you never really get there, you know?

Enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy…

rak hanashim vhatof vhabheima vchol asher yihiyeh bair kol shelalah tavoz lach vachalta et shelal oyvecha asher natan Adonai eloheha lach

You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, the livestock, and everything in the town -all its spoil- and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy, which the Eternal your G-d gives you.

This is quite a disturbing and sexist verse. I understand that some sexist guys (occasionally those who go to my school) think of women as accessories and so think it obvious that they fall under the category of booty to be taken. Also, not that I’m in favor of them being killed instead, kids are the future and should not be treated as valuable items for trade or work. But G-d isn’t so much giving you the city, He’s offering an opportunity to get it. If G-d knocks down the walls and delivers you the city on a platter, then by all means go ahead because G-d seems to be only concerned with your pleasure here. But if you have to fight for it, even if you know you’ll win, then it is you, the armed forces, who have given it to Israel, even if G-d helped. G-d won’t give you something for nothing, but if you help,  He’s happy to help. So G-d isn’t giving the town to you, He’s helping you get it. So this little verse is here in part, because G-d knows that people are less afraid if they have something to work for.  And so less people are going to turn tail and run if they have something to look forward to, and you might actually be able to win a war by following G-d’s rules.

By me, with help from G-d

These Two (or possibly four, or six) Things Have Befallen You

Shtaim heinh korotaich mi yanud lach hashod v’hashever v’haraav v’haherev mi anachameich.

These two things have befallen you: Devastation, destruction — Who will console you? Famine and sword — who will comfort you?

This seems to me to be a whole lot more than two things. There’s devastation, destruction, famine, and the sword. I count four. So it looks like we need a midrash. Here is what I came up with. Devastation and destruction are large scale things that we use mostly in hindsight. Famine and violence are things that the average villager could identify with. So the two things are: Horrible life in overview and horrible life from day to day.

Here’s another view: The two things are “hashod v’hashever v’haraav v’haherev,” Devastation and destruction and famine and sword, and “mi yanud lachmi anachameich” Who will console you, who can comfort you. Part of the problem is the devastation etc., but part of the problem is also that there is no one to comfort Israel.

By me, with help from G-d, Papa and Mama


Words in Hebrew come from a 3 letter root, e.g. Melech-מֶלֶךְ-Mem, Lamed, Chaf.  So you can tell part of the meaning of the word by its root. For example, yimloch  must have something to do with being a ruler. One problem? The Israelites liked wordplay. So, for example, you might have two words like “built” and “understanding/insight/intuition” linked by the same root because someone thousands of years ago thought it was a good idea. So this is another one Rabbi Pincus noticed. Shalom, peace, is built from the same root as Shaleim, whole. this is because when you are at peace with yourself you feel kinda whole, like there isn’t anything missing. Kind of interesting. And I thought English was weird… 🙂

By me, with help from G-d and Rabbi Pincus