Dvar Torah - Leo & Noah Pavell - 25 April 2018
L: Shabbat Shalom, and welcome to our Bar Mitzvah.
N: We are so very grateful that you could all make it. Especially those coming from the United States, France and Israel, to celebrate with us.
L: We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our family and our friends for supporting us on this special day. We’re very glad to be here too but we’ll be even happier in about an hour.
N: For our tzedakah project, we are climbing Mount Fuji this Summer to raise money for Together in Barnet and Teenage Cancer Trust. These causes mean a lot to us as we see a lot of homeless people on our way to school, and have lost many family members due to cancer. We especially want to support teens in overcoming this terrible disease. Thank you to everyone who donated, and we hope it can make a difference.
L: For our portion, we will be reading from the Czech scrolls, salvaged from the grip of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and brought to England during the 1960s.
N: This holds a huge amount of meaning for us, because of the passing away of some of our close relatives during the Holocaust.
L: Our portion, Parashat Kedoshim, deals very closely with the relationship between us and our fellow human beings.
N: Particularly, our portion lays out the laws for not only a religious society, but also an ethical and successful one.
L: For example, in verse 14, it says ‘Lo tekallel heresh, v’lifeney iver loh titen michshol.’ Which translates to ‘Do not curse the deaf or place an obstacle in front of the blind.’
N: Basically, this verse says that we should show respect to people with disabilities. Whether we believe the Torah came directly from God or not, its laws set a structure of moral precepts in an earlier, less developed society.
L: There is also a law which states you should fear your mother and father. Nothing about your sister, though.
N: Many of these laws, we think, should be applied today.
N: An especially poignant theme is that of welcoming the ‘stranger’. In verse 9, it says that you should not reap your harvest to the edge of your field; you shall leave it for the poor and the stranger.
L: The inclusion of the stranger suggests a sentiment of early pro-immigrant attitude. The idea that no matter what one’s race, wealth or creed, everyone should be treated equally.
N: We think of the Jewish community as a close-knit, familial group. However, it is vital that we persist in efforts to reach out to those of different backgrounds, like the Syrian refugees who have been so happily welcomed by FPS.
L: In this day and age of rising hostility and intolerance, we must ensure that we do not lose sight of this goal.
N: The Torah, in this sense, is shown to be a guiding hand to our progressive code of ethics. While this is true of many laws in the Torah, some are harder to understand or not as relevant.
L: For example, the Torah states that you should not consume a tree’s fruit for its first three years of life (in fact this has been found to protect it while it grows to maturity). 3000 years ago, when the only source of income or food for some was a fruit tree, this would have been hugely impractical.
N: Another law forbids the mixing of linen and wool. Although this law may have no obvious benefits, there is a deeper meaning hidden within. The laws in the Torah that don’t have any ethical or immediately obvious practical purpose, in our opinion, do have a use.
L: They are there so that Jews can create their own distinct image, just like growing peyot, or the laws of Kashrut. This embodies the ‘Jewish identity’ that we have today.
N: And this brings us back to the balance between having a unique identity and being welcoming and inclusive.
L: Another consistent theme throughout not just our portion, but the whole Torah, is that we must ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’. – ‘V’ahavta l’reiacha chamocha.’
N: This is yet another example of the moral precepts set out in the Torah, and, we think, the most important.
L: This law, and others like it, form the modern version of universal morals.
N: However, in our opinion, there are a few laws that are not ethically permissible. For example, the laws against homosexual relationships which we read about last week in Leviticus 18 as well as in this week’s portion.
L: Although many of the laws in the Torah, in our opinion, should be applied in modern life, those laws that are unethical should be rejected.
N: Naturally, it is up to each of us to choose which interpretation of these laws to use (and there are a fair few to pick from), but because we are part of a progressive synagogue, we believe in the rights of all.
L: So as a community we can decide the best way to interpret these laws to make them fit for our era because we think the ethical is more important than the ritual.
N: But Leo….surely there must be one thing, one single idea that is critical to our religion?
L: Well, actually Noah, there sort of is! In the first century BCE (over 2000 years ago), there were two Rabbinic schools; the school of Rabbi Hillel, and Rabbi Shammai. These schools had drastically opposed interpretations of the Torah; especially in terms of conversion from other religions. One day, a non-Jewish man came to the schools, and he said to them “If you can tell me the entirety of the Torah while I stand on one leg, you can convert me to Judaism right now”. Rabbi Shammai scoffed at the idea, and threw him out of the other study house. Rabbi Hillel, though, told the man to meet him personally. Hillel accepted the challenge, and told him: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary—go and study it!"
N: This tells us that while everything else can be speculated upon, if you love your neighbour as you would love yourself, the other laws tend to be self-explanatory.
L: We’d like to thank our Hebrew teacher, John, for helping us throughout the process, and always coming to the lesson with an interesting story! We’ve really enjoyed our time with you – more than we imagined when we started. Thank you for making it so worthwhile and fun. We’d also like to thank Rabbi Rebecca for conducting our service - it was well worth the wait for you to come back from your sabbatical. Thanks very much to Dean and Shabbat Resouled for providing us with great music.
N: We’d also like to thank Mum for being there every step of the way, for organising the whole celebration with a smile on your face and always encouraging us, and of course for keeping us well fed and to Dad for keeping us relaxed and for his laid back attitude (except for when a hot drink goes near the computer), and our sister Talia for keeping us grounded and always giving us her honest opinion. All of the small things as well as the big have been so meaningful to us.
L: Also thanks to our amazing grandparents Booba, Savta and Saba – you each mean so much to us and we’re so happy to be part of our big crazy family.
N: We would also like to thank each other for always helping us learn our prayers, helping with our Dvar and being a great friend.
L: Thank you for listening. Enjoy the Kiddush.