Dear Ezra Community,
This month we have greetings from Jen Ruth, President of the Ezra Academy PTO. She originally wrote this d'var Torah for our monthly board meeting. I thought you all might enjoy her perspective. I hope you and your families are doing well. Shabbat Shalom.
I'll be honest, I chose this week's Parsha, Emor, back in September for two reasons. The first, I'm not one to speak in public, and as a new and somewhat surprised PTO president and member of the board, I figured it was late in the year, I could put it off, and it was neatly not the last D'var Torah to be read. Secondly, the last time I spoke about Emor was on May 11, 1985, my Bat Mitzvah.
Reagan was president. "We are the World" was the # 2 top song, (after Madonna, "Crazy for you"), and Mikhail Gorbachev had recently come into power. I could say that my family wasn't particularly religious, but that would be an understatement. My father, a Cone or originally Cohen, was an Immunologist, and a man of science. His father was a war hero, and despite his noble name, had an understandably complex relationship with religion. The piousness of his parents was bruised by what he had seen liberating camps in the war. My mother's family was socialist; her grandfather angrily had an argument with G-d during a pogrom and the results had ricocheted generations. So, the first time I spoke about this particular Parsha was with a lot of confusion and learned skepticism. In all honesty, I'm not even sure how to give a D'var Torah, but I'll try.
So, looking back at the Parsha, the people of what would become Israel must have been feeling similarly listening to Moshe speak after wandering around for years and then experiencing all that they did at Sinai. This was all what I was originally going to talk about back in September. It seemed a good time to revisit Emor and it would kind of write itself, right? Easy to speak, and suddenly here I am speaking. Emor means to speak.
It covers a lot of ground, describes more laws Moshe is tasked to teach to the new nation and to his brother Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim, their priests. He speaks of how they are all to become and remain a holy people, and how the holiest amongst them will conduct themselves, who they can marry, bury, what they'll look like and what kind of career path their kids can have depending on their physical and moral character. He goes on to describe holidays, and how their weeks will be separated for the rest of time. There are festivals, holy days and Shabbats. The weeks are not just one long series of Wednesdays. Sound familiar?
The one thing that I remembered from that portion in 1985...what was to be done with the portion of barley in a field, and who would receive that portion. A farmer's field is not his alone to reap, totally. A portion is to be set aside for those without a field of their own. As the leaders of our own community this is a valuable lesson. We are to provide a portion of our metaphorical field to those without one, for it isn't our field alone either.
We are klal Yisrael. A holy people who care for each other. Just as the barley was distributed to nourish those without the means to feed themselves, knowledge can be distributed to those who do not know how to access it. Jewish education is as important now as when Moshe spoke to the wanderers in the desert. It's how we've sustained ourselves through generations, and our little community is just one light in it. I mentioned my family experience earlier for a reason. We had lost a lot of knowledge of not only how to be Jewish, but where our traditions came from in a relatively short amount of time. Choosing Ezra Academy has helped not just my kids, but my family relearn, trust Judaism and move out of our metaphorical desert. We all have our reasons for being here, but it's the shared wealth both physical and spiritual that keeps us sustained as a holy people.
I'm skipping over a lot here. I don't think I need to describe the holidays and Shabbat in detail, but it's worth mentioning that this Parsha discusses the counting of the Omer. I don't know about you, but when you are living in a series of endless Wednesdays, it sure is helpful to have two bookends and a way to separate one day from the next. We are no longer counting ephahs of barley. But, as rabbis figured out years ago, the metaphorical ephahs can nourish us, each day counting anew. During the time of rabbi Akiva there was a plague during the counting. Many communities hold the semi-mourning customs to this day. The more things change...
Finally, Emor ends quizzically, after what almost feels like a technical manual, with a story.
A woman, the only named one in Vayikra, named Shlehomith from the tribe of Dan, and an Egyptian, (arguably the one Moshe killed), had a son who angrily speaks G-ds name in some random argument with another guy. Moshe doesn't know what to do, but takes him to G-d and we find out that he has to be stoned to death. This is where we learn about eye for eye, etc. etc. What can we learn from this as board members? As Jews? Seems kind of heavy, right? We are here to teach the laws given to us to our kids. We are to take them seriously. Perhaps it is not a physical death, but a spiritual one that awaits us should we turn against Torah. My great-grandfather angrily told G-d he didn't believe in him. He declared himself an atheist, but the irony of that story never escaped me. He still spoke. He still had Passover... albeit a socialist one. The fact that I'm here today is a testament to the importance of keeping the conversation alive and it's one we must figure out how to continue as a school.
I figured this was kind of what I was going to say in my original D'var Torah, but the circumstances are definitely not what I could have foreseen.
We're not sitting in the room where I pick up my kids, snacking on tiny Milky Way candies. Instead, we're here in our dining rooms waiting out a global pandemic. Few of us have set foot in Ezra since March. Time has become slippery. Every day this week I woke up thinking it was Wednesday. My father gives me updates from his old colleagues on the virus and my mother surprisingly marks the time with Shabbat services online. She looks forward to maybe being able to spend Sukkot together. My phone helps me count the Omer. My kids have a pre-Shabbat Zoom on Fridays, and then blissfully we're quiet. No screens for one beautiful day of the week. I seem to know when it's going to be Saturday.
What keeps my family and yours from wandering aimlessly in our own personal deserts is the same schedule Moshe speaks. History and Torah have a funny way of intertwining with the present. It's all relevant and I hope our community can also use this time we have "together apart" to return with our metaphorical huts to our own common meeting ground with newfound appreciation and thanksgiving when the day comes.