My Torah portion is K'doshim, or the Holiness Code, Leviticus 19.
Chapter 19 is the most important part of Leviticus. It can be regarded as the most important part of the Torah because it contains a set of laws designed to govern daily life, and laws which define the Jewish people.
Chapter 19 begins,
And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, "Speak unto all the congregations of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy."
To me, the word "holy" means perfect goodness, and purity, and righteousness all rolled up, and reflects the majesty of God. Even though humans can never be as cool or as holy as God, it is our job to try. Trying our best to be holy makes us better people.
Verse 6 has to do with when meat is clean to eat. Part of this has to do with sacrifices. Three days after meat has been sacrificed, it is considered to be "unclean" to eat. Eating fresh, healthy meat is one way to be holy.
Another part of this Torah portion talks about leaving the corners of your fields for the poor. This is similar to modern day tzedakah, meaning charity. Back when the Bible was written, most people were farmers. So this verse taught that as a form of charity, they would leave the corners of their fields alone when they harvested, and let poor people take what they needed. This is like giving money to the needy today.
In another verse of my portion it says you shouldn't curse the deaf, or put a "stumbling block" in front of a blind person's path. When you curse a deaf person, he can't hear you and can't defend himself, and tripping a blind person is bad because he can't see what you're doing, and will fall and feel humiliated. And using a person's disability to trick them is very cruel. Treating people cruelly is un-holy.
Another verse commands us not to steal from our neighbor, or commit fraud. If you cheat someone when playing cards for money, or if you promise to sell someone something good and then give them a broken or messed up thing instead, you have done something wrong. Fraud is just as bad as lying, and stealing is already forbidden by the Ten Commandments.
In another part of my Portion, we are instructed not to make molten gods -- this means idols. An idol is any physical thing or idea about a thing that you are praying to, making offerings to, or referring to as God. Idols aren't alive, so if you're praying to one as a god, then you are more powerful than your God, which doesn't make sense. Idols are not limited to just statues. Money, power, and even looks can be thought of as idols, since there are some people who worship these things.
Other sections of the Torah talk about things to do which are holy. However, K'doshim talks about how we ourselves can be holy, if we choose. It says that God does not make us holy, that we must make ourselves holy.
My haftarah is from Amos, Chapter 9. Part of this says:
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth... However, I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob.
...[And the day will come that] I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them...And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord God.
Amos was a sheep farmer in the 8th century B.C.E. who had visions about Israel. Amos was one of the Minor Prophets, and he was worried about corruption, oppression of poor people, and immoral behavior at the time. Israel at that time had split into 2 kingdoms. In the northern kingdom there were many Canaanites who influenced the Israelites to worship a God called Ba'al, and also the king built temples where golden calf statues were worshipped and said to represent the God of Israel. In the southern kingdom of Judah people were poorer and more isolated, and they worshipped the God of Abraham. Amos prophesied that the northern Kingdom would be destroyed, and this did happen not long afterward. Around that time, the Assyrians, like many ancient empires, were trying to conquer the world. They were getting closer and closer to Israel and eventually destroyed the northern Kingdom. However, the southern half survived. In those days, people believed that disasters such as drought, or being invaded and conquered, were always because they hadn't been faithful to their God. So the prophets tried to warn people about corruption, so they wouldn't be destroyed.
In the 1940's, the Holocaust destroyed a huge percentage of the Jewish population, and forced many other Jews to leave their homes and run for their lives to other countries. Afterwards, the State of Israel was established as a Jewish homeland, and Jews settled there and began rebuilding. Some Jews believe the rebuilding of the State of Israel after the Holocaust makes Amos's prophesy come true in modern times, others feel that the prophesy of rebuilding Judaism means reviving Jewish culture and religion, anywhere in the world. Judaism has rebuilt itself after almost being destroyed by the Nazis. It is a really strange coincidence that this passage is my haftarah since today also happens to be Yom Ha-Shoah, the day when Jews remember the Holocaust.
Some people think the Holocaust is proof that there isn't any God. They say, "How could God let this happen?" And many people give up the Jewish religion because they can't answer this question. But God did not cause the Holocaust, people did! People choose whether to be good or evil. Judaism teaches that God gave us free will. So if God could have ended what the Nazis were doing, it would mean God was ending free will.
I would like to quote from Rabbi Simchah Roth of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel. He said,
"The fact that we have free will, to choose [righteousness] or not, means that we have been granted the capability of doing enormous good and immense harm. We can find a cure for cancer or we can blow ourselves to bits: it's entirely up to us. But in order for free will to work, God has to set a limit to Divine power; if we are to be free agents morally, God may not intervene and deprive us of that capability... In other words, God has removed human behavior from the sphere of Divine control and influence."
I agree with this rabbi. God can't cause people to be evil, and he can't cause them to be good either. During the Holocaust, there were many righteous non-Jews who hid Jewish people in their attics and closets, and did other things to help save them. Nobody made these people do this. It was their own choice, and they were brave heros for making that choice. The same free will which allowed the Nazis to hurt and kill people, allowed other people to do great things to help people. Free will is God's gift to all mankind.
Benjamin's Bar-Mitzvah Thanks
I would like to thank everyone for coming here today, and everyone who helped make this day possible. I would like to thank my mom, because for the past 13 years she has helped, taught, and put up with me. I would like to thank Cantor Pearlston, the world's best religious school teacher, for teaching me my Hebrew, and about Judaism, and about how to speak in front of an audience. I'd also like to thank Rabbi Cole for all his encouragement. I would like to thank my grandparents, Zelda Kreuter and Irwin Britton, for encouraging me and always being there for me. I would also like to thank Denise Moore and Joshua Grossman for all the help they've given me and my mom, and for their friendship. Also many thanks to Alice and Paul Fitzgerald. And, I would like to thank anyone else who I didn't mention who helped make this possible. Thank you all.