Sam Ball’s Dvar Torah: Lech Lecha

Hello everybody! Thank you for coming to my bar mitzvah! The name of my parshah or my torah portion is Lech Lecha, which is in the book of Genesis. Lech Lecha means “Go forth,” which is what God said to Abram: “Go forth from where you call home and go to the place where I tell you.” And Abram and Sarai did. By the way, Abram and Sarai are called Abram and Sarai because they hadn’t yet gotten their second names of Abraham and Sarah from God.

First Abram and his wife Sarai went to Canaan. They then went to Egypt. When they got to Egypt, Pharaoh saw how pretty Sarai was. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s palace and she received lots of gifts, like cattle and camels and slaves. After some time in Egypt, Abram and Sarai left to go back to Canaan.

Ten years passed in Canaan and Sarai, who wanted to get pregnant, still couldn’t. After ten years of not being able to get pregnant, Sarai gave up in frustration. So she gave her slave named Hagar to Abram and Hagar got pregnant very quickly. Once she became pregnant, Hagar began to act like she wasn’t a slave. Hagar mocked Sarai and refused to do what she was told. As it says in my parshah, “. . . her mistress was lowered in her esteem. . . .” 

Sarai was angry after being mocked by Hagar, so Sarai treated Hagar very disrespectfully. So Hagar ran away. An angel found Hagar and told her to go back to Sarai and Abram’s house because God promised to grant her a great multitude of descendants. Hagar went back and later gave birth to Ishmael.

Why did Sarai act the way she did? I think that at first, Sarai wanted someone to blame for her not being able to get pregnant, so she experimented by giving Hagar to Abram. Maybe she thought that if Hagar wasn’t able to pregnant, then the problem would be with Abram. But since Hagar did get pregnant, maybe Sarai knew that the problem was with her. And instead of accepting this fact, she denied it and treated Hagar poorly by oppressing Hagar and returning her to her former slave status.

I also think that maybe Sarai gave Hagar to Abram because Sarai wanted to be faithful to the role God had promised her, that she would be the mother of a great nation. But when Hagar started acting less like a slave and more like Abram’s wife, Sarai became angry that her role as Abram’s partner was taken. I believe that for these reasons, it was a contest of priorities for Sarai.

So far I’ve only talked about Sarai’s feelings. But what about Abram’s?

Before Sarai returned Hagar to her slave status, she counseled with Abram, complaining about Hagar. Abram said “. . . your maid is in your hands, deal with her as you think is right.” Essentially Abram said, she is your slave; do what you will to her. I think that Abram was either feeling that the situation wasn’t his problem and he shouldn’t be the one to deal with it. Or he felt that if he interfered that he would make the situation worse.

How did Hagar feel about all of this? 

I believe that Hagar was feeling that she was being cheated. The reason for this is first Hagar was a slave and she then was raised from her status of slave to wife. Then she was put back down to slavery even while she was pregnant with Ishmael. I would feel cheated if I was raised in status and then put back down again because someone was feeling jealous. I believe that Hagar thought that she was being cheated of what she rightly deserved as the person who was pregnant with Abram’s son.

I think the reason that we have all of these stories in the Torah is so that we can learn from them the easy way and not have to learn them the hard way. The easy way is getting the lesson early and not having to experience the challenging situations for ourselves. And the reason we go deeper into the Torah’s characters in the stories is because we need to understand their opinions and motivations if we are going to understand the story itself. 

Why do we have stories in general? I have learned about the collective unconscious, which is a part of our minds that connects us to everyone else, even though we don’t know it, and causes people everywhere to invent the same stories. Humans of all history and cultures have the same basic storyline for all our myths and legends – a storyline of people seeking something they need, like Jason and the Argonauts or King Arthur and his quest to find the Holy Grail, or the Buddha searching for Enlightenment or Moses and the Exodus. We all tell similar stories because there is a link between humans. Stories teach us about being human by giving us meaning.

When I read a story, I get sucked into the world of it, and the real world around me goes away. I don’t become the characters, but I observe the characters, and I can see from their point of view, like looking through their eyes. Stories show us that we are always connected with everyone else, even when believing that we are alone. 

The Torah is full of both stories and laws. Laws give us practical guidance of what not to do, like don’t murder or steal. While those are actions that we shouldn’t do, stories help us understand how to navigate emotions and thoughts ethically.

The stories in the Torah help us learn and grow and discover how to be good people. God uses stories to teach us because if we only had strict laws, we wouldn’t be able to think for ourselves and there would be no freedom. We have a considerate and forgiving God who wants us to interpret and understand. God lets us make mistakes so we can learn from them.

This takes me back to Sarai. God didn’t interfere in her life except minimally, and allowed Sarai to make her own mistakes. Sarai wasn’t perfect, and Abram wasn’t perfect. They made mistakes and improved from them. And the stories about them impact us even today because Sarai and Abram were so human. We can relate to them because we deal with the same issues and temptations, jealousy, guilt, hatred and joy.

Stories connect us all. Maybe the collective unconscious is there because we all have a little bit of God in all of us, and the little bit of God is the connection.

In our congregation, we have a custom of asking the community a question to generate discussion towards the end of a dvar Torah. I have a couple of questions for you at this point: “Why do you think stories are important and what stories have helped you find meaning in your lives?”

I want to thank all of you for coming to my bar mitzvah. I appreciate it. Thank you especially to those who are coming out of town. I want to thank Deb for tutoring me and giving me lots of support to help make this happen. I want to thank Rabbi Ora for helping me make this speech. And most of all, I want to thank my loving, supportive parents for making this happen!

Shabbat shalom!

Meet the Mitzvah Committee

Connection: an essential ingredient of a caring community

Written by: Anita Rubin-Meiller

“Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection. There are 613 mitzvot, and therefore, 613 ways to connect to G-d.”

Rabbi Zushe Greenberg

I appreciate this definition of mitzvah, which goes beyond doing a good deed or following a commandment, and adds connection as an essential ingredient. Certainly, in this past year of chairing the committee, the experience of connection is what stands out. Whatever we engage in involves connection: arranging for help to set up for the joyful celebration of a B’nai Mitzvah; accompanying someone in their grief and assisting with shiva; doing our best to find someone a ride to services and events; or gathering together for our quarterly “coffee and catch up.” Connection is not only the heart and soul of our mission, it is what makes the efforts worthwhile.

As we approach the annual congregational meeting, I want to pique your curiosity about this important committee and ask that you consider joining in our efforts. At the moment six of us pair up to take care of requests as they arise. While we have done well pitching in this year, it is apparent to us that we could use additional members, as we are not always able to be available when needed. 

The mitzvah committee is designed to assist in meeting commonly arising needs of our congregation’s members. This past year we helped with the Bar Mitzvah celebrations of Jacob Resnick, Eli Revzen, Otto Nelson, and Sam Ball. We assisted with the shiva observances in the homes of Amy Rosenberg, Deborah Fisch, and Carol Lessure. We helped organize a meal train for Alice and Ryan as they welcomed their little one. And we did our best to try to secure rides for members when there was a need. 

The committee currently consists of Rena Basch, Mike Ehmann, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Amie Ritchie, Stephanie Rowden, and me. We have enjoyed deepening the connection among us in meetings over coffee at York, with conversations about how we have felt supported or challenged in the past few months. We would love to welcome you to our next meeting on February 9th.

If you are not able to join the committee, please consider completing our survey so that we may call on you for specific tasks when the need arises. The survey can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1HNkIfCEHWaN1T-EevfbrPx8E8n7UVm9icNtVhVIoEqc/edit

Please come to our “roundtable” at the December 8th congregational meeting to learn more!

Happy 5th Birthday to AARC Book Group

Happy 5th birthday to the AARC book group! Launched in 2014 by Jon Sweeny and Judith Jacobs, the group offers a welcoming and cozy environment in which AARC members and friends gather for intellectually stimulating discussion, friendship, networking, and nourishment. Over the years, the reading selections have ranged from a book about Tiananmen Square (our very first meeting) to books about Israel/Palestine, Jewish history and culture, politics, spirituality, death and dying, anthropology, and more.

Carol Levin comments, “My favorite things about the book group have been getting to know everyone (as a newcomer to AARC, it’s a great gateway to the community), stimulating discussion among a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and Greg and Audrey’s fabulous hospitality.”

Speaking of hospitality, appreciation is owed to everyone who has hosted the AARC book group over the years, including a huge thank you to Greg Saltzman and Audrey Newell for being our regular book group hosts, and to Greg for serving as a terrific coordinator. We have recently switched from a Sunday morning spot to a Sunday noon start time, allowing us to welcome Beit Sefer (religious school) staff to our meetings.

Thanks to Audrey for the outstanding lunch on Sept 15, 2019, over which we discussed Michael Sfard’s The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights.

Favorites

Several group participants identified their favorite books from among the many we’ve read and discussed.

  • Carol Levin selected Guide For the Perplexed, by Dara Horn. “I love how Horn draws connections between the historical figures Moses Maimonides and Solomon Schechter and relates their lives, and personalities, and ethical questions to today’s world of espionage and intelligence.”
  • Greg Salztman picked as his favorite The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. “I liked the mix of historical fiction and fantasy. The golem was a fundamentally good being, and I could enthusiastically root for her triumph as she faced various perils.”
  • Martha Kransdorf chose Setting Fires, by Kate Wenner, as her favorite book group pick. “I know the shul and the rabbi who were the inspirations for those portrayed in the book, and I certainly know the NYC neighborhood where some of the story occurred. I was also moved by the mystery behind the father of the protagonist and of the arsonist.”
  • Avi Eisbruch’s favorite book group pick is To The End of the Land, by David Grossman. Avi says “I liked the way the rich inner life and maternal struggle of the main character Ora were portrayed as well as how the intersection of private and public/national events were entwined in the story.”

February with Rabbi Ora

The book group was especially well attended the past two Februaries, when Rabbi Ora chose the readings and led the discussion.

We are delighted to announce that Rabbi Ora will again lead the book group on Sunday, February 9, 2020, book selection to be announced.

AARC Book Group discussing Radical Judaism: Rethinking God & Tradition with Rabbi Ora, February 2019.

Join us

Interested in joining the AARC book group? We’d love to have you! Simply reach out to Greg at gsaltzman@albion.edu. You are welcome to come every month or as often as you like. Our selection for Sunday, December 8, 2019 is Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, by Yossi Klein Halevi. The book for Sunday, January 12, 2019 is The Girl from Foreign: A Memoir, by Sadia Shepard.

Happy reading!

What Does it Mean To Be Welcoming: Gender Inclusivity

This blog post is the first in a three-part series exploring what it means for a congregation to be truly welcoming. Each week we will explore a different topic: gender inclusivity, welcoming people of all (dis)abilities, and appropriate touch.

Walking into a place of worship, it’s possible to take our welcome for granted, but that has not always been the case (and continues not to be, in some communities) for LGBTQIA and genderqueer/non-binary Jews. For those of us who are not cisgender, entering new spaces can cause us to feel uncertain how we will be treated. While a community might fervently believe that it is accepting of others, newcomers might not perceive this spirit of acceptance without gestures of explicit welcome.

Since biblical times, Jews have carried on a tradition of engaging with various expressions of gender. In fact, Jewish texts contain references to six different genders.

  • Androgenos – one who has both male and female characteristics
  • Tumtum – one of uncertain or undecided gender
  • Aylonit – one who is born female and transitions to male
  • Saris – one who is born male and transitions to female
  • Male – male biology and identifying
  • Female – female biology and identifying

Because Modern English typically insists upon gendered personal pronouns, we can find ourselves searching for workarounds to accommodate cultural understandings of genders beyond “he” and “she.” Modern English usage often leads us to pause mid-sentence or mid-thought to reconsider the assumptions about gender we are about to make. Just as our Jewish ancestors developed a lexicon to include various expressions of gender, we must do the same in our language.

If we wish to be more welcoming, being mindful of pronoun preferences is a good place to start. When we introduce ourselves, we might add our own chosen pronoun; for example, “Hi, my name is Gillian, you can use she/her pronouns when referring to me.” When we introduce someone new, we might say, “Sally this is Newbie; Newbie – what pronouns do you prefer?” This signals that we are not taking our gender expressions for granted and welcome others to do the same.

AARC will be offering pronoun stickers to add to our member name tags. These little stickers will help all of us avoid any assumptions and assure a special welcome to those whose pronouns are often misused. The new stickers will be on the welcome table beginning at this Friday’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Jewish history is overrun with accounts of our people rendered powerless, discriminated against, and treated as second class citizens. As Jews, we have an obligation to ensure that other marginalized communities never have to face these obstacles when engaging with us. It is in this spirit that I welcome you to practice this new way of interacting with gender and incorporate it into our community when welcoming guests and visitors to our congregation.

Meet the Mitzvah Committee

Written by: Anita Ruben-Meiller

“Let the good in me connect to with the good in others, Until all the world is transformed through the compelling power of love” – Reb Nachman of Breslov

I am writing to you as the new(ish) coordinator of the Mitzvah Committee, having stepped into that role in January, following our annual congregational meeting. The other members of the committee are Stephanie Rowden, Mike Ehmann, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Amie Ritchie and Rena Basch.

Historically, the Mitzvah Committee has helped to coordinate assistance to meet several of the needs of our members. The requests that we receive are mostly for rides and meals. Occasionally we receive requests to help get volunteers to assist with the practicalities of organizing the space for the celebration of B’nai Mitzvot or for holding a shiva observance. Very occasionally we receive requests to offer healing chants at times of illness. The hope of the committee is to make a personal connection that allows the coordination of assistance to create ease for the member in need. Towards this end, we have divided ourselves into teams to handle certain kinds of requests. While all initial requests will come through me via email at anita1018@sbcglobal.net or text message at 734-255-2619, requests for rides will be passed on to Rena and Mike; and requests for meals will be passed on to Idelle and Stephanie.

In the past few years, members of the congregation have completed a survey letting the committee know what kind of helping tasks we might be able to call on you for. We are asking that you take a moment to update your info if your availability has changed or add your name if you are ready to volunteer now.

I know that when I was ill and had surgery some years ago, and still had kids at home to tend to, I was deeply moved by and grateful for the generous assistance that came in the form of meals delivered for us to enjoy. I know from speaking with a congregational member, Amy Rosenberg, that the help that was coordinated and delivered through members of the Mitzvah Committee made it possible for her to not only have rides to visit Marc when he was hospitalized, but also to have emotionally supportive conversations.

I hope you will both volunteer for and take advantage of the services we can provide to make life a bit easier during challenging times.

Otto Nelson’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: Chukat

Shabbat Shalom, everyone!
Welcome to my bar mitzvah! I hope you’ve been enjoying it so far.
My torah portion is Chukat.
It’s a bit of an inconsistent portion, because it starts with Adonai (also known as G-d) detailing a purification ritual to be used after contact with the dead, which I am focusing on, but about a third of the way in it jumps to the story of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness.
The aliyah (section of Torah) I just read is Numbers, chapter 19, verses 18 to 22.
My aliyah focuses on the details of the purification ritual.
According to the Torah, this purification ritual is required after contact with a human body, grave, or bone.
It was believed that contact of this sort makes a person spiritually or ritually unclean.
Purification involves sprinkling water containing the ashes of a Red Heifer (mentioned earlier in my Torah portion) on the unclean person, after which they must wash themselves and their clothes and remain isolated from others for a period of 7 days.
If they do not undergo this ritual they are cut off from the congregation, a punishment known as Karet. Rabbis were and are not sure exactly what this punishment entails, but some theories are premature death, death without children, or generally very bad things.
On that happy note:
You may have noticed that these laws about death and contact with the dead seem very strict, and a bit strange, which brings up the question: Why were these laws created?
I think one reason is for the sake of physical purity (I’ll talk about that later), in that it helps avoid the spread of disease. However, I think it was mainly for religious purity. I think the ritual was designed to keep the perceived sanctity of the congregation by acknowledging the dead but not allowing them to negatively impact the community.
However, I think now we should look at what other people think the purpose of this ritual is, through rabbinical commentary. A traditional addition to a D’var torah, rabbinical commentary is essentially looking back at observations on the Torah portion made by past Jewish scholars to see what they think (Like looking at the comments on a YouTube video, except generally more positive and much older).
Rabbi Joseph Bechor Shor, a rabbi who lived in France in the 13th century, speculated that the purification ritual was to assist with physically letting go of the dead, and avoiding the practice of incorporating dead bodies into physical objects and adornments, a tradition among several neighboring tribes at the time and place the Torah was written. He also held that it is a natural tendency to physically cling to loved ones who have died, and that the ritual exists to warn Jews against this tendency. However, Rabbi Samson Hirsch, a 19th century German rabbi, claimed that the meaning was more symbolic, showing the Jewish people that there is a possibility of redemption from sin, such as the sin of touching a dead body.
Additionally, allow me to note that Rabbi Yochanan (A first century rabbi who saved Judaism in a super-dramatic way that should REALLY be made into an action film), Rabbi Isaac (A student of Yochanan), and Rabbi Joshua of Sikinin (A lesser-known Talmudic rabbi), believed that the ritual is not made to be understood or have a reason behind it.
Now, the reasons I just quoted are more spiritual reasons for this ritual,
but I also want to mention possible practical or medical reasons.
A possible medical reason for the ritual was to use water to wash off bacteria from the person and their clothes, which were possibly infected from diseases carried by dead bodies, and then put the person in a quarantine for any remaining germs or effects to die off.
Strange thing is, the biblical purification ritual in my Torah portion seems in line with modern medical practices. However, this is thousands of years before modern medicine. So how could the ritual use ideas similar to those of contemporary medical science?
Personally, I think that the connection is coincidental. After all, when we do something that works, we continue to do it. And in ancient times, the health benefits of certain rituals could be seen as divine signs to continue them.
At the core of this ritual is purity. But what is purity? Physical purity? Religious purity? And what do these things mean in today’s world?
Personally, I think that the idea of purity, both religious and physical, is really mostly a social construct. Although how clean or healthy you are can affect physical purity, I think what you and others think about you is most of what’s taken into account. And the case of religious purity is even more heavily opinion-focused.
In today’s world, purity does not seem to be as common a topic, at least not obviously. However, I think that these ideas of purity still exist, just in a more cloaked form. When people make decisions based on physical health or look, I think that’s really just a different form of the idea of physical purity. And when people make decisions based on what they think of another person’s religion or culture, I think that’s just another branch of the idea of religious or ethical purity.
But now to my mitzvah project.
Because my portion is focused on purity and purifying, for my project my friend Eli (who had his Bar Mitzvah last month) and I swept up the memorial garden behind the JCC, planted new plants, added mulch, and weeded it, in a way restoring natural purity to it. Also, my Mom and I worked with a community organization known as NAP herps that monitors frog and salamander populations, which are indicators of natural vibrancy and purity. Finally, my family and I planted 150-something native butterfly bushes in my grandparent’s land in west Michigan, to restore some natural, native purity.
Anyway…
At this point, I have discussed purity in today’s world, talked about my mitzvah project, asked a rhetorical question and then answered it, given the interpretations of rabbis over the centuries, and given medical and spiritual reasons for this ancient ritual. I know at this point ya’ll are probably getting hungry for the luncheon, and I relate, so I’ll make this quick.
In our congregation, it’s customary for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah to ask a question of the congregation (Don’t worry, this one’s not rhetorical), so here’s mine. Throughout my D’var torah, I’ve explored many questions about purity. But now I have a question about purity for you to discuss, and that’s “What does purity, and for that matter impurity, mean to you?”

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And to conclude, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me reach where I am today.
Thank you to:
-My Dad, David Erik Nelson, and my Mom, Cara Jeanne Spindler for helping and supporting me throughout my Bar Mitzvah and my life.
-My little sister Aziza, for, uhh…
Hmm…
Teaching me, and pushing me to my limit of, patience and understanding…
-Linda, Mojo, Riley, Danny, Justin, Ava, Henry, Vince, Sarah, Hannah, and anyone else who lives outside of the state and were willing to take the time and effort to come here
-My tutor, Deb, for helping me through my torah and haftarah portions.
-Rabbi Ora, for helping with my D’var torah.
-Anyone who has supported me in my life, be it a friend, family member, pet…
-And finally, everyone who came here to my bar mitzvah today! Thank you all so much!

Introducing The New Robert Belman Award for AARC Teens and Young Adults

Written By: Erica Ackerman

The Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation is pleased to announce the Robert Belman Award, which is granted in support of social justice activism. The award was established by AARC members Dale Belman and Amy Tracey Wells in memory of Dale’s brother Bob, who died tragically in 2018. Bob was a supporter of charitable organizations and liberal causes who gave freely of his time and money. He was a business owner with a love of rebuilding and racing European sports cars, who pursued track racing, auto-crossing, and road rallying. 

The Robert Belman Award is a grant of up to $1000 available to Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation b’nai mitzvah graduates who are or wish to engage in social justice action. Each year, $1000 will be available to be split between up to five awardees. Examples of qualifying activities include internships, leadership training, volunteering, or participation in a course through an organization such as the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Financial need will be one consideration in choosing recipients.

To qualify for the award, applicants must:

1. Be an AARC b’nai mitzvah grad up to 26 years old
2. Have a current association with the AARC (for example, parents are members or the applicant attends services)
3. Be able to articulate a focused need and time-frame for their activity

Example descriptions of the activity might be “Volunteer Coordinator at Cabrini Green Legal Aid from Sept 2019-May 2020,”  “Housing Justice Organizer with Jane Addams Senior Caucus from Sept 2019-May 2020,” or “Volunteer with the Sunrise Movement, Summer 2019.”*

The award is a lump sum given as an outright grant. It would be awarded based on both need and the nature of the social justice work or study. The money would be disbursed upon receipt of a copy of a letter from the organization stating that the applicant will be doing an internship, workshop, volunteering, etc.

Upon completion of the activity, awardees are asked to write a short essay about their work and its impact. The essay will be shared with members of the AARC.
A link to the application form will be sent out soon in an email to AARC members.

An Informative and Engaging Shavuot!

by Emily Eisbruch and Gillian Jackson

Our delicious Shavuot Desert Potluck provided by AARC! Photo Credits: Emily Eisbruch

In honor of the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai, AARC celebrated Shavuot this year by engaging in learning and discussion. We were joined by Kehillat Israel from Lansing. The evening was structured around discussion groups on interesting and relevant topics.

The first two discussion groups were led by congregation members Clare Kinberg from AARC and Ken Harrow from KI.

Clare Kinberg leading a discussion on ‘Jewish Time’ on Shavuot.

Clare Kinberg led a discussion about the Jewish concept of time and how it relates to the story of Ezra. A lively discussion followed regarding the different ways that Jews interpret history and time as it is written in our sacred texts.

Ken Harrow leading a discussion on ‘The Events at Sinai’ on Shavuot.

Ken Harrow led a discussion about the events at Sinai. In his session he focused on how to contextualize the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the commandments. Ken emphasized relationships to works of art, demonstrating our connections with facial expressions.  Ken shared slides with examples from famous artworks, including self-portraits from Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

After enjoying a potluck of delicious deserts provided by members of AARC, we embarked on even more engaging opportunities for learning with Rabbi Ora and Rabbi Zimmerman.

Rabbi Ora leads a discussion on ‘Jewish Perspectives on Abortion’

Rabbi Ora led a discussion on Jewish Perspectives on Abortion. The discussion was a fascinating exploration of various texts that reference abortion. Looking at the issue from the perspective of various Jewish Sects, Rabbi Ora showed how the Jewish people have struggled to codify when and how a woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.

Rabbi Zimmerman leads a discussion on the Green New Deal.

Rabbi Michael Zimmerman’s session on “The Torah of the Green New Deal” looked at  Judaism’s approach to caring for the planet.  He shared a handout with biblical and other references urging stewardship of the land, including text from House Resolution 109 on the Green New Deal.  The group discussed the relationship between Jewish teachings on charity and preservation of the earth.

All and all much knowledge was passed and given. It was truly an enriching evening during which the two congregations were able to get to know each other and enjoy lively discussion!

Jacob Resnick’s Bar Mitzvah Dvar: K’doshim

Shabbat Shalom and good morning. Today, I’ll be teaching you about my Torah portion K’doshim, which is in the book of Leviticus.

K’doshim means holy in hebrew. In my Torah portion, God gives Moses many commandments to give to the Israelites, the first one being, “You shall be holy.” Some of the commandments are basic rules that most of us still try to follow today like “You shall not steal” or “your shall not defraud your fellow”.


Others are more dated like “You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruits of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” This commandment is dated because most of us don’t have vineyards now, but as Jewish people we like to take principles from the Torah and see how we can apply them to today’s world. With the law about leaving fallen fruit for strangers, I think this ancient law can teach us to not be greedy and save some of our wealth to give to people who don’t have much.

Another similarly dated commandment in my Torah portion is, “ If anyone insults either their mother or father he shall be put to death.” Instead of killing disrespectful children, today we have other less extreme punishments like getting grounded, but the principle of respecting your parents is still applied today.

The commandment or law from my Torah portion that I want to focus on today is a prohibition against worshipping Molech, where God tells Moses,

”Say further to the Israelite people: Anyone among the Israelites, or among the strangers residing in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones. And I will set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he gave of his offspring to Molech and so defiled My sanctuary and profaned My holy name.”

If you didn’t know, Moloch is the name of a biblical Canaanite god. Moloch is usually depicted as a statue of a person with a bull’s head, and a furnace in its belly. Biblical historians believe the Canaanites worshipped Molech by offering it their children to be burned as sacrifices.

The Canaanites were an ancient people who lived in the land of Canaan, an area which most likely included parts of modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The Canaanites were neighbors to the ancient Israelites once the Israelites entered the Land of Israel. So clearly, it was a concern that the Israelites might start to take on Canaanite traditions, including child sacrifice.

In my Torah portion alone the prohibition against Molech is mentioned four times.

Rabbi Ora taught me that it is not common in the Torah for words or ideas to be repeated without a reason. So the question I had is – Why is this law against worshipping Molech and child sacrifice repeated by God so many times?

I feel like God mentions this law so many times because it’s such a sensitive moral issue. We know that the Ten Commandments outlaw killing in general. The killing of anyone is wrong, but it is especially difficult to read of parents killing their children, because the child doesn’t have a choice and the child has no possible hope of a future.

I think God repeated the prohibition against Molech so many times because God needed to let the Israelites know that sacrificing your child is an unforgivable crime.

As someone who is adopted, and thinking more about this commandment, I see some connections between ancient children not having a choice on whether they got sacrificed, and me not having a choice on whether I was adopted. Obviously being adopted is not the same thing as being sacrificed, but there are some similarities.

One big similarity is that being adopted means being picked up and moved, not having a say on what’s going on. Being adopted means leaving this whole other life behind that you don’t even get a chance to try. Looking more into this law it was like looking into my life, and questions came up: Questions like not knowing why I was being given up, which was probably similar to the biblical kids not knowing why they were being sacrificed.

So, some of the challenges of being adopted are not having a choice, not knowing why you were being given up, and leaving a whole other life behind. Those are all the hard aspects of adoption, but there are more good ones. If I wasn’t adopted then I wouldn’t have met all the people in this room today, my friends, family, and this congregation. I probably wouldn’t have the great education and privileges I have today. I also wouldn’t be able to embrace being Jewish which I’m proud to be.

To me there’s nothing wrong with being adopted because I’m probably having a better life than if I wasn’t adopted.

Despite this, when I introduce myself as being adopted to other people, I notice people often seem to feel some discomfort in talking about it. Sometimes I get the response of, “Oh I’m so sorry for you.” I sometimes think that in that moment people are imagining themselves in my position and thinking about what would be different for them if they had been adopted. This could make them feel sad so then they say they are sorry for me. Or maybe they just feel uncomfortable with something that’s unfamiliar and don’t know what to say.

I’m speaking about my adoption today — the things that are hard about being adopted and the things that are good — and how I feel about it because I would like people to not get uncomfortable when talking to me about it. I want to let everyone know that I am comfortable having conversations about being adopted. I’m not necessarily saying that I want to talk about my adoption all the time but I am saying that when the topic does come up naturally I want both sides to feel comfortable when talking about it.

In our congregation, we have a custom of asking the community a question to generate discussion towards the end of a dvar Torah. I have 2 questions for you today.

The first question I have is, are there other contemporary issues where children don’t have control over what happens to them and they are penalized because of it?

The second one is, are there any topics that you feel are hard to talk about that shouldn’t be that hard to talk about?

Thank you all for your answers and a good discussion.

To conclude, I would like to thank Caroline, my mom, and Paul, my dad, for being there for me, and the rest of my family for coming today. Our great Rabbi Ora for helping me prepare my dvar Torah and having good conversations with me about my Torah portion. Deb who has helped me learn my Torah portion, my Haftorah, and the blessings that go with them. All my friends for supporting me and making me laugh. Martha our exchange student who puts up with me when I’m crazy. Lyndon who helps me practice my bass and Derek who is the best bass teacher in the world. My congregation who has been welcoming since the time I joined it. And finally thank you all for coming, Shabbat Shalom!

Safety and Security at the AARC

by Dave Nelson, AARC Safety Coordinator

Given the recent attacks on American synagogues–and a general rise in
anti-Semitic crime in the U.S. and abroad over the last two years–it’s
natural to worry.

Please be reassured that the entire Jewish community of Ann Arbor–in
coordination with the greater Jewish community of Southeastern Michigan,
national Jewish organizations, and law enforcement–are working to assure
your safety without compromising our commitment to openness and
lovingkindness. Many of these broad, community-wide safety and security
initiatives aren’t new–but they’re now being pursued with greater
coordination, diligence, and a tad more urgency.

That said, our participation as a congregation is new–hence my role, as
“AARC Safety Coordinator.” As a smaller congregation that uses several
locations throughout the year, we have different safety and security
concerns than other congregations. Working with the local Jewish Community Security Committee gives the AARC access to tools that increase our security, and resources that allow us to formulate our own safety best
practices–ones that address our specific safety concerns while reflecting
and promoting our congregational values.

Members of the AARC who’d like to participate in–or simply learn
more about–our ongoing safety and security initiatives should keep an eye
on their inboxes; details will follow via email.