Beha’alotecha is my bar mitzvah portion.
I don’t remember a thing.
That’s not quite true. I remember the cantorial soloist who, I think, couldn’t modulate the key for Torah chanting so I was singing in a high soprano. If you’ve ever heard me speak, you would think that’s pretty funny.
I remember getting a Cross pen with the base inscribed with the date (5-28-77). I felt pretty boss about that.
But mostly I remember doing it. I remember going on the bima and doing it. I led this section and that section. I remember chanting (squeaking) Torah. I remember giving a d’var Torah. I remember doing stuff. I remember doing Jewish stuff. I remember taking my place.
Beha’alotecha is one of those parshiot that is easy to chuckle at. Detail upon detail about ceremony after ceremony. It even talks about the retirement age of the Cohanim. Is that scintillating, or what?
Well, it depends. If you are willing to go slow and dig in to the logistics, it’s pretty fascinating stuff, but then again I like to watch YouTube videos of car detailing so what do I know? Maybe details of the Temple are not your cup of tea. Fine. But you know what you should pay attention to? That they are doing something. Placement of the menorah, preparation of the people and the tools and the clothes, and on and on. Attention to detail wasn’t just obsessive. It was connection. They were fully connected to their Jewish behaviors. They were all in, literally, body and soul.
What about us? We live in an era where we can do whatever we want with our Judaism. Want to do a ton of rituals? Great. Have fun. Want to do just a small handful and find satisfaction as a cultural Jew? Great. You’ll have lots of company.
At J-JEP we deal with transmission of our heritage. Our mission is to pass on our heritage because we find it uplifting and believe that the next generation can find it uplifting as well. We believe that Torah writ large is about being part of the Jewish people which brings meaning to our lives. So we want to show our students what we’ve got for them. The thing is, though, that to pass on our heritage, we’ve got to do our heritage. We have to do stuff, hands-on stuff. We have to get involved. And honestly, if we want the next generation to engage their Judaism, we have to show them that we engage our Judaism.
I’ve started talking to parents about adding to their repertoire. Add something to your repertoire of Jewish behaviors. Nothing fancy (or maybe fancy, why not?). Just something to build upon what you already do. Add some Jewish tradition as a new family tradition. If we want to transmit Judaism, then we have to actively transmit something Jewish. If we want to pass on Judaism, we have to have something to pass on, some behavior, some action. This is hard. Most parents recreate what their parents gave them and nothing more. It is very difficult to add something that one has not experienced before, but we probably should stretch and try new things and find new meaning.
We can chuckle about our ancestors in Beha’alotecha but, you must admit, those people were focused! And they had
detailed behaviors and tangible things to pass on. They had a reason for what they did and they wrote it down in order to remember exactly how to do it so the next generation could add it to their repertoire. It’s easy to miss the forest for all the trees in Beha’alotecha but there is a forest of Jewish wisdom and value.
I know how our ancestors passed it on. What do you do to make sure you pass it on? What is your repertoire of Jewish living and what would you like to add? PJC
Rabbi Larry Freedman is the director of the Joint Jewish Education Program. This column is a service of the Greater
Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.