Al Shlosha D'varim Translation

A lot of referring URLs to this blog are people looking for the translation to the phrase "Al shlosha d'varim." Which I mention in a blog post about leading services and reading Torah, but I don't think I've ever translated it. So, to satisfy those coming to this blog with that question, here it is:

Upon 3 things the world stands:
upon Torah, upon service to God, and upon acts of lovingkindness.


B'nai Mitzvot

One of my best friends’ son is becoming a bar mitzvah this weekend. I’ve been to a number of b’nai mitzvot over the past 6 years, but I have not anticipated any like this one. I have watched her son, even in just the last year, grow and mature from a boy into a young man. I have shared many meals at their kitchen table, spent many hours in their house... to the point that they feel like my family. This young man has worked so hard and been so committed to what he is learning that, even without standing up in front of his entire family and community, he should be extremely proud of himself. The support that his family has given him is something that many people just never have. Each one of them has nurtured him, worked with him, studied with him, and in the end let him be himself. Every moment I have spent with my friend and her family I have felt the love and devotion simply radiate off of all of them.

B'nai Mitzvot have always been interesting to me; some can be very meaningful, very spiritual, and others can seem like both the kid and the family are going through the motions. The prep for a bar mitzvah at my temple requires a large commitment of time and energy by the entire family. But, there is also a sense at there that these are private affairs, to only be attended if you are a friend or family. I will admit to skipping a Saturday service or two in the past in order to avoid a bar or bat mitzvah that is occurring that day, so I am just as guilty. But, I think to continue to make our community stronger it is important that those of use who are regular attendees of Saturday morning Torah study and services show up for a bar or bat mitzvah. It lets people know that yes, we stand with our community. We ask our kids who go through this process to become a part of our prayer community, but what kind of message are we sending when we don't become a part of theirs? How can we expect them to take adult prayer seriously if we don't take them seriously?

There are those in the Reform world who think we do b'nai mitzvot all wrong, that it is too much a show and not enough a service. I believe at my temple my rabbi has really tried to keep these from becoming a show. I have found some deeply prayerful moments at these services, and I fully expect to again this week.

So, this weekend I will sit in the congregation with the multitudes of family who will have descended upon the city to be witness to the momentous occasion, and hopefully some of my fellow Saturday regulars. I will share in their pride and I will rejoice in the Jewish commitment this young man has made.


Alyssa Stanton: The convert, the rabbi, and the spotlight.

I am not usually a fan of the online J-magazine Jewcy, but this story popped up in my email and grabbed my attention. I was at the ordination of Alyssa Stanton, but not because of her. I was there because friends of mine were also being ordained (at HUC-JIR, Cincinnati) and I was there to support them. So, it has been interesting to see all of the press coverage over Stanton, all the while knowing that my friends are deserving of just as much attention because of the amazing people they are and rabbis they will be. Obviously Stanton has received so much attention because she is the first African American woman to be ordained. But, as the Jewcy article points out, she isn’t the first African American to be ordained, nor is she the first woman of color to be ordained, yet the country and the world is still fascinated (see the article for more along this line of thought).

So, what is our fascination with Alyssa Stanton? I think part of it is the fact that she converted. Conversion is not only an increasingly hot topic within Judaism (one just needs to look at the frustrating situations in Israel re: conversion to see just how many lives are affected by differing views of conversion and converts), but it is controversial on many levels. If you convert via the Reform movement are you a full-fledged Jew? Will you be recognized by the Conservative and Orthodox movements? What about a Conservative conversion? What about a Modern Orthodox conversion? Will you be recognized by the Ultra-Orthodox? Who gets to say what constitutes a Jew and a legal conversion? Can a female rabbi be on the beit din?

Every article is quick to bring up that Stanton is a convert, which is important only in the context that it is a part of her history, her story. Jews are not really supposed to remind converts that they are, in fact, converts. Once you convert you are a Jew and should be referred to as such. Stanton converted some 20 years ago, so how incredibly frustrating to her to be referred to as a convert over and over again in local and national media. I’m sure she stopped thinking of herself as a convert long ago; I’ve only been Jewish for a little over 5 years, but it has even been a couple of years since I stopped thinking of myself as a convert and simply as a Jew. It is true that being a convert instead of a Jew-by-birth brings with it a different view of traditions and history, which would in turn inform someone's rabbinate, just as our history informs all that we do. But, you have to wonder: when will we just be Jews? Will there ever be a time when we won't need to explain our background or how we got where we are?

Becoming a rabbi is a remarkable achievement for anyone. Becoming the first African American rabbi is a footnote in history. Her race will not make Stanton a better or worse rabbi; her training, her commitment, her love of Judaism – these are what will determine Stanton’s quality as a rabbi. You have to wonder whether all of this attention on Stanton’s race and her first-of-a-kind situation is setting her up for either failure or disappointment. How can someone with so much hype actually live up to it? And what happens when the media attention fades? When the spotlight is off of her, what kind of rabbi will Alyssa Stanton actually be?

I think of my friends who were ordained alongside Stanton that day in June and I know that they will be great rabbis, spiritual leaders who will be attentive and loving throughout their careers. They do not have the spotlight on them, but perhaps they should. Or perhaps we should leave our spiritual leaders to what they do best: teaching, counseling, leading us in prayer, comforting us in grief, rejoicing with us in happiness.


Accountability and Arrogance

Last Shabbat morning I read Torah (Matot-Masei). I hadn’t read in awhile, but this was a portion I had done last year, so I will admit to being lazy and choosing the same section to read so that my prep time would be minimal – which it was, at 30-45 minutes total. The intern asked me why I chose the verses I chose because it is a large portion (being double) and there is a lot of stuff to choose from. This is what I read:
Moses replied to the Gadites and the Reubenites, "Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here? Why will you turn the minds of the Israelites from crossing into the land that the Lord has given them? That is what your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to survey the land. After going up to the wadi Eshcol and surveying the land, they turned the minds of the Israelites from invading the land that the Lord had given them. Thereupon the Lord was incensed and He swore, 'None of the men from twenty years up who came out of Egypt shall see the land that I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for they did not remain loyal to Me — none except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they remained loyal to the Lord.' The Lord was incensed at Israel, and for forty years He made them wander in the wilderness, until the whole generation that had provoked the Lord's displeasure was gone. And now you, a breed of sinful men, have replaced your fathers, to add still further to the Lord's wrath against Israel. If you turn away from Him and He abandons them once more in the wilderness, you will bring calamity upon all this people."
Now, I will admit this seems kind of random and not the best part to read, but here are my reasons. The Gadites and Reubenites had just asked Moses and Eliezar and the chieftans to remain on the side of the Jordan that would be better for their cattle. As you can see above, Moses has a bit of a fit over this, and in my opinion, rightly so. I think what is important here is that Moses is stressing responsibility to the entire community as a whole, not just your own insular groups. Our actions affect those around us, not just us individually or as a small group, but everyone, especially in this case. You must be accountable to yourself, but you must also be accountable to your people.

Beyond the idea of responsibility and accountability is that of plain old chutzpah. One of the commentators we read pointed out that the Gadites and the Reubenites should be praised because they are, in fact, expanding the holdings of the Israelites. My response to that is: if God wanted the holdings of the Israelites expanded to that side of the Jordan, don’t you think God would have indicated it to begin with? How incredibly arrogant of the Gadites and Reubenites if that was, indeed, a motive. They are, in a way, setting themselves on the same level as God.

So, that is what I brought away from the portion. Be accountable. Don't be arrogant. Amen.


It is a tree of life

I posted a couple of months ago (here) about the re-emergence of my love of painting. I have been painting a lot. When I say a lot I mean 4 or 5 times a week, multiple times on a weekend if I can. It has become a bit expensive, but totally worth it. I’m going to take this post to talk about a few of the paintings.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try my hand at a creation series. I’m pretty happy with most of the paintings, but think I may need to tackle a couple of the days again. For each day I took one aspect or event that always struck me (so Day 1 might seem perfect for “Let there be light!” but I have always liked the “unformed and void” part of creation. So, that is what I chose to attempt to paint. I’m not sure how successful I was, but this was my first try at a series and I know I do want to try another creation series again in the future.

Day 1:

My favorite day was Day 2: separating the waters above from the waters below. I have always loved the idea that the sky and the oceans were at one point the same thing.

My least favorites: Days 5–7. Those I will definitely be attempting again. I found it very difficult to portray the creation of animals, humans, and Shabbat. For Day 6 I kept getting stuck on depicting a soul. How do you paint a soul?

Something else I’ve wanted to tackle is for my favorite translation of the Gevurot:

1) We pray that we might know before whom we stand,
the Power whose gift is life,
who quickens those who have forgotten how to live,
having implanted within us eternal spirit.

2) We pray for winds to disperse the air of sadness,
for rains to make parched hopes rise again.

3) We pray for love to encompass us
for no reason save that we are human,
that we may blossom into persons
who have gained power over our own lives.

4) We pray to stand upright, we fallen; to be healed, we sufferers.
We pray to break the bonds that keep us from the world of beauty.
We pray to be open to our own true selves.
We pray that we may walk in a garden of purpose,
in touch with the power of the world.

5) Praised be the God whose gift is life,
whose cleansing rains let parched men and women rise again.

Rabbi Richard Levy
(From Mishkan T’filah, G’vurot, Shabbat Evening II)
This one is for paragraph 4 above:

I also have an interpretation of paragraph 3, but that one was also a lot more personal, so I’m not sure I’m going to share it publicly right now.

And finally, my tree of life:


Repost: And Let Us Say Amen

Today is my step-sister's yahrtzeit. I don't really have anything I want to write, but thought I would repost what I wrote last year.

Originally posted July 9, 2008:

My Friday began late as I relished the opportunity to sleep in, staying in bed until well past noon. I had no specific plans for my day off, I just knew that I didn’t want to take part in any 4th of July celebrations. Seven years ago the holiday was tarnished for me as I stood on the back deck at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Lexington and silently watched the fireworks on neighboring hills, all the while knowing that the next day we were burying my sister. The only thing I wanted this year was a quiet Shabbat celebration as I marked my sister’s yahrzeit, fully aware that the guilt I carry surrounding her last months will not fade just because I say Kaddish.

I was a 21-year old college student, living 4 hours away from home, working hard at a very demanding higher educational institution, and trying desperately to figure out who I am. My dad had remarried when I was 14 and I had gained a stepsister 13 years my senior. We never lived in the same house, or even the same town. And as a young adult who did not see or hear from her father much while away at college, I was sometimes quite jealous of her. She had gone back to school to get a degree in nursing and all I could think about was that she was supposed to graduate the same year as me and I wanted my dad at my graduation. And then my junior year none of that mattered anymore.

I knew that attendance would be sparse on the 4th of July at my temple; even our rabbi was still out of town at camp. I was right. When I walked in there were 3 people plus the intern, soloist, and pianist. Eventually we gained 3 more, but we never quite got to a minyan, which is rare on a Friday. I waited for the couple, friends of mine, to choose their seats, and then I chose a seat far from them. It’s not that I don’t like them; on any other Friday I would have chosen to sit with them. But that night I wanted to be by myself, to truly delve into the emotion of the coming Shabbat and my feelings surrounding the anniversary of my sister’s death.

She got sick when I was a sophomore. Breast cancer, which had recently claimed the life of her grandmother. 30-years old, too young to need to fight this horrible disease, but she did it gracefully. I was there during her final chemo treatments the first time. We all went out afterwards and celebrated at a restaurant in Lexington. Unfortunately she wouldn’t stay well for long.

We began services singing Shalom Aleichem. Even though the sun had not yet set the sanctuary had a dimness to it; it had been raining that day, thunderstorms as if the sky was as emotional as I would be that night. There is a coziness, a warmth, that I find in the darkness of a thunderstorm, though it hasn’t always been that way. I used to be frightened of the thunder, the lightning, the wind. That night, however, I was far from that fear. I sat quietly, singing along with the melody that always seems to be bittersweet to me. Here we are welcoming guests, helping to bring in the wonder of Shabbat, but there always seems to be that edge of sadness to it, a knowledge that this too will be over, this wonderful respite in time, and we will move back into the ordinary hours of our lives.

Christmas break during my junior year brought the news that my sister would be marrying her longtime boyfriend in March. Everyone was happy; no one commented on the short timeline. She asked me to be a bridesmaid, but having grown uncomfortable years ago at even the thought of wearing a dress, I begged off, saying I’d read a prayer instead, design the program. I made the trip down for the weekend, celebrating with my family. She had a special wig for the ceremony, dyed the red that she had always liked her own hair to be. On Sunday I drove back to school, back to my life away from my family, away from her and the cancer.

As we moved into the Sh’ma and its blessings I began to feel a tightness in the back of my throat. Barechu et Adonai hamvorach. Praised be Adonai to who our praise is due. Baruch Adonai hamvorach l’olam vaed. Praised is Adonai to whom our praise is due now and forever. And then the Ma’ariv Aravim. Blessed are you Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, whose word brings on the evening, whose wisdom opens the gates and with understandings changes the seasons... I could barely say the words, much less see them through the tears that had welled up in my eyes. I felt overwhelmed with the sense of God’s presence and with the sadness I felt at the absence of my sister’s. God creates day and night, rolls light away from darkness and darkness from light.

I chose to stay up at school again that summer, working in one of the offices as I had done the previous year. Mid June I went home for the weekend and went down to visit my sister. By this point the cancer had spread to her abdomen and her brain. She had been having frequent seizures and hospice would soon be called in. But that weekend she was alert and joking and joyous. My dad later told me that she hadn’t been doing well up until that point and afterwards she declined rapidly. I felt lucky to know that the last time I really saw her she was at her best. Two weeks later on a Sunday night I got a call that I should come home, that she wasn’t expected to make it through the next couple of days. I wanted to leave right then, but it was late in the evening already. So, I waited and left in the morning. That afternoon I watched my sister take her last breath, surrounded by her family, her mom, her husband, my dad and my other sister. I said goodbye. The next few days were a blur; arrangements to be made, a funeral in Lexington, burial in Northern Kentucky, reception at my dad’s in Cincinnati. It was hot and humid and I have 4 distinct memories while the rest is hazy at best. The clearest memory I have is standing in the cemetary and listening to my dad, a reserved man most of the time, talk about losing the woman who thought of him as her dad, who called him “papa.”

Saying the Sh’ma that night I felt as if I were truly offering up my heart, my soul. Hear O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. The God who made the heavens, who brought on the evening, who gave us life, is our God and God is echad. One. Unique. Ineffable, as Heschel would say. My voice was reaching out, using these words as a path to God, not up or down, but who enveloped me that night. With my eyes closed I could feel the stillness around me and feel the reverberation of my own voice in my chest, something I have grown to love as I say the Sh’ma over the years, as if God is rumbling, answering back my call.

It was through the death of my sister that I began my exploration into Judaism. Not right away. First I railed at God, a God who I had been convinced I didn’t believe in, that is until I was angry enough to acknowledge Him. But it was that acknowledgement, that anger, that wholly emotional response, that gave me that push, that need, to find my spiritual home, which I did in Judaism. And in Judaism I finally found my way to mourn my sister properly.

The rest of the service passed in much the same emotional way. I was worn out, exhausted, as if my soul had run laps around the sanctuary the entire time, pounding the walls with its fists and crying out in fury, while finally collapsing into the waiting embrace of its Maker. All of this felt like it had happened inside and when we reached Kaddish Yatom I knew that I was ready to say the words that praise God.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One. Beyond any blessing and song, praised and consolation that are uttered in the world. May there be abundant peace from Heaven and life upon us and upon all Israel.
I still feel sorrow at the loss of my sister. I still feel sadness when I think of my dad and step mom and her husband who all must live their lives with her palpable absence. I still feel the guilt that only a survivor can feel for not having done enough while she was still alive. And so I will continue to mark her yarhzeit, year after year. I will continue to say the words that praise God and all that God has made. Time may make the ache less pronounced, but as we concluded our prayers on Friday I realized that the mourning will go on and should go on and that it is okay because God is still there at the end of it all.


In a New York Minute (Everything Can Change)

I spent last Tuesday through Friday in New York City, my first ever visit. One of my very good friends went along for with me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion. You see, this was our first time spending multiple full days together, 24/7. And I will readily admit to being an occasionally difficult traveler. I get cranky when my blood sugar drops in the afternoon and right now my moods can turn on a dime. This trip was no different, and I think everything was even more pronounced than usual because I was completely overstimulated with the sights, sounds, and smells of Manhattan. Our second day in the city was spent almost entirely at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you know me, you know that I love art. I’ve recently rediscovered my own love of painting (in a big way, actually—that is for another post), but I’ve never stopped loving art in general. The Met was like a pilgrimage experience for me. If you’ll excuse the Christian reference, it was like stepping into a grand cathedral to worship at the altar of paint, and marble, and beauty, and design, and form, and light. It was incredibly overwhelming, so much so that I believe I was literally on some kind of seratonin high. And anyone who knows anything about highs, whether they are artificially induced or not, knows that what comes up must come down. And down I came. I dropped fast and furious and that evening before dinner and the show I had what I can only describe as a meltdown. I had no control over my emotions and all I could do was cry and try to breathe. It was a stark contrast to how I felt going through the Met, and how I felt in general during the trip. It was frustrating to say the least. And at this point a lesser person, a lesser friend, probably would have written off the rest of the trip right then, figured that I was just a big emotional baby. But, my friend remained her patient and loving self as the tide passed and I began to feel better again.

I have to say that this was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Despite the aforementioned emotional issues, I had so much fun exploring New York, especially with my friend. I’m not sure I would have had as much fun with anyone else. Usually at the end of a trip like this it is all I can do to get away from the person I have been with for a little while; I need space, a lot of it. But, at the end of this trip all I wanted was for it to keep going. My mom asked me when I picked up my dog if we were still friends and I answered “of course!” Not once during the trip did I think “man, I could just use some time to myself.” I loved spending so much time with my friend and was sad when I had to get into the cab alone at the end of the trip to head home by myself.

One of the best parts of the trip was getting to see my uncle who lives in New York and who I don't get to see more than once a year usually. I don’t think I have smiled that much in a long time. It was so much fun and I felt so much love for him and was so happy that I got to share that with my friend as well. There is something special about getting to share the family you love with the other people in your life who you love. It was a great night.

I wasn’t back in town on Friday in time for services, but I was able to go Saturday morning, which was a nice way to end such a great week. I had gone through such a range of emotions while I was in New York and I was so tired, but I think it helped to inject my prayer with something more, a little raw, and I felt very connected.

To reference the title of this post, I don't believe that everything changed. I don't think any trip has that kind of power, no matter how amazing it is. But, I do believe I was able to discover some important information about myself, and that is a souvenir I will gladly walk away with.


Patching a Hole

The World I Know, June 2009

This post is not about Judaism, or spirituality, or even God, per se. But, it kinda is at the same time.

After a nearly 5 year absence, painting has made a resurgence in my life.

I used to paint all the time. I fell in love with it in high school, and while I dated other art forms in college, I always came back to painting at the end of the day. And then I graduated from college and entered the real world and lost all confidence in my abilities as an artist. I told myself that I stopped painting because it was too expensive, or I didn't have the space, or I didn't have the time. But, those were all excuses and in reality I didn't want to paint because I didn't think I could anymore. I kept myself surrounded by the last paintings I had completed and been proud of, and some days it would make me happy to see them. And other days it would make me incredibly sad to think that this was a part of my life that was over. I doubted whether I would ever pick up a paintbrush again.

Last spring I picked up some watercolors and painted a couple of times, mostly because I wanted to do something for friends who were moving out of state. But I was never a water colorist and I wasn't very happy and so I put down the paintbrush again.

A year later and nothing much had changed in my thinking about my art. What had changed was this incredible friend who has encouraged me to be creative again. So, using a coupon that she had sent, I picked up some oil paints and paintbrushes and dug out a blank canvas that had sat in my apartment for 5 years. And one day I began to paint.

And then I painted again. And again. And again. I bought an easel and more paint and the brushes I had always loved using and more canvas. I even finished a painting I had begun 5 years ago. Then one day I realized I had run out of space to prop up the drying paintings around my apartment. I had to use my laundry drying rack, and thus neglected doing laundry in favor of protecting the drying oils.

What I discovered, almost instantly, was just how much I had missed painting. I missed the smell of the paint, the feel of the brush, the way I could block out everything around me and just concentrate on the canvas. I had missed being creative because somewhere along the way I had convinced myself that it was something I no longer was capable of.

I realized something that only now can I truly appreciate: before I discovered Judaism, painting was how I prayed.

I feel a freedom with my painting now that I never could have in college. I always had an assignment or a project to work on, and even though I did paint for my own pleasure those times were few and far between and I was so locked into what I was doing in class that I didn't break away from it. Now, however... now I am allowing myself to just follow where the process will take me. I have played with color, with form, with light and dark. I have painted hands -- a challenge to myself to master something that I never could in college. This past weekend I turned my attention to what is around me and took my time with the paintings, something I never really did before. I was always anxious to finish something, to see what it would look like. But this weekend I slowed myself down and concentrated on making the paint work and respecting it when I needed to step away.

At this point painting has become a source of hope, a way to cope (and sometimes avoid), a way to express how I feel, and a way to reconnect. I don't think I would have picked up a paintbrush again were it not for the encouragement of my friend. It isn't every day that someone gives you back a piece of yourself that you thought was lost.


Random Thoughts

Look at this. Two days in a row of posts. Excellent.

So, where have I been since January you may (or may not) be asking yourself? Well, I've been around. I went through a few more bad months, but after some discoveries about my allergy medicine (don't take Zyrtec if you have a tendency towards depression or are currently being treated for it, and if you do, talk to your doctor!) I am beginning to feel on track.

Over the past 4 months or so I spent a lot of time at temple. A lot. Many weeks I was there 5 out of 7 days (Friday-Saturday for Shabbat services, Sunday for Religious School, Monday for a beginning Hebrew class I taught to newly arrived students, and Tuesday for Hebrew School and/or Board Meetings). For the most part it was a good thing to be there so much; I was around people I cared about, I had the support of my community, and it kept me busy and occupied, which was a key thing for me.

But, a couple of weeks before Passover I got a cold. Which turned into a sinus infection. And lingered for a month (though the infection cleared up w/ antibiotics within a week of finally going to the doctor). I was drained. I had no energy. And one weekend, for the first time in ages when I have been in town, I didn't go to temple for services Friday or Saturday. Friday night I went to a friend's house for a lively pot luck and outdoor service. And the next day I decided to take a long drive out into the country. I can't explain it, but those couple of days away from temple were needed. I needed to recharge. I needed to not feel like this was just an obligation, that it was a job to be there. I love my temple, and I needed a little bit of distance to renew that love.

Now the school year is over. My fourth graders ended their first year of Hebrew on a high note and my Monday night class was reading, if haltingly, and learning grammar by our last evening together. It was a good school year, and I am incredibly proud of all of my students. Last year I felt a bit over my head when teaching Hebrew; this year I think I was beginning to hit my stride and I am excited for next year.

Over the last few months I have also read Torah a few times (once for the anniversary of my bat mitzvah, once to fill in for our ailing intern, and once on Passover - the Song of the Sea). I rocked my bat mitzvah portion, did decently with the next one, and after only preparing for 2 days I muddled through reasonably well for the Song of the Sea, which happens to be the hardest portion, or so says my rabbi. I don't know when I will read next, but I am hoping it will be this summer.

Oh, and last, but not least, I passed my 5 year mark since my conversion. It isn't like when your car turns over from 99,000 to 100,000 miles. Maybe it should have been, but it was more like "Hmmm. I've been a Jew for 5 years. That's pretty cool." Somewhere along the way since my conversion I began to truly think of myself as a Jew and not a convert. So, while it was momentous in a way, it is also something I don't feel the need to make a big deal over.


d'var Torah - במדבר

I realize it has been a number of months since I posted. I'm going to try and get better about that.

So, as a step back into things, this is the d'var Torah I gave last night at my temple board meeting. It was my 2nd month in a row doing it because last month I'd forgotten that it was my turn and hadn't prepared; I did pull something out of the air, but I was embarrassed and so volunteered for this month.


This week we begin a new book of the Torah: Bamidbar, which means “in the wilderness,” referred to in English as Numbers because of the counting of the Israelites. The portion begins with a lengthy listing of the tribes of Israel and the number of males over the age of twenty whose duty it is to serve as the army and surround the Mishkan on all sides. However, the Levites are not included in this number as they are not considered a part of the army. Instead, their count begins at the age of one month and their duty is to guard the Mishkan itself and to assist the kohanim, the priests.

What interested me most doesn’t come until 3:1

“These are the descendants of Aaron and Moses on the day that Adonai spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. These are the names of Aaron’s sons; the firstborn Nadav, and Avihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.”

Why doesn’t the Torah list the descendants of Moses? Rashi says: “[Scripture] mentions only the sons of Aaron, yet they are called the descendants of Moses – because he taught them Torah. This teaches us that one who teaches another’s son Torah is considered as having procreated them.”

The religious school teachers at Valley are charged with the Jewish education of our congregation’s children, but this is a task that should not be limited to those who teach on Sunday or Tuesday. Each member of this board, each member of the congregation, is in some way a teacher of our children. Whether you are guiding the third graders through learning about Shabbat or showing up on a Saturday morning for services and Torah study, you are a teacher and what you do is important. We can all take pride in our students – when they learn to say the Sh’ma in kindergarten and when they stand in front of us at their bar or bat mitzvah. Whether we had them in class in a formal setting or not, they are still our students.

Speaking personally, I know that when I enter the classroom each week to teach Hebrew to the 4th graders I do so with the knowledge that the groundwork that we lay in Alef is one that they will continue to build on, through Bet and Gimmel and on through their b’nei mitzvah training. And at the end of the year when they have gone from sounding out words letter by letter to reading the V’ahavta it is an absolute joy to see their pride in their own progress. But teaching our students how to read Hebrew, or about the holidays, or about Jewish history, is not enough. It is our duty to instill a love of Judaism that they will be able to carry with them throughout their lives. We teach them Torah, in the sense that Torah encompasses all that we are to learn and do Jewishly. As Rashi stated, one who teaches Torah to a child is considered to be like a parent, and as parents it is essential that we share our Jewish values, our history, and our customs—and not just as casual observers or distracted volunteers. When our students are with us in Religious school they are our children and it is a sacred duty to assist in raising them Jewishly during those few hours we have each week. At the end of the year we are able to look back and see how our children have grown in their Judaism and we have the pride of a parent. And when our students see us rejoicing in Shabbat, studying Torah, and doing Jewishly we are able to continue to teach them with our actions.

The beginning of this Torah portion counts the Israelites whose sacred duty it was to surround the Mishkan and guard it for safe keeping. We must step up and be counted now, as Jews who love our Judaism, who take pride in our temple, support our community, and teach our children, because it is our sacred duty to guard the future of Judaism.