Shabbat Shalom. Thank you for coming here to celebrate this day with me. Today I’m here to teach you about my Torah Portion, Ki Tissa. In this Portion, Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Moses leaves for forty days and nights without coming back. Moses was going up to Mount Sinai, and asked if the people wanted to go, and they said no, you should go alone. When they realized he was going to be gone for a while, they got nervous and anxious because they were so used to having a leader in Moses.
The people asked Aaron, Moses’ brother, to help. Aaron told them to take off all of their gold. They gave their earrings to Aaron, and he molded them into a calf. The people said “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” God told Moses about what happened, and when Moses saw the people had made a golden calf, he was furious. He destroyed the tablets by throwing them and asked Aaron what had happened. Aaron, trying to avoid responsibility, blamed it on the people. Moses then proceeded to grind the calf into powder, and made the people drink it. The next day, Moses went up to God and God said He would kill everyone for their sin. Moses pleaded with God and finally convinced God not to destroy the people
I’m also here to answer the big question of my Portion. The big question is: Why did Moses defend the people? This is an important question because almost nobody would want to help out a group of people who betrayed them.
Many rabbis and commentators have found different answers to this question.
Rav Huna, a Rabbi from Babylonia in the third century, explained his thoughts about this story. He believed that the people were innocent. He compared the story to when a father put his son at a job on a street full of criminals. When the father saw the son acting badly, he threatened to punish him. A friend of the son intervened, and told the father not to punish him, and said, “You are as guilty as your son. Did you not place him on a street of evildoers, in a place where he could pick up bad habits?” The story is very similar to the way Moses talks to God. God was just like the father in the story, and Moses was just like the son’s friend. Moses was telling God not to destroy the people, just like the son told the father not to punish the son. Moses said something very similar to, “Why do you want to destroy the people? For habit has become a second nature to them, and after being in Egypt, where there was idolatry, they were used to worshiping idols. That was what led them to build and worship the Golden Calf.”
Nehama Lebowitz was an Israeli commentator from the twentieth century. She believed that even though the people made the golden calf, they made a mistake, and they should be forgiven. The people created the Golden Calf, and Moses was defending them. Nehama Lebowitz says that it takes a long time for people to learn the laws of Torah and that it takes Moses a long time to teach them. She also says that the people of Israel, and all people, including people today, make mistakes, and they are forgiven. For example, there was one day over April break where we just stayed in the house. It was a few days after the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the killer was on the loose. To stay safe, everyone had to stay in their house on lockdown. My brother, Josh and I were upstairs, in my parents’ bedroom, and were getting in an argument. I decided it was a good idea to push him off the bed. I made a bad mistake. I’m sorry, Josh. Just like me, the people made a mistake, and should be forgiven, if they aren’t already. I would take this and say that people should be forgiven, and once you make the mistake, you now know right from wrong, so the next time that same thing happens, you know what to do, and you should always be thinking “What is the next mitzvah I should do.
Yehuda Halevi was a rabbi who was born in Spain in the eleventh century. He believed that there were only a few that were truly idolaters, about 3,000 out of the 600,000 Israelites that truly wanted the Golden Calf to be created. The few that were true idolaters just wanted a tangible God. Now I know you’re thinking, ‘How would only 3,000 people get what they want, there are more than 590,000 who didn’t agree?’ The reason why is because the other 500,000 or so people were in a bad state. They were frustrated, confused, and couldn’t make up their minds. However, there were enough people who agreed amongst themselves to gain power, to be heard, and to be seen fighting for what they want. What I am trying to tell you is, if there are enough people disagreeing and arguing over who is right, the smaller minority who can agree with each other, even if it is just a few dozen people, can make an impact with how well they agree and by how their opinions and voice make them known. Yehuda Halevi is just saying, you can win over larger amounts of people who are willing to follow the minority, even if what they say is wrong.
I think Rabbi Huna makes a valid point. The people of Israel shouldn’t be blamed. Moses had left for 40 days to talk to God, and the people had no one to help. They were uncomfortable without being able to talk to Moses or God, that’s why they built the golden calf. Habit is a second nature to them, and they fell back on their old ways, so you can’t blame the people. Everyone makes mistakes, and that ties in perfectly in with Nehama Leibowitz’s point of view. She believes that the people made a mistake, and that even though it was their fault, they should be forgiven. In all generations, mistakes happen, but the people get forgiven for their actions. You always are faced with new choices, and sometimes, we humans make wrong choices. Making the bad decision is what teaches us right from wrong, so we know what to decide the next time the decision has to be made. I also agree with Yehuda Halevi. He is right that a small group can win over other groups who can’t agree among themselves. If you are confused and frustrated, the way Halevi portrays the Israelites, then you won’t make good choices, like what Nehama Leibowitz thinks the Israelites did. I already had the idea that I wanted to do something to help out other people, so I knew I made the right choice with what I chose for my Mitzvah Project.
I decided my Bar Mitzvah project would be at Cradles to Crayons. Cradles to Crayons is an organization where they donate toys and clothes for kids, and they donate to people who are in need newborns to kids age 12. They take everything as long as it is like new. So give them games and toys where everything is still in the box, neatly and complete, and the clothes are still wearable, with no holes and no stains. There is sometimes a pair of shoes that are beat up, or an item of clothing where there is a hole, and when that happens, you put the shoe in a red bin, and the organization takes it to another factory, where they fix the broken shoe, and ship it off to someone else. So, if you have clothes or toys at you home that you don’t use anymore, make sure they are in good condition, and you can donate it to the factory.
My friends and I put out a couple of boxes at our school to help collect toys and clothes to donate to others. We put signs up, we made an announcement, and within the first week or so, all of the boxes were filled until the donations had to be put next to the boxes because they were so full. I also did a couple sessions at the factory, where I sorted clothes and shoes so they could be distributed to people who need them. At the last meeting of my two month go round of working at Cradles to Crayons, the leader of our group, Troy Heffron told us that we had done such a great job helping donate things to them. He also said that he got an emergency request about someone needing a stroller. We had got a stroller from the donations at our school, so we were able to get the stroller to the factory, and they got the stroller to the person who needed it within a day. In the end, I enjoyed working with Cradles to Crayons; it was a great experience for me. I liked hearing about the stories, and hearing how what we did really helped people’s lives easier.
First off, I would like to say thank you to the whole HBT Congregation, for celebrating becoming a Bar Mitzvah with me. I would also like to thank my friends, to see me do what probably looks very dull to them, but they also decided to see me become a Jewish adult. Thank you to the Rabbi, for directing me from right and wrong making this D’var. Thank you to my tutor, Tracy, for also helping me when I was frustrated, and for teaching me everything I need to know, and for setting the bar high as a standard, making me go above and beyond. Thank you to my mom, Sarah, my dad, Eugene, and my brother, Josh for helping me out when I got frustrated and having my back every step of the way. I would like to thank Hillary for setting up the education system, and to all of my teachers for educating me. Thank you to Benita for looking after us, and acting as the mom of the Temple. And A Special Thanks to Moreno, for all he does to keep the building clean, setting up parties and events, and always being so caring, thoughtful, and nice to me and everyone here at the Temple.
Last but certainly not least I would like to thank my grandfather, Bernie. Ever since I was young, he has been looking out for me. He makes sure I’m being careful and safe, avoiding anything that could risk my health or losing an important item that I need. He will always help with my homework, looking over everything at the end to make sure all of it is correct. He’s always the right person when you’re home alone, whether you’re bored or you want to have a conversation, he always will give you company, he will always make your day better, and he will always be willing to have a conversation. He will also always be willing to have the family over at his house, no matter how busy he is, and no matter what it is, he can make the best dinner out of any food you give him, and he’ll never come unprepared when we have dessert. I don’t remember the last time I have been to his house and left hungry. Seriously, he makes some real good food. Now, the best thing about him, disregarding the homework, and the food, and everything else, is he’s just a nice, genuine person. He never acts like he’s faking happiness, if he’s unhappy, he’ll tell me what’s wrong. By the end of the our time together, he’ll be much happier than before, for getting his anger or his problem out, and having me give him advice on the problem. At this point in life, I don’t know what I would be able to do without him by my side.