Judith Lange Edwards was called to the torah as a Bat Mitzvah on March 1, 2014
Pedukei – Exodus 30:11-16
Imagine a desert; wind tearing over sand dunes; ‘lone and level sands stretch far away’; a single cactus stands guard over his domain; *camera zooms in and starts turning*; a field of gold, silver and copper, and crimson yarns, and sheepskins and precious stones that glitter in the harsh light of the sun. Little ants crawl around erecting poles of metal that hold cloth strung, end to end on this platform the size of a football field. There is a big courtyard with a wall and then another courtyard and then another courtyard and within that there is a Tent that houses the Ten Commandments. Such was the Tabernacle.
You might be asking yourself where all these former slaves, and current nomads got their loot. Well, I was at service on December 21, 2013, the opening chapters of the book of Exodus. At the beginning of the Torah reading I was getting bored, and decided to read along in the Torah, of course in English. I was soon entranced in the story and the warbling voices of the congregants faded out. When I reached pg. 332 section 3:20 of sh’mot, several pages ahead of everyone; I saw this passage end with “And I will dispose of the Egyptians favorably toward this people, so that when you go, you will not go away empty handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor and the lodger in her house objects of silver and gold, and the clothing and you shall put these on your sons and daughters, thus stripping the Egyptians.” If this were a test: Which word does not fit in this passage? Answer: borrow. The idea of ‘stripping’ the Egyptians seems brutish, and from it I took a lesson that I am trying to remember in 2014. I learned that forgiving was the best thing you can do, especially when fighting with a brother. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.” Though I still think that forgiving someone for stealing all your gold and clothes would be, a bit hard, to say the least.
After the plagues and crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites wandered in the desert. Eventually they came to Mt. Sinai and Moses went up the mountain. The Israelites were scared and confused and made a golden calf and worshipped it like an idol. When the LORD saw what they had done, he was very very mad. When they received the Ten Commandments, God said that they should build the Tabernacle or a home for the commandments.
What is the difference between the Tabernacle and the golden calf?
After all, they are both golden structures that were made by the Jewish people. So what’s the difference?
On New Year’s Eve, my dad and I talked about it for a bit and figured it out; but I couldn’t seem to find a way to phrase it right. The next morning, he helped me find this;
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
You see, the golden calf would have remained a golden idol. But in the end, it would have been the face of an animal stamped on this lifeless thing. We would have no idea why it was here, and what people had worshipped it. The Tabernacle, is not really about the gold, or the instructions from LORD, and not even the coming together as a community to donate the gold. No, I believe it is the about the Ten Commandments, and the protection the Jewish people wanted to give to their history. And unlike that unfortunate statue, the Jews are still around. I finally understood why Judaism is so much different than other religions. When there are laws that can lead us, we can know our boundaries. But unlike other religions, when you are Jewish, you get to carve your own path. You can ask your own questions. You are not unconfined, yet you are not bound to a certain path that someone else chose for you. We can be our own individual and still belong to a community that has kept its history and traditions alive for thousands of years.
The way I was asked what portion I wanted to do was somewhat like this: colors and wonders of the Tabernacle; or skin disease. So I made a quick decision because I thought it would be that simple. I spent at least 4 or 5 months wondering about the colors and wonders of the Tabernacle, and I soon realized that it was more like precious stones and gold of the Tabernacle.
I watched a documentary at school which was about hunger in the US. There was a teacher in the movie who offered all of her students in elementary school a slice of melon, they had never tasted one before. All they usually had was chips. When she asked who would choose melon over chips; every one of those third graders raised their hand. This is a lot like the Tabernacle because the Israelites were in the desert, where everything is very bleak. When they were given this colorful structure it was so special. To us something like a melon is normal, but when you give someone something that they don’t expect, something out of the usual, they will be amazed. And just like the way I make strangers smile, the melon makes the children smile, the world makes us smile everyday. Just small things. Just like the lady in front of the cafe I pass everyday in the car on the way home from school; the one chair that used to be in the hall here and had a missing a rod; the one view from the parking spot at Costco that gives me a view of 3 trees on a hill (past the passers by, past the food trucks, under the overpass). And now we have this moment of sitting here together around the Torah. I hang onto these small moments that weave their way through the chaos of life.
I am dedicating this service to both my grandmothers. My dad’s mom, Marjorie Edwards, died 4 days and a year ago on March 5, my birthday. Before she died she did her taxes, paid her bills, and wrote me a birthday card. From her I got my enthusiasm to talk to adults, my bossiness, and the control freak inside me. I also remember when it was Chanukah and my mom had brought a chanukiah to her apartment in New York. My mom wanted to light the candles, but my grandma said that she didn’t want her brick building to burn down. I am just the same way around fire. My mom’s mom, Margaret Lange, who still lives Germany, has short hair like I do. We both like to help the community and go out with friends. But, then after that we still want some alone time to read by ourselves. Both grandmothers are extremely important to me, even if I don’t and didn’t know them very well. I am dedicating my service to them because they both can’t be here today.
When my family received napkins and silverware from my grandmother, Edwards, apartment, I saw all the E’s that were embroidered on them. Later, when I was contemplating this, I realized that the napkins are like the statue. They are words stamped on these lifeless things. What really matters is the memories I have of my grandad and grandma. I always heard my dad talking about them, saying that they were so athletic; and she walked so fast he couldn’t keep up. I wish I had known the lady who went on a run every morning instead of the one who made the trek from her room to her armchair with her walker.
I have to tell you, I must have written this first part of the d’var Torah at least 4 times. I would like to add that the reason why my actual maftir is not in the Pekudei is because it is Shabbat Shekalim.
People for the last 6 months have been asking me what I’m going to do for a Bat Mitzvah Project. I used to always avoid answering the question. And now, to all of the impatient people sitting here; I can finally answer that question.
Through Hebrew school, my parents, and school I went to the Food Bank lots of times. I am working on a blog about hunger at school with recommendations for games and simulations, also facts, and youtube videos. Through the blog I can raise awareness about hunger in the US to people that sit around on their computers all day. This blog is low maintenance and I will definitely continue working on it. I work on the blog with a few friends here; Emilia, Maya Claire, Aliza, and Lily Boyd, could you guys raise your hands?
Although this is not really a mitzvah project; making strangers smile is a weekly goal I make for myself. This is also like the Tabernacle because if everyone smiles they do a small part to make the world a better, happier place. The Tabernacle was made by the people that each donated a half-shekel to make this holy place. I would like to challenge all of you here, to make at least 3 strangers smile next week.
I would like to thank Cantor Linda for teaching me all the prayers and the haftarah and torah portions.
Also Sima for teaching me to read Hebrew;
Rabbi Mark for answering my questions and working on the drash with me;
My mom for organizing everything, my brother for being my brother, and my dad for reading torah when I begged him;
Thank you to the Torah readers, who sacrificed their time for my especially long portions,
Thank you to the people that booked hotels, and arranged flights. You are all amazing friends and family.
And lastly, thank you for everyone that knows me, for coming here and understanding how much this means to me.
But wait! I haven’t actually told you what this means to me yet! Ok here’s my best shot at it;
Becoming a daughter of good deeds just connects the puzzle pieces of my life, I get to see my friends and family and I learn more about Judaism and I get to consider what I want to do in my new life as a “woman”. I get to look back on the things that I have done, and decide what is important to me, and the qualities I don’t like in myself that I need to change.
I would like to conclude my drash with this quote; The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises. – Leo Buscaglia
Shabbat Shalom, and may your day be one of many smiles.