By Garnett Puett
August 20, 2005
Bar Mitzvah d’var Torah
In this portion, Moses pleads to Hashem, “Vaetchanan el Adonai” asking to let him enter the land that he promised to our forefathers. But Hashem becomes angry with Moses for begging so much, telling him to never speak of the matter again; instead telling him to climb to the top of Mount Pisgah and to gaze about to the North, the East, the South, and the West; this was the closest he would get to the land. So Moses gave up his arguing and made a speech to the people of Israel.
Moses went down the mountain and gathered the people. As he and the people stood at the foot of the mountain, the mountain burst into flames, and from the flames came Hashem’s voice. He reminded the people that He was the one who took them from Egypt and that He commands them to worship no other god, person, or animal.
Hashem then tells the people that Moses will not enter the land and will die in the valley opposite Beth-Peor. But that He will not abandon them.
Moses then reminds the Israelites that they have heard the Lord’s voice, and that this is proof that there is none greater than Him. Moses sets aside three cities that are to be refuge for those who killed there fellows without knowledge: Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan.
Moses calls all of Israel to listen to the decrees and Ordinances from the stone tablets once more. After reading the Ten Commandments, Hashem tells Moses to return the people to their tents and tell them to follow the Path of God. Moses does as he’s been told, and these very words were the V’ehahavta that we read today.
While reading this parasha I found myself very interested (more than I am usually about the Torah), the reason was that a few of the most important tenets were found in Vaetchanan. I feel like I connect to them in a few special ways; Moses used the Ten Commandments and the Shema as rules for the Israelites to follow when they will leave him and enter the holy land. I too am leaving in fact tomorrow for boarding school. And though I will come back to Kona every weekend, I know that my parents are releasing me into a different world and are hoping that I remember everything they have taught me, just as Moses released his people.
Moses was the Parent of the Israelites and as you can see, not all of his children remembered all of his words. I promise to my parents I will remember theirs.
Before I started studying this portion, I did not understand why Moses was not allowed to enter the land of Israel. Yes he did make some mistakes, but who doesn’t? Everyone’s human. Then I learned that because he was the leader, he was obligated to take the blame for all the wrong doings of his followers, making his penalty worse. This does not mean he was a bad leader, actually it shows how great he was. Because he was human, he could make decisions for his people that would affect him too. Moses questioned God and made God show His own human side. When God acted sympathetic towards Moses, He let Moses see the land that he had worked so hard to get to. I believe God wanted Moses to see that he had in fact succeeded.
Just imagine, if Moses had been able to pass the Jordan into Israel, the Torah would have been much different. Moses would have been glorified much more, and no one would have understood that he was only a normal human being. The point is that this story is about God’s actions not those of Moses.
But in the end, Moses did take the blame for all he and his people had done, Something I believe the leaders of today, including our President, George Bush, being the religious leader that he is could learn from.
Today will probably be one of the most memorable days of my life, not only because it was a lot of work, but because it is the beginning of change for me. I won’t be living at home anymore; I have my own responsibilities to take care of now, and I am not one of the kids anymore. I kind of always thought of today as a day that would never come and so I didn’t really mind having a Bar Mitzvah, but as the date came closer I started to panic and regretted choosing to have one. I am glad I didn’t quit though, it has been a great experience for me and in the last few weeks I realized it was going to happen and feeling scared of it wasn’t going to help. So maybe I have learned to not feel so pressured, another prize I have gained from today.
I want to thank all of my Hebrew and Torah teachers, Sherona, Ziggy, Neil, and Aviva. I defiantly couldn’t have done this without you. Also My mom and Grandma for setting up the whole thing, my sister for being there for me, my dad for encouraging me to work, even though he isn’t Jewish. And all my friends and relatives, Uncle Phil Aunt Robin, Isobel and Harrison , Gammy and Grandpa Joe, Fritz, and Ann and Bixby for coming all the way from New York to Honolulu to see this event. And of course every one on island who came. So Todah Rabbah and Shabbat Shalom.