(From a dvar Torah I gave at my older daughter's Bat Mitzvah on March 16, 2002)
The Torah portion that Ariella will read today comes from the third book of the Bible. In Hebrew, this book is known as Vayikra and in English as Leviticus. The Five Books of Moses, and each Torah portion within them, are named in Hebrew for the first significant word in the portion.
The English names are more like titles that capture the theme of the entire Book. So Genesis, for example, is about the beginning, the genesis, of humans and of Judaism. The theme of the Book of Exodus is the Exodus, what we call in Hebrew, Yetziat Mitzrayim – the exiting from Egypt. Leviticus is, in large part, about the role of the Levi’im, the Levites, the Priestly Class.
Although many people pray at home, the place of worship most familiar to Jews today is the synagogue. This was not always the case. After G-d gave the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai, he instructed Moshe to build a Mishkan – a portable sanctuary in the desert where sacrifices could be offered and G-d’s Presence could dwell among the Jewish people. The Jewish people carried the Mishkan around through most of their 40 years of wandering in the desert, assembling and disassembling it with each new encampment.
After the Jewish people settled in the land of Israel, the Mishkan was replaced with a more permanent structure that we call the Beit haMikdash or the Holy Temple. In both cases, all Jewish worship was centered in the Mishkan and later in the Beit HaMikdash. There were no synagogues then, as we know them now.
At the time of Ariella’s Torah reading, Jewish worship was centralized and focused on various kinds of sacrifices that were brought, on behalf of the Jewish people, by members of the Priestly class who were known as Levi’im and Kohanim.
As is the custom for the Shabbos mincha service, Ariella will read the first aliyah, the first eleven verses, of next week’s Torah portion. In a literary sense, this is a foreshadowing of things to come. In a culinary sense, this is an appetizer. In a spiritual sense, we connect one Shabbos to the next. This reminds us that, although we divide the Torah into sections for our convenience, it is really one seamless whole. Which is a reflection of the Oneness of G-d.
The portion Ariella will read is Tzav, which is a verb meaning Command. Hashem’s first words to Moshe in this parsha are, “Command Aaron and his sons…” Tzav – command, is related to mitzvah, which are commandments.
In the Mishkan, and later in the Beit HaMikdash, there was a complex system of offerings, each serving a different purpose. In the portion Ariella will read, Hashem is explaining to Moshe additional laws of the olah, the elevation-offering and of the minchah, the meal-offering. The olah was the only offering that had to be presented every day without exception. The minchah was an offering of flour and oil.
The Torah imparts to us a great deal of information about the system of offerings. For many people, the complex and specific details of each of the kinds of offerings, how they are given, when they are given, what the Kohain is supposed to wear when they are offered, and on and on… this is not exactly the most intrinsically interesting part of the Torah.
However, for the diligent student of Torah, many beautiful Jewish principles are learned from the minutest details of the sacrificial system. For example, as Ariella will shortly read for us, the very first task of each morning was the removal of the ashes that remained on the altar from the previous day’s sacrifice. This is a reminder that each new day brings new challenges. The one who is complacent, resting on past accomplishments, cannot make progress. Success comes to the one who understands that each day is a fresh opportunity. The removal of the previous day’s ashes reminds us to remove yesterday’s schmutz from our lives – to go forward without being hampered by the waste of the past. Even if we didn’t do anything to grow yesterday, or last week or last year or in the last decade, the daily removal of the ashes reminds us that each day is a new opportunity to grow – spiritually, intellectually or in refinement of character. Each day is a new chance.
In her leading of this prayer service, and in her Torah reading, Ariella is demonstrating that she has learned this lesson. Her preparation for her Bat Mitzvah, and her readiness to take on the responsibilities of an adult Jewish woman, represent significant Jewish growth. Ariella has been preparing for this day for many months. To learn to read from the Torah is no easy task. The Sefer Torah from which she will read, like all Sifrei Torah, has no vowels, no musical notes, no guidelines to assist her in the correct reading. Over the past months, Ariella has been diligently and patiently taught this section of the Torah in all its detail, by her loving Abba. I have been in awe, both of Ariella’s ability to master such a complex skill, and of Elan’s infinite patience and good cheer in encouraging her in this complex task.
Whether this is your first time or your hundredth time hearing the Torah read in a young woman’s voice, I invite you to listen to the voice of the future. And may Hashem grant us all the ability to grow closer to His