Saturday, May 24, 2014
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Rachel Plotzky on Bamidbar
Those of you who know me, know that I have a passion for crime shows, like NCIS. I started watching them when I was about 10. Why? Well, because my mom liked them. It was something we could do together because she was not interested in watching Disney shows with me.
I slowly got into it and then I REALLY got into it. I started with NCIS, and then I went on to CSI, Law and Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, NCIS: LA and about every crime show out there.
Part of the reason I love these shows is that math is my favorite subject. Every crime is like one big math problem to solve. Every piece of information needs to be accumulated and stored away. Even the things that may not seem important now, might become really important later on.
So it’s fitting that my portion is the most mathematical portion of the entire Torah – it’s a census, but not only that: It’s the first portion in what we call the book of Numbers.
My portion is about counting people - even though, I must add, that in this census, the women are left out – WE COUNT TOO GOD!!!!
There’s an expression that’s used when someone dies, especially when they die because of a crime or disease. They become what is known as “a statistic.” When people are dead, they often become just a number. In the Holocaust, the Nazis tried to turn the Jews into numbers even before they murdered them. Part of the process of killing, was taking away their identity, their name and their humanity – and that was started by tattooing a number on their arms and eventually killing a large population of Jews. About six million. They saw this as a great accomplishment.
Judaism makes it very clear that every human life is of infinite value. Even a census is seen as dangerous – ONLY, if God gave permission could one be held. This is because it limits the full potential of the Jewish people. However, my Haftorah begins with an important line to counter what’s in the Torah portion: “The number of Israel, shall be greater, than the sands of the sea.”
Now back to my regularly scheduled program on my crime shows. What I’ve noticed is that when someone is murdered, it’s because the killer has stopped seeing the victim as fully human. Instead, his life has a price, and his death, a certain fixed value.
For example, when a person hires a hit man, he takes away that person’s humanity. The price that is paid becomes the price for his life. Essentially, he becomes the value of that number.
Once you’ve seen someone as being less than fully human, it becomes easier to build up a reason to justify killing someone. Many psychopaths think everyone’s out to get them. In that situation, it’s easy to convince themselves that the murder is in self defense. It’s just like what happens in the “Tell Tale Heart,” by Edger Allen Poe. When the narrator makes himself think that he should kill the man with the vulture eye, because he feels like the vulture eye is digging into his soul.
It’s not just in the world of murder mysteries where you learn that life should be of infinite value. My Mitzvah project teaches that too. Kids in Crisis is an organization that demonstrates that every child should be cared for, that everyone counts. I’ll be donating all of the money I have raised and the board games I have gotten for them – Which are in my bimah baskets and will be on the tables at my luncheon. If you would like to donate any money or purchase any candles, please see me later.
Taking this a step further, two summers ago, I took an amazing trip to Israel with the temple. In Jerusalem we went to Mount Herzl, a cemetery, where Israelis mourn their soldiers not as statistics but as human beings. In Israel, each soldier is special and unique. They each have their own story. Their humanity has not been striped in death. Here in America, this is Memorial Day weekend. We also need to remember all those who have fought and died for our country. Those soldiers have allowed us to appreciate the freedom we have. We should remember each soldier as more than just a number as they gave up their lives for ours.
For Jews, this is the most important lesson taught by the book of Numbers. And it’s an important lesson of my crime shows too. As Peeta tells Katniss in Suzanne Collins’ book “Mockingjay.” “To murder innocent people,” Peeta states, “It costs everything you are.”