Tuesday, June 17, 2014
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jacob Herz on Shelach
A duck and a rabbi walk into a bar, whoops – wrong speech. That’s for the Jewish comedy club try-out next week.
This week’s Torah portion of Shelach Lecha talks about the tzitzit and it also tells the story of the twelve spies. You know, the ones that went up and scouted out the land and ten of them came back with a bad report and the other two came back with a good report. And what does this all have to do with me?
It’s like a puzzle.
And that’s what’s like me, because I love puzzles.
I’m told by my mom that when I was in pre-school, the puzzles they had we so easy that I’d flip them over and do them on the back without the hints. So then the teachers went out to get more puzzles especially for me… until I mastered those as well.
I love jig saw puzzles – for a 200 piece puzzle, it takes me maybe a half an hour. I also love thinking games like Stratego, Scrabble and Chess. I even love to solve math problems – coincidentally, we’re right in the middle of the book of Numbers. Well, technically, not in the middle, because the middle verse is in next week’s portion.
We can learn a lot about how to solve puzzles from this Torah portion. Take the spies for example. The ten were not able to see beyond the moment. They only saw the bad things about the land instead of looking for the good things, potential, for instance. Joshua and Caleb not only noticed the good things, but they embraced the possibilities of what they would be able to do in the future. They could see outside of the box.
Going to Israel is considered to be “going up.” We call it aliyah, just like when we go up to the Torah. When you go up to a high place, you can look out and see not5 just what the next step will bring, but several other steps into the future.
That’s exactly how you play chess and the best way to solve a puzzle. You can’t get stuck on the here and now. You have to look ahead and figure out what is coming next and how to figure out what else is going on around you.
The ten spies also made the mistake of thinking they were telling the truth simply by reporting what their eyes saw. Joshua and Caleb understood the deeper meaning of what was going on and the importance of not spreading panic among the people. The ten spies didn’t think of the consequences of giving a bad report. When you are playing one of my favorite games, Stratego, and you make a wrong move, you can’t un-do it. You’ve always got to be looking ahead to anticipate the consequences of what you do.
My portion ends with the laws of fringes, or tzitzit as they are called in Hebrew. The Torah says we should look at the tzitzit and be reminded of the commandments, the mitzvot. But how can looking at a bunch of strings remind us of commandments. It’s amazing how my portion ends with an actual puzzle.
You see, every Hebrew letter has a number connected to it. It is called gematria. So if you total up the letter of the word tzitzit, it adds up to 600. Then, if you add in the eight strings and five knots you get 613 – or the exact number of commandments in the Torah and also the day my bar mitzvah weekend began – June 13 – 6/13. Coincidence? I think not!
I also figured out that if you take my Hebrew name, Yaakov Sha’ul and you add the word PACH, you also get 613. The word pach means a garbage can. So what does this mean?
Well let me tell you. The moral of the story is that you can find goodness even in garbage. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure. And that’s interesting because legend has it that the Torah was rejected by every country except the Israelites.
For my mitzvah project, I’ve been working with kids at Jump Start at the JCC. These are kids ages 2-3 with various challenges. I really enjoy doing it. It’s fun playing with the kids and seeing them look forward to me coming. I am also helping an organization in Israel called Sulam. The children in this program also have special needs, but they range in age from 6 months to 17 years old. I want to thank all of you who made donations to help me with both of these very special programs.