My Dvar Torah at Zev's Bar Mitzvah

This is the Dvar Torah I offered at Zev's Bar Mitzvah--Parshat Shoftim, September 3rd, 2011.

Shabbat Shalom and yasher koach zev,

The Sefer Ha-Chinukh, written in 13th century Spain, outlines each of the Mitzvot in the Torah, portion by portion.  According to it, the Torah reading you leyned this morning, Parshat Shoftim, contains 14 positive and 27 negative mitzvot.  That is almost 7% of the mitzvot in the Torah.  Knowing that you already taught us about one mitzvah in your drasha earlier, I figured I should take a different approach and examine the Parashah as a whole.  As you mentioned, these 41 mitzvot cover broad swaths of Jewish law and ethics.  Parshat shoftim explains how to create just courts, how leaders such as as prophets, priests, and kings relate to the community.  And, It also presents the laws for waging war--one of which is the mitzvah of Baal Tashchit that you taught us about earlier.

When I examined these disparate laws together, one aspect jumped out at me--they all revolve around responsibility.  The responsibility of a judge or witness to insure justice, the responsibilities and requirements on leaders due to their leadership roles, the responsibility of an army towards its own people and its enemies during war, and in your maftir aliyah--the responsibility that a community holds to take care of a dead body.  Each of these mitzvot describes a responsibility the Torah places on individuals or groups in relation to the community.  

As we studied together, many of these mitzvot are contingent--they do not apply until and unless you find yourself in particular circumstances.  That they are contingent means that many--if not most of the mitzvot--will not happen to any one person in their lifetime.  Yet, they remain part of the Torah and the Jewish tradition.  You are responsible for observing them if and when they apply.  I don’t think you should get your hopes up about being king any time soon--despite the fact that your ancestor Abravanel was a descendant of King David.

When you turned thirteen earlier this summer, you assumed the responsibilities to fulfill the mitzvot--the how’s of why’s Jewish life.  Today, by publicly reading Torah, haftarah, davening and teaching us, you demonstrate that you are developing the skills to do so--to make them a part of your daily life.  

Until this age, our tradition views that you need to learn how to observe but are not responsible for observing.  Over the last few years, you have demonstrated this process of learning in order to be able to do.  Let me offer a few examples of this:  at eight or nine, you started fasting the whole day on Yom Kippur, you get yourself to shul on time Shabbat morning even if it means leaving on your own, and you are adamant in your desire to continue your Jewish education after you graduated LGA Schechter. Ima and I have very proud of you for the actions you took on yourself.  

While in the past you had the obligation to learn and chose to act, you now have the obligation to act.  As an adult member of the community, you now have new responsibilities to fulfill the mitzvot.  These place requirements on you that are not always optional.  If you walk into a room where nine are trying to make a minyan, you have to stay to make the required ten.  You have a responsibility to be counted.  

Up to this point, since you did not have the general responsibility to fulfill all of the mitzvot, the responsibility for your actions were on me.  Now, you count and are responsible for your own actions.  Ima and I will continue to guide you on your way and help you with your procrastinating but you are your own person and you have the responsibility to step up and take part in Jewish life.  To mark this, I recited a short bracha after you finished your aliyah--baruch she’patrani m’onsho shel ze.

Everyone is here today to celebrate with you on this special day.  We are all proud of you.  Your grandparents, siblings, other relatives, friends, and especially Ima and I are all glad we could be here.  On your birth announcements, we quoted from a Hebrew song that describes the blessings of an angel to a boy.  In echoing that song, I wish you a shining smile, eyes open to the beauty of our world and all that inhabit it so you fill your heart and soul with wonder, meaning, and happiness.  Mazal tov.  

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