The following is posted with my son's permission following his Bar Mitzvah celebrated last week - Shabbat Parashat Naso. What a weekend and what a week it's been since that time! Michele and I remain proud and in some awe of the strength and skill with which he delivered his remarks and did everything else throughout the weekend. I was so happy when he said that I could share his Torah on this site for others to enjoy.
(Picture from rehearsal...he did not wear a t-shirt on his bar mitvah!)
Written by Ben Cohen for the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah | May 22, 2021
This past Chanukkah, I volunteered to do the Chanukah Torah reading/ for school. I was talking with Cantor Stevens about it /and she said that the readings for the Chanukah Torah readings /come from Naso, which happened/ to be my bar mitzvah parsha! In the end, even though I was prepared/, I couldn’t do the Chanukah Torah reading /because I needed to quarantine. However, that did give me a jump in preparation for today and this morning I will read the first, sixth, seventh and maftir aliyot. What I want to talk about is the fact that the sixth and seventh aliyot repeat the same trope /AND WORDS over and over again. That certainly made it easier/ for me to learn the 6th and 7th Aliyot
These pesukim/ describe the sacrifices given by each tribe and presented by each leader to God. Because all the tribes and leaders were “equal” the trope and the words were exactly the same each day (except for the names and the different tribes) . as I said This made it much easier to learn the aliyot
The reason each leader had the same thing was because they were supposed to be equal in their offerings. The offerings were an honor after all and each leader deserved to be recognized but no one more than the other to prevent jealousy. There was however one leader Nachshon who’s title wasn’t listed when he presented his offering to God. I wondered If each leader's offering was supposed to be equal, why his title was not stated. The French commentator Chizkuni reasons that because he was presenting his offering first he should not have his title listed as to prevent him from feeling entitled. Being recognized for something first and important can often lead to becoming arrogant and therefore nachshon’s title isn't listed because he's first. Being the first to do something important and holy such as this can be enough recognition and it's also really big.
Sometimes it’s good to be recognized for doing something good or important and to have a special moment. Other times being singled out can be embarrassing or negative; for instance being singled out in a school environment for doing something wrong can be especially embarrassing. But even if it's for a good thing, if someone is modest, it can be hard to be the center of attention.
Clearly this was not the case here. Each leader was singled out and recognized as an honor. This ceremony of presenting the offerings to God is much like Siddur and Humash assemblies at the Leffell school. Each child is given their chance to have a special moment in the spotlight but no one kid is more “important” than another. Each of us gets to go up, receive the Siddur or Humash, pose with the headmaster, and be congratulated. It’s nice to hear the clapping and receive recognition for your hard work. You are valued for who you are alone and not just as a group of kids who just did something.
I don’t always need the clapping, though. For Example I like to draw and when I draw I work hard on it and then often feel a sense of relief when I finish. Although I Sometimes show my parents what I draw, the art is mostly for me to appreciate. I like recognition for my accomplishments but I don’t need it all of the time. Art for me is one of those times where I am often just happy to feel my own sense of accomplishment without the “applause”.
There are many times when people don’t get the recognition they deserve. At those moments, I wish they did get recognition and applause. Recently I read an article about black baseball players in the Negro Leagues who weren’t inducted into the Hall of Fame when they should have been as they were amazing baseball players. Minority groups have often had a hard time gaining the recognition they deserve in the past and even today. One big issue is the problem of voting rights where minority groups and other types of people have not had their ideals accurately represented and recognized. We continue to see efforts to limit the rights of minorities in spite of the law of the land that stresses equality for all people regardless of who they are or what they look like.
The commentator Chizkuni said one more thing about the gifts of the leaders. The reason each leader had his own day and was each singled out was so that the offerings would take longer and there would be a long celebration to keep the Israelites happy. My Bar Mitzvah is like this. It’s very drawn out! There’s a service Friday night, Saturday morning services and a lunch celebration with my family. There's also a Saturday night Zoom and a Sunday get together with my friends ! This is obviously more recognition than the princes got as they only had one day whereas I have a weekend!
I’m glad that in spite of the pandemic I still get to be with much of my family and be recognized for my hard work.
is director of admissions for the Rabbinical & H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. A parent, partner, teacher and coffee enthusiast, Rabbi Rafi Cohen enjoys helping individual students and families find Jewish meaning in their lives.