The Upper School celebrates Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming in/receiving Shabbat) as a campus every Friday morning. The community gathering includes a Dvar Torah (talk about the week's Torah portion) and a performance by students from across the grades. The first Dvar Torah of the 2017-2018 school year was delivered by Rina Torchinsky (Grade 12).
It's four days after summer vacation. I'm still wearing flip flops and I'm not at the beach, temperatures are hovering in the seventies and eighties, I'm still wearing sunglasses outside, yet somehow, I happen to be delivering a D'var Torah that connects to Purim.
A few weeks ago, amid the sunny days and clear skies of the summer, I read through Parashat Ki Teitzei. After reading through some oddly specific laws in the Parshah, I started to recognize a pattern-like progression in the second chapter of the Parshah. The first verse begins,
לֹֽא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־שׁ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ אֶת־שֵׂיוֹ֙ נִדָּחִ֔ים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם
You shall not see your brother's ox or sheep straying and ignore them, rather
הָשֵׁ֥ב תְּשִׁיבֵ֖ם לְאָחִֽיךָ
You shall return them to your brother. Given that I don't have a brother, and this brother that I don't have probably doesn't have an ox, and I don't think I have any stray sheep last time I checked, I couldn't seem to forge a connection between the greater community or relate it to some sort of personal experience, the way most Dvrei Torah do.
Nevertheless, I read on. When I reached the third verse, I found some repetition. Once again the root word, ",לְהִתְעַלֵּֽם" to ignore, and it even appeared once more in the fourth verse as "וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖," and he ignored. This time, after discovering this progression, I was immediately taken back to my Tanakh 7 Tool Kit, last edited on Google Docs five years ago in 2012 by a young middle school Rina.
I discovered a Milah Manchah. According to seventh-grade Rina's surprisingly semi-thorough notes, a Milah Manchah is, and I quote, "an important word that repeats three or more times, indicating a theme."
With my Tanakh 7 Tool Kit in hand, I proceeded to investigate the underlying theme. I realized that with every single mention, of " לְהִתְעַלֵּֽם," to ignore, we were being reminded, in fact, not to ignore. We were being reminded that, when our fellow is missing something or needs something, we can't ignore them. There seems to be a communal responsibility at play here.
I think these verses teach more than just the value of helping the community. I think we're learning that there are a lot of things that are easy to ignore, but we must challenge ourselves to be much more aware and observant of the individuals in the community, the individuals sitting down in this gym right now.
This is how Rashi sees it. He interprets the term ""וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖," as
כובש עין כאלו אינו רואהו,
which means to cover your eyes so you cannot see.
So let's apply that -- Right now. I want you to look around at all of the faces around you. Observe. Make yourself aware of the surrounding community...Maybe you noticed a cool T-Shirt, or sparkly necklace, maybe exchanged a grin or flashed an awkward smile; my specialty, of course. At this moment, in accordance with Rashi's interpretation, you're not ignoring your surroundings, nor are you ignoring your fellow.
Rashi seems to be putting this emphasis on physicality, rather than the metaphysical bond that a community, a Kehillah, holds between individuals. I think this means that, while there is certainly a diverse array of intangible thoughts and opinions that strengthen a community, there also physical, visual things that can strengthen the bond. Things that we may see, or hear that can strengthen a community.
Because I'm still holding my metaphysical Tanakh 7 Took Kit, I can't help but remember a favorite middle school moment that really exemplified this physical importance of community.
It was Purim and, rather than a group costume, I was wearing a lime green and emerald green furry, fuzzy, semi-fluffy, monster costume with a matching hat. I engaged in conversations with people who I hadn't talked to much before, I waved my big monster-hand at people who I hadn't really met, and I received a great deal of hugs from people without really asking for it -- but I guess that's to be expected when wearing oversized green mittens and a smiling, fuzzy green hat.
I guess now I'm realizing that this is not just one of my fondest memories because of the great pictures that I get to laugh about and look back on now.
It's one of my fond memories because, as I was still searching for a place in this community, this moment demonstrated this wonderful feeling of not being ignored, this physical awareness of each other between individual community members.
Now, the thing is, there's not always a kid dressed up as a fuzzy monster from Yo Gabba Gabba, and that's okay, there doesn't always need to be. I think we need to make sure that every individual is noticed and not ignored. Every single person in this room deserves to get that warm, fuzzy feeling that came with wearing my furry monster suit.