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FRESH-BAKED MITZVOT

by Rabbi David Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Our ancestor Jacob is running away from his brother, Esau, who is trying to kill him. So he travels to a place called Beth-El, where he experiences a Divine revelation.

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Our ancestor Jacob is running away from his brother, Esau, who is trying to kill him. So he travels to a place called Beth-El, where he experiences a Divine revelation. G-d appears to him and promises to protect him wherever he goes, and to give the land of Israel to his descendants. Whereupon Jacob takes a vow, saying, "If G-d will be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going, will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear . . . then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall become a house of G-d"(Genesis 28:21).

The Midrash relates that a gentile once approached a Torah scholar and asked him, "Is that all your great ancestor Jacob can come up with to ask of G-d when he experiences a revelation--a little bread and some clothes?"

To which the Torah scholar responded, "In reality, what Jacob was asking of G-d was much deeper than that. He was asking G-d to give to him and his descendants--the Jewish people--the showbread and the priestly garments." (The showbread was freshly-baked bread that was placed on the Table of Showbread in the Tabernacle that Moses built in the desert, and the priestly garments were worn by Aaron the High Priestís descendants when they served in the Tabernacle.)

By now, youíre probably scratching your head and echoing the same question that the gentile must have asked then in response to the Torah scholar: "Huh?"

The explanation is as follows: Jacob was just starting out on his march to destiny--the destiny of the Jewish people. He was about to build a Jewish family that would become the foundation of the entire Jewish nation. He was full of idealism and lofty goals. He was the ultimate man with a mission.

So he asked G-d for the two things that are absolutely vital and crucial for success and fulfillment in any such journey, represented by the showbread and the priestly garments.

(1) The freshly baked showbread was placed on the table in the Tabernacle on Shabbat, and miraculously remained fresh the entire week. Jacob asked G-d that the same excitement and energy that we, his descendants, feel at the beginning of a spiritual journey, should not wane and diminish over time, but should always stay fresh.

(2) The priestly garments are described in the Torah as garments that are used for the priests to serve in the Tabernacle. Jacob prayed that his descendants would be able to live lives in which they could "serve" others, never to focus solely on their own needs.

These two ideas are recurrent themes in Judaism and are especially appropriate to remember during the various Jewish lifecycle events.

As a young child becomes a bar mitzvah, the message we impart to the child is clear. Today you are a man, and as such, you are no longer living just for yourself. You are now part of the team. You have a responsibility to your fellow man, and even more than that, your whole life is to serve others.

Unfortunately, we have a somewhat distorted view of that message these days. In the "old days," the main focus of the bar-mitzvah celebration was the boyís public reading of the Torah, in which he would fulfill the adultsí obligation to hear the Torah, thereby reminding him of his new role as a Jew whose life is here to serve his people. But today, we teach our children the exact opposite lesson. We spend tremendous amounts of money to cater to our childís every whim--if he/she wants a bar/bat mitzvah safari in Kenya or a lavish catered affair on the Goodyear blimp--the skyís the limit! (Pun intended.) So what kind of message do our children learn from all this? That itís my bar/bat mitzvah, and the focus of everything is me, me, me!

Donít get me wrong. Iím not knocking the bar/bat mitzvah affair. My parents did it for me, too. The Washington Hotel, the Viennese table with candy apples and napoleons, the Hustle and the Alleycat (guess how old I am!)--the whole nine yards! Iím just saying that at such an important milestone in our childís life, it is good to teach him the real import of his becoming a bar-mitzvah--that heís now joining the Jewish team, and itís now one for all and all for one.

A Jewish wedding is another perfect example. The Talmud says that it is as difficult for G-d to match two people together as it was for Him to split the Red Sea. One explanation of this strange Talmudic statement is related to the concepts mentioned earlier. You see, when the Jews crossed the Red Sea and witnessed that unbelievable miracle right in front of their very eyes, it must have made an incredible impact on them. But of course, soon after that was over, the people went back to their old ways, as the excitement and inspiration that they had felt earlier had dissipated.

And thatís the difficulty of a newlywed couple as well. A Jewish wedding, as well as every other milestone in our lives, can be a golden opportunity for the new couple to make some meaningful, spiritual changes in their lives, as they embark on their journey of life together. There is so much hope and promise surrounding the new couple. They are starting to build a Jewish home, just like Jacob did over three thousand years ago. But the danger is that all that promise, all those idealism-filled discussions, will fade over time, as the more mundane aspects of marriage kick in.

May we all merit the blessings of our forefather Jacob--that we should remain fresh in our spiritual commitments as we were when we first started them, and that our focus in life should be how we can serve others--as we march on our own journeys to our Jewish destiny.

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Rabbi David Zauderer is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

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