on September 23, 2017
So, is 83 the new 13?? I don’t think so… but Judaism does give us the opportunity to turn 13 twice.
The custom for having a bat or Bar Mitzvah at 83 comes from the verse in Psalm 90 which says, the days of our years are 70, or if by reason of special strength, 80 years. At 70, one can start counting again. Add 13 years and you get 83. Our age.
In reading this week’s Torah portion or parsha, we see how age and wisdom have influenced Moses.
What a long way Moses has come from when we first met him and he was concerned that he could not lead the Israelites out of Egypt because of his difficult communication skills. Now, in this week’s parsha Moses has the opportunity to give his last lecture and impart his final lessons and create memories for his people.
We can empathize with Moses. He has glimpsed the promised land but knows that he will not enter it because the end of his days is imminent. He has one final opportunity to impart some words of wisdom and make memories before the Israelites begin the next step in their journey. What would YOU say to your family, your friends and your community if you knew this would be your last lecture or conversation with those whom you love?
Moses decided that there is nothing more important than telling the former slaves the history of their journey, even though they were right there with him and lived it. Moses hopes that his words…really a beautiful poem, (chanted by my daughter Debra Orbuch Grayson) cement the narrative to ensure a bright future.
The name of this Torah portion is Ha A Zinu. …which means listen in Hebrew. Moses tells the Israelites TO HEAR and TO LISTEN to the lessons of our past, present and future. An interesting choice of words. What is the difference between the two verbs TO Hear and TO Listen??
Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear…for most of us, it just happens. It is a passive behavior.
Listening, on the other hand is ACTIVE, it requires conscious choice. It is a gift that we can give to others to show we care. It starts with, NOT talking..Did you know that the word LISTEN and the word SILENT have the same letters, but in a different order.
Many of us are blessed with the ability to hear, but so many of us do not take the time to really listen. It seems today that many of us are “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing.” What Moses does is remind us of the importance of the value of simply listening. It seems with all of our technology and shout at the top of your lungs style of communication we have forgotten the value and how to really listen.
How might we live differently in the coming year if we stopped and listened to the stories of others that surround us every day? What if we took the time to listen to the voices behind the stories of poverty, homelessness and intolerance and to the recent weather related disasters we are seeing and learning about?
The mitzvah at this time of the year is not for each of us to blow the shofar, but to listen to its voice. Listening with our whole selves to the shofar on the High holidays teaches us how to be attentive to the human stories of those around us all year, and therefore identify with our past.
What I hope I have learned in my 70 years since turning 13, is the importance of listening, Wisdom may be what we get from a lifetime of listening. It may sound naïve, but listening can help solve many of our existing problems. Listening recognizes the humanity in each of us and is one of the most sincere forms of respect. When you combine respect for each other and an understanding of our humanity, real change can occur.
As Moses concludes his lecture, he emphasizes that each of us must teach our children about the values that Judaism brings to our lives. He recognizes that doing so is not easy, but if we --you and I -- don’t continue to tell our story and explain our values, Judaism will not survive.
It is interesting that when those of us who are celebrating this morning got together we discussed our Bar/Bat Mitzvah at age 13. None of the women in our group had had a first Bat Mitzvah. Our parents, including mine did not see the importance of girls having b’nai mitzvot. How significant it is that times have changed and today we see both girls and boys having B’nai Mitzvot.
In the coming year may we all pause and create our own space to listen….Ha A Zinu. Listen to the voices and joy of your family. Listen to the vitality and needs of your community and listen to the splendor as well as the suffering of others. We may all learn something new and create memories for ourselves and for our community.
May learning to listen inspire us to appreciate the humanity in each of us and as we all become better at active listening we will together build a stronger future for our community.