Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ben Grebber's Sinai Statement: Celebrating Confirmation and the Ten Commandments

Ed. Note: This past Tuesday night, our Confirmands shared their "Sinai Statements" with those of us who attended their Erev Shavuot service of Confirmation. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing many of their statements. At the service, all 15 of the Confirmands read from the book of Exodus. The Torah scroll from which they read has special meaning. Read on to learn why.

When God passed the Torah down from Mount Sinai, it was given to Moses to share with the Jewish people. They, in turn, were now responsible to learn it, teach it, and pass it down through the generations. This created the strong heritage that we share today. After having a very special guest stay at our home, I now understand that heritage and what the Torah means to our people and to me.

During the Temple renovation some years back, my family kept a Torah from our sanctuary in our house for several months. We kept it free from dust and potential harm. We were a surrogate ark! At first, having the Torah in our house was cool but I was somewhat indifferent to it.

As the months went by, our new “house guest”, the Torah, took on a different meaning to me. The Torah became a member of our family as odd as that sounds. I passed it every day on my way to the kitchen. I checked on it to make sure that it was covered and protected.

The Torah was always a talking point when we had Jewish guests at the house. I realized that to a Jewish person, the Torah is immediately identifiable and even the least observant person seems to revere it as being something special, almost royal. I began to see the Torah as representing something greater than just a borrowed “thing” from our Temple.

After a few months of “Torah babysitting”, the Temple renovations were complete and the Torah had to be returned to its rightful place. My family was devastated. The Torah had become a part of our family, and it was sad to see it go.

The following Hanukah though, we were surprised yet again when my parents gave us a Torah of our own. Now we truly had a family Torah.

Once we put our new Torah in the infamous family room Torah Ark, I learned more about our Torah. I came to understand the Torah’s age, how fragile it is, and that it holds the Five Books of Moses. In my Holocaust class, I learned that many Torahs were destroyed by the Nazis and that some were actually secretly carried by my ancestors to America from places far away. For many of my ancestors, getting the Torah to a new and safe land was just as important as getting their families there. This was similar to the story of our Torah which came from Poland during the Holocaust.

Having our special Family Torah, I began to understand that when God instructed Moses to give the Torah to the Jewish people to pass its lessons and teachings down to future generations, God was instructing me to do the same. So I started asking questions about what stories the Torah contains. I took a greater interest in its teachings. Is this how the Jewish people felt at Mt. Sinai? Was it just an object given to them by Moses or did they see it as something more? Did they know that it would link future generations of Jews to them?

Even more important, over those months that the Temple’s Torah was in our house followed by the arrival of our Family Torah, I began to understand how the Torah links me to past generations. My Jewish ancestors learned the stories and teachings contained in the Torah just as I have throughout my religious school education. Through the strength and perseverance of the Jewish people, even in times of great hardship and war, the Torah is here today for me. I am a link in that chain of possession. My great-grandparents read from a Torah in Russia; my grandparents read from the Torah in America. My parents read from the Torah too – my father right here in this sanctuary. The Torah allows me to share that link in our heritage with all of them. It’s what binds us all together as Jews and as one family.

Just as Moses did on Mt. Sinai, we, too, will pass our family Torah from generation to generation. Like the Jewish people in Poland who read from our Torah years ago, I read from our sacred Torah when I became a Bar Mitzvah. My sister followed me by reading from it when she became Bat Mitzvah and my brother will follow our footsteps when he becomes a Bar Mitzvah. Like Moses, we will pass our family Torah from generation to generation, sharing the stories that go along with it, linking our future family generations with our current generation today. This is what keeps our history so strong. That is what identifies us as Jews and makes me who I am. I am proud that my Confirmation classmates and I will read from this sacred scroll tonight as we affirm our connections to Torah, to Temple Beth Shalom, and to one another.

--Ben Grebber

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