A guy set up an urgent meeting with his rabbi. He said, “Rabbi I’ll give you $1000 if you make me a Kohen.” The rabbi looks him in the eye and says, “I’m sorry, Bernie, I can’t do that.” Bernie, thinking the money was an issue, retorted, “Rabbi, I’ll give you $10,000. The rabbi stroked his beard and asserted, “No dice. Still can’t do it.” Finally, Bernie said, “Ok rabbi, you win. I’ll give you $100,000.” The rabbi, considering this, said “Bernie, why do you want to be a Kohen?” Bernie replied, “Because my father was a Kohen.”
The grass always appears greener on the other side. As a child, I wanted to be a Kohen. While I enjoyed being blessed by the Kohanim from under my father’s tallit, I yearned to be the one who said the blessing, as well as who received the First Aliyah on Shabbat. However, Parshat Emor taught me, as Kermit the Frog would have sung, “It ain’t easy being a Kohen.” Kohanim were limited in terms of who they could marry, forbidden to have contact with a corpse and restricted in how they wore their hair and clothes. Some of this continues into the modern day. I have met Kohanim who will not go into a natural history museum because there are mummies there.
One can make the similar argument that “it ain’t easy being Jewish.” Our services are in a different language, our sacred text is without vowels and there are a panoply of holy days, fast days and communal events. Going to Hebrew School when your friends are outside playing ball or in a special club is not easy. Neither is sitting in a service almost 3 hours in length in a language that many here don’t speak outside of the synagogue and Religious School. At the same time, there is so much richness from taking a day off to spend with friends and family, growing in one’s education and becoming a B Mitzvah. There are privileges as our students grow in their participation in our congregation each and every year, asking new questions and strengthening their Jewish identities.
I want to imbue the words of my teacher Adon Morgan: “Learning never ends.” The advantage as you grow is you get more choice in what you learn; however Judaism is about continuing education and lifelong learning. That is why we are honoring students today by presenting them with sacred texts from our tradition. We will be presenting our 3rd Graders with a copy of our Siddur Lev Shalem to cheer her on as she continues to learn prayers-not only the content but also what they mean and why we say them. We will give our 6th Graders a Tikkun, a text used to read the Torah. It has Hebrew with vowels on one side of the page and the text as found in the Torah without vowels on the other side. We honor these four special students, who recently received their B’nai Mitzvah binders, as they will soon begin to learn Torah and Haftarah trope and their Torah and Haftarah portions. As learning never ends, the Tikkun is a gift so that they will continue to learn their Torah portions.
To all the Mercaz parents, we are most grateful to have you as part of our Mosaic Law family. Thank you for imbuing your children with a Jewish education. We are excited to celebrate today as one of many milestones in Jewish life. Taking this moment enables us to see how far we’ve come and propel us towards even greater achievements. Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Sheheheyanu v’Kiyimanu v’Higiyanu LaZman HaZeh.