Near my house there’s a pond where my brother and I always loved to go. We would catch all sorts of things there: crayfish, frogs, snails, salamanders, fish, etc. But we never took home any of the things we caught. At the end of our hunting spree, we would look at all the things in our bucket, pick up all the frogs we caught (we always remembered whose was whose), and release them back into the water. One time when we went down there, we met a kid who caught an obese frog. Not just any obese frog, this was obese, obese. Its sides went out to here, and it was really tall. He gave it to us. After we got it, we held it, and then we let it go back into the water.
My portion is Kedoshim. This portion deals with laws, how to be holy, and all those things that grownups face. The law that I’m dealing with today is about the environment, specifically how we are supposed to treat the earth. One law says:
“When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit shall be set aside for jubilation before the LORD and only in the fifth year may you use its fruit…” (Leviticus 19:23-25)
Why does the law say we can’t eat the fruit of a tree we’ve planted for three whole years? After all, when we plant a tree and it first bears fruit, we want to eat it because we’ve done all that work. One of my thoughts is that maybe we’re waiting so the fruit has a chance to fall and spread its seeds to create more trees. Even in the fourth year we’re not allowed to eat the fruit but instead we offer it to God. Why is that? We are not thanking ourselves for taking care of the tree because we don’t own it, it belongs to the Earth, so we should thank God for its fruit. Only in the fifth year can we eat the fruit. We are not the boss of all living things, no matter how much we want to be the boss.
We need to take care of the earth not just for ourselves, but also for the next generation. The story of Honi the Circle maker, a magical rabbi from 2000 years ago, illustrates this point. Honi was walking when he saw an old man planting a carob tree. He asked the man, “Why are you planting a tree if you’re not going to live to see it bloom and bear fruit?” His reply was, “My ancestors did it for me, so I’m going to do it for the people who are next in line.” After he talks to the man, Honi walks into a cave where he goes to sleep for 70 years. When he wakes up, he leaves the cave and sees the old man’s grandchildren eating the fruit from the tree.
This story teaches us that it’s our responsibility to plant trees and better the earth for the generations to come. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when my brother and I put the frogs back in the pond, we were allowing them to have babies for future kids who go hunting for frogs.
Destroying the earth is cruel to animals and hurts humans, too. Humans and animals need trees to survive. Trees provide food and shelter from the rain. They create a better, healthier earth. In the rain forest, there are more than a thousand animals and insects that live on just one tree. Loggers cut down more than 1 square mile of rain forest worldwide every single day. Cutting down a tree means the animals and insects die or have to move on to find another home until their next home gets cut down. It’s cruel to the animals who live there. Think about the ratio: to build one human home, you’re taking away thousands of other homes. Humans also need animals for clothing, medicines, and other things. In order to keep them around, we need to stop cutting down the trees.
In his book, Mind and Nature, Gregory Bateson tells a story that shows us we need to pay attention to the way we’re destroying the earth before it’s too late. If you get a frog to sit quietly in a saucepan of cold water, and if you raise the temperature of the water very slowly and smoothly, so that there’s no moment that marks the moment at which the frog should jump, he will never jump. He will get boiled. I think it’s true. The frog would just adjust to the temperature, and not realize he is slowly dying. The water in the pan is like our Earth. We are like the frog because global warming will make us boil. We need to be better to the environment instead of being stubborn, before we ruin it. If we don’t realize we are causing global warming, then we’ll leave a permanent mark on the earth which will affect generation after generation.
When we recite the Sh’ma, we are reminded every day that we need to do good things and follow the laws set by God in order to have good things happen to us. If we don’t follow the laws of God, God will bring destruction to the land. Here are the words of the Sh’ma:
“If you truly listen to me, then I will give you rain upon your land in its appointed time, the early rain and later rain, so you may gather in your corn, your wine and oil. And I will give you grass upon your field to feed your animals, and you will eat and be content. Beware, then, lest your heart be led astray, and you go off and worship other gods and you submit to them, so that the anger of the MIGHTY ONE should burn against you, and seal up the heavens so no rain would fall, so that the ground would not give forth her produce, and you be forced to leave the good land I am giving you.” Deut. 11:13-21
Here, God is telling the people that God will not tolerate disobedience. If you’re bad, then bad things will happen. If you’re good, you will be rewarded. What goes around comes around. If we abuse the earth, then the earth won’t take care of us. If we care for the earth, it will reward us and our descendants.
For my mitzvah project, I worked at a cat shelter. It’s really fun. You get to scrape the hair off of cat trees, hold the cats, and visit stray cats. But it smells really bad. These cats had no home and we helped them out. This may seem like a small thing, but any amount of effort you put in is helping the environment, because you’re helping animals that are part of the environment.
There are other, simple ways we can help the environment. We can pick up litter on the ground, turn off lights after leaving the room (although I’m not very good at that one), and dispose of trash in a way that’s respectful to the environment.
Now enough talk about my portion. Let’s get to the thank yous. I particularly want to thank my parents for making this journey so much easier for me. You have always been kind and loving whenever, even when you’re mad at me for not practicing, and I fight you. You continuously pushed me to prepare and practice, allowing me to succeed. I would also like to thank my brother Jaden for always being supportive, yet very annoying. I would like to thank my aunt Vicki for typing this whole speech wail I told her what to write and helping me think of ideas without actually telling me. I would like to thank my friends for coming and being very excited about my bar mitzvah and how there’s laser tag at the party. And I would like to thank all my family members who have come on this day to celebrate with me. It means a lot that you have come. A big thanks to my tutor, Missy, who I couldn’t have done any of the prayers without. And lastly, a special thanks to Rabbi Barbara Penzner who helped me with so many different parts of my bar mitzvah preparation and my Jewish education through the years. And of course, for all the jelly beans.