A Bar Mitzvah on a Saturday morning at most shuls is not all that unusual. But at our beloved Carnegie Shul, the Bar Mitzvah last Saturday of Justin Dreyer was something very unusual and something very invigorating. And something we must build upon. Can any of you even begin to guess when our last bar mitzvah was? Or when our shul was overflowing with so many young people and so much youthful vitality?
Let’s face it, we are a congregation that is rapidly graying, and that is putting it mildly.
But last year we were blessed to have Dr. Evan Dreyer, his wife Melissa, and their family join our congregation and decide to have Justin’s bar mitzvah at our shul, and what a wonderful addition they have been.
Now I must admit that I have become a stuffy old man at times, but I absolutely loved seeing so many young faces occupying almost the entire right side of our shul last week.
And how about the way young Justin davened? When I was bar mitzvahed, I did my Haftorah and a speech, and that was about it. Justin did almost the entire Torah service and Mussaf and he was absolutely terrific. And his speech? Well, he absolutely nailed it. If you didn’t get a chance to hear it first hand, I have copied it at the end of this message. You won’t get to hear the terrific delivery, but I think you’ll enjoy it anyway.
Yes, our shul needs new, young blood. Judaism can be an exciting and inspiring religion and their is no reason why it needs to die by assimilation, or, in the case of our shul, of old age. And so we have a duty, an obligation, to reach out to our youth and welcome them to join us not only for services, but for some meaningful programming that we need to develop. It is essential for our survival as a congregation.
There are other young families like the Dreyers out there that we must find and welcome to our tent. There are children, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews in our own families that may be the future members and leaders of our congregation, and we have to find a way to get them to our doors sooner, not later.
This is an obligation that we all must look to fullfill.
So, I am going to talk about something different.
I wanted to start by thanking all of you who came this morning to help celebrate my Bar Mitzvah. Some of you have come from a great distance. I especially want to thank Ms. Sufrin for her training, Ms. Natleson for pitching in as needed, and Ahavat Achim for welcoming us today.
For my Dvar Torah today, I wanted to discuss the tallis, or prayer garment that I was given to help celebrate this day. If you look carefully at mine, you will notice that the strings or tzitzit tied to each of the four corners have a strand of royal blue. They are not just plain white. Almost every other tallis that you will see today has only white strings tied to the corners; mine has the additional blue.
Glad you asked.
If you look at the original commandment, BaMidbar Chapter 15: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and tell them to add fringes in the corners of their garments. They are to add a blue thread to each corner. When you look at the fringes, you will remember all of the commandments of the LORD, and do them so that you will not sin.”
This commandment applies only to clothing that has four corners, like a scarf, but where did the blue go? This blue is mentioned 50 times in the Jewish bible. For those of you with great fashion sense who worry about your clothes a lot, OK, maybe the blue might clash, but EVEN SO. If you look at the flag of Israel, you can see the blue that was SUPPOSED to be on the tallis; but many of us have been wearing tallesim forever without the blue.
Where did it go? In the ancient world, royal blue or purple was considered a mark of royalty, and the Romans REALLY did not want anyone else wearing royal blue. The Talmud, our book of ORAL law, tells the story of two rabbis who tried to smuggle the blue dye, techelis, into the ancient city of Tiberias. These two were arrested by the Roman soldiers; we have no idea what happened to them after that.
The secret of how to make techelis dye has pretty much been lost since the year 640 of the Common Era, when the Moslems became powerful in the middle east.
There are two questions about whether one can use blue dye in a tallis today. We are a people of tradition — sometimes too MUCH tradition. Since we haven’t used blue dye for over 1000 years, are we allowed to start again? There are enough rabbis who say it is OK, so I will not worry about that. The next question is what exactly is the dye described in the bible.
We know a few things about the dye we are searching for.
The Talmud tells us
- tekhelet comes from the blood of an animal.
- The animal is similar in color to the sea.
- It only surfaces once every 70 years,
- It is therefore very expensive.
We know that the dye was prepared from a sea creature called a chilazion; we are not 100% sure what that creature is. Some have said it is a cuttlefish. In 1889, another rabbi said it was a squid; in 1913, Rabbi Herzog established that it was probably a snail, called Murex trunculus. Right now, that is our best guess.
It is very interesting, though, that of course snail is NEVER a kosher animal.
So the Escargot has got to go.
Even if you believe it was a squid, that’s not kosher either. As a rule, anything that Jews use or wear for religious reasons can only be from a kosher animal. For example, the Torah scroll I just read from was completely prepared from kosher products. Even the pen used to write the scroll is a quill feather from a kosher bird.
So how do we explain this? Well once again, look around at the talesim that some are wearing in the congregation. Many, like mine, are made of wool, but many are also made of silk. The rabbis teach that there is no problem with using silk for the tallis or the fringes, and of course silk comes from a worm. The silk worm is also definitely not kosher. So if you can use a silk worm for the tzitzit, you can use a snail for the techelis.
There is another great example of something that comes from a non-kosher animal that is actually not only kosher, but used in a Jewish tradition twice a year. Any ideas?
Honey, which is kosher, comes from bees that are most definitely not kosher.
I want to end with a tribute to Dr. Seuss, who was born on the same day as I was.
Ham and Eggs,
I’ll Never see,
They are not KOSHER,
So let me be!
I will not eat green eggs and ham.
I will not eat them, Sam-I-am.
But green eggs are worth a try
Scrambled up in matzoh brie!
In a boat upon the river,
I’ll eat green eggs with some chopped liver!
So if you’re a Jewish Dr. Seuss fan,
But don’t want green eggs and ham,
Let your friends in on the scoop:
Green eggs taste best with chicken soup!
Thank you for listening, and again for joining us this morning. Good Shabbos.