Today was the first day I used it, and a very busy day at that. We davened at our local "Shira Hadasha style minyan" where today I had more roles than I'm used to having in a single day. I led the Torah service, leined Hamishi and told a drash as well. The Torah service I've done enough times that it doesn't take a lot of preparation, but I've been practicing the leining for weeks. I was inspired to do it that as I was eager for my first chance to use the yad. I said a shechechiyanu on it before reading.
Between the leining, davening and speech, the speech went most smoothly. (I had the leining down perfect when I left home this morning but botched it reading from an unfamiliar Torah.) I'm enclosing the text of my speech. It's a little rough. I didn't actually read the pages I held, but rather spoke whenever possible, using what I had written as a backup and as a guide.
I hope you’re not expecting a Shabbat HaGadol speech from me. I actually volunteered to speak today because I wanted to share a personal story. Never fear. It is linked with the parsha.
The parsha is mostly about temple service from a very very long time ago. Throughout, a few ritual objects are mentioned including the Kohen’s clothes, the vessels used for blood and so on and I want to talk today about ritual objects and how they link us to Torah, to the past and bring us to the present.
I’ve been to Israel 3 times in my life, twice when I was a teenager, and this past winter for my first time as an adult with my family. After a weekend of jet lag with friends in Modi’in, the first touristy thing we did was The Sifting Project near the Temple Mount which is an archaeological finds activity. Without going into the entire background of the project you should know that they have buckets and buckets of dirt that need to be sifted through to see what can be found from all different eras of history. You choose a bucket, pour it into a tray that acts like a sieve and hose it down while you sort out anything you can find that is metal, bone, ceramic, rock, glass etc.
Now my experience looking was like this. “Oh oh, I found something.”
“Okay, that’s a rock.”
“Oh oh, I found something else!”
“Yes, that’s a piece of pottery, fairly recent.”
“It’s a rock.”
Finally finally I found this little piece of glass that was in a little hook shape. Now a seasoned archaeologist, I called over the guide and said, “I think I found a handle of something.”
This time I was right.
“Yes,” the guide said, “It’s from a vessel from the Second Temple period.”
She showed us a photograph of what a whole vessel would look like and, sure enough, my handle would have fit like a puzzle piece. So here was this little piece of garbage that now was linking us to the people who lived long enough ago that they would have actually known something about these obscure rituals we’re reading about in today’s parsha.
Fast forward. 24 hours later we were on our way up to Safed where we wanted to check out some art. We stayed in a beautiful artist guest house. You walk down this dank alleyway to a bright blue door at the end that opens out into a colorful courtyard with geodes and crystals, glass windows and plenty of artistic vision. The people who ran it were these lovely Carlebachy-Americans from the West Coast. While we were there I admired their beautiful glass mezuzot. It turned out they were blown by our hostess’ friend who had a glass blowing studio in the artist colony.
So naturally we decided to check it out. Like our guest house, the studio was colorful and artistic in every corner. The couple who ran it was also formerly American and dressed colorfully in again what I can only call a Carlebachy style. The studio sold pitchers and glasses and even yads for reading Torah.
Now time out for a second. When we began planning our Israel trip I knew I wanted to bring back some kind of ritual object. I thought about us getting a new Challah board or Kiddush set for the family, but I wanted something that I could bring back just for me. Now, during my first trips to Israel I was already moving towards wanting to be more observant, but at that time it had never occurred to me that I could 1. have leadership roles in a shul or 2. that I would take on roles that normally were only for men in the observant community. Learning to lein as an adult has brought out an excited streak in me that I haven’t had since I was young and really first enjoying being Jewish. It makes me proud how hard I have to work to prepare. In addition, I love the mixture of bringing my full self along with my flat American accent into practicing and reading these complicated phrases that I only vaguely understand. I enjoy the music of it. I enjoy the satisfaction when I’m done. So I had decided I wanted to get myself a yad.
I was also a little confused how this acquisition would play out. Would I be walking into some silversmith shop, buying it from a bearded and traditional man with whom I couldn’t comfortably share that this yad was the one thing I wanted in all of Israel so that I could go home and use it to read Torah?
So I saw this glass yad in the glassblowing studio and asked,
“Do you have more of these?”
“I can customize them,” she told me, “ and I can do inscriptions for bar mitzvahs.”
I paused and thought for a second and then blurted out.
“It’s for me.”
Just then her husband walked into the room and asked,
“You read?” he asked. “And a woman is going to make you a yad? Cool.”
So together we picked out the glass and discussed design and finally it arrived in the mail.
(Here I showed the yad and explained the yellow to represent straight and unbroken divine light, and the blue wrapping around it to represent me joining with that light. The clear hand was meant to not obscure the words in the Torah.)
One last thing I’d like to share. A few years ago we went to Silver Spring, MD on Simchat Torah where they had the biggest women’s Torah reading I’ve ever seen. It took over half an hour to get through all the aliyot with four Torahs being read simultaneously. I cried when I was there because I was so sad that I couldn’t provide something like that for my own daughter. But as I practiced for this week’s leining it was Naomi who corrected my mistakes – lots and lots of them – and she is already asking about the yad I’ll give her for her bat mitzvah.One thing I know we all struggle with is materialism and how not to have stuff take over our lives, but sometimes an object can be the thing that links you very profoundly to spirituality, and to have your own is a way of declaring that you know your place within that faith. It’s also something that after the people themselves are gone, can represent the work they did in this world. I’m excited to have this yad now to symbolize the point I’ve come to in my own life, and I’m so proud that Naomi feels now that she has full access to our tradition, to observance and that she has a right to the objects themselves that link us there.
I want to thank you today for hearing my story, but also for helping to maintain this place where opportunities are all those who want to be active in their spiritual community.