By Gary Kroot, Congregation Shaarai Shomayim TYG Advisor
Earlier this week, I heard a part of the Torah portion Emor which describes who is qualified to make an offering to God. The part that caught my attention is as follows…
Leviticus 21:16-21: The Lord spoke further to Moses: Speak to Aaron and say: No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God. No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified: no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye, or who has a boil-scar, or scurvy… No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the Lord’s offering by fire; having a defect, he shall not be qualified to offer the food of his God.
This was followed up with an interpretation that was posted by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat on her blog: The Velveteen Rabbi:
“I think of the generations who have read and cherished this text, and I imagine how many of them were halt or lame, how many had spines twisted or lungs sickly, and I wonder what reading this passage meant for them, how it damaged their sense of who they might be. I remember the cruelty of eleven-year-old girls, confronted with a classmate who had a foreshortened limb, and how their barbs sting even now, so many years after their insults were lofted in the chalky classroom air. “
In hearing this interpretation, I couldn’t help but reflect on how NFTY-PAR teens view each other at NFTY events. One of the things that I cherish most about NFTY is that everyone who wants to be accepted is accepted for who they are – without regard to their wounds, blemishes, or imperfections. NFTY teens come in all shapes and sizes, with every possible orientation of spirit, political belief, family background, and sexuality. NFTY teens bring with them all of their wounds and defects – whether based on birth, a physical injury, or a mental torment. Yet despite these defects, all of them are perfect in the eyes of at least one other NFTY-PARite.
It is both beautiful and spiritual to be in an environment where anyone can be a leader, or create a program, or inspire others, or run for an elected position – because they are in an environment where each and every teen can be perfect when viewed with the right lens.
Recently, NFTY-PAR ended the year with Spring Kallah at Camp Harlam. At the Friendship Circle on Sunday morning, I looked around the room, and everyone had someone with which to share the final, bittersweet moments of the event. Everyone had someone to hug or to hug them. Everyone saw someone as being perfect, or was seen as being perfect by someone else.
In a world that is often difficult to navigate, hard to understand, and sometimes downright cruel, I find it comforting that NFTY teens can all recognize that they have the potential to be perfect, and when seen in that light, are all worthy to make an offering to God.