Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Naso

One of the weird memories I have of my Bar Mitzvah celebration is the strange coincidence (or I thought it was a coincidence) that I received 8 Cross pen and pencil sets. Cross pens are good pens. I have learned since that there are a slew of high end pens (who would have known), but I was in awe of the number of folks who gave me virtually the same gift. I still have several of them. The first one I opened was clearly a “WOW!” moment. The second followed and then the rest. I most certainly was in less of a state of awe with each successive pen set. They were nice. One was sterling silver. At the wise age of 13, I knew that I was not going to use them for a while. I packed them up, put them away, and promptly forgot about them. Yes, I wrote appropriate thank-you notes for the gifts. They may have been the same, but each gifting person received an individualized note. It was not until I opened my law office and found the box in which I had stored them that I really began to appreciate the totality of the gift. As I looked at each pen, I realized that the gifters did not buy them in bulk and divide them so that each had a gift for me. Each person, individually, sought to bring a gift that he/she thought was meaningful. Maybe they thought I was going to end up being a writer. Maybe someone told them that a pen was a traditional gift. I do not know the motivation for which gift they brought, though I realized that each lovingly and intentionally wanted to share something with me. In that sense, each was a unique gift.

This week’s Torah portion details (and I mean details) gifts that the princes from each tribe brought to the Tabernacle for its dedication. Each Prince brought the exact same gifts. (There is no record of advance notice.) “One silver plate whose weight was 130 shekels, one silver basin of 70 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one golden dish of 10 shekels, full of incense; one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old.” For each of the 12 princes, this is the exact description of the gift he brought. Still, though, each individually shared his offering with the priests of the Tabernacle who received each, as the most unique gift from the most thoughtful gifter.

Each of us is unique. Even when we shop at the same stores, work the same job titles, ride the same bus, eat and recreate at the same places … or die in the same outrageous massacre. What once shocked our conscience to the core has become alarmingly too commonplace. Over the last few years, though, the tragedy of these killings has become so commonplace that we are becoming alarmingly numbed to the news. We dedicate a lot of energy placing political blame or gaining political capital over each event. This debate fills the headlines, but we quickly forget the names and situations of the lives robbed from the earth. We reduce them to numbers and while the killer’s name and terrorist affiliations own the headlines, the shattered lives are left ignored. 49 innocent people lost their lives in the Pulse bar in Orlando. More than 50 more will bear the physical scars of bullet injuries for the rest of their days. Innocent people were slaughtered in Tel Aviv. Gun violence in my state capital (Trenton) is spiking. Chicago is a gang war zone. We throw around the numbers of people killed by gun violence … but what about their names? What about their family trauma? We debate the politics, while families are preparing or recovering from funerals that took their loved ones and often their too short life savings.

It will not be until we return to the intrinsic belief that each person brings unique gifts to living, and that without their unique gifts, all of our world cannot be whole, that we will find the power to change the conversation … and change the world. Take a moment. Look up the names of those slaughtered in Tel Aviv and Orlando last week. With the all too many headlines of violence, look past the headlines for the names of victims and reach out to their families. We do this for national disasters. People leave their homes to help in hurricane relief. We need to leave our own comfort to help families who just experienced their own private 9/11, as the shooting forever shattered their world. We were born to create miracles for each other. As we pray for people to come to this epiphany, we need to generate these miracles for the too, too many who experience the devastation of this violence. In this way, we can bring some piece of heaven and restoration into the lives walking through hell. Shabbat Shalom.