When I was handed my Torah portion to study for my Bar Mitzvah—Leviticus 5:17-26—many years ago I was SO disappointed. “What possible meaning,” I wondered, “do these ancient laws have? Why couldn’t I get some of the cool stories that my friends got?”
Years later I realized my portion contained two vital teachings for today:
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse. (Leviticus 5:17)
- Victims of financial crimes must be compensated by the perpetrator. (Leviticus 5:24)
I later learned that such compensation was so important to the rabbis that they interpreted the 20% penalty mandated by the Torah into 25%. (B. Baba Metzia 54a) WOW! How great it could be if that law were applied today. Imagine Bernard Madoff having to pay each of his victims everything he swindled from them plus 25%.
I also began to ask: If my dull and dry and dull Bar MItzvah portion could have so much to teach us today, how much more can we learn if we apply the Torah’s exciting stories to our lives?
Looking back I see that is where my career choice began
My growing interest in the meaning of the Torah’s stories contributed to my decision to become a rabbi. Years after my ordination I studied four years part-time at Vanderbilt Divinity School to earn a D. Min. in Biblical Interpretation. Twenty years of continuous study after completing that degree I decided to write my short book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.
I marvel at the strange ways the Eternal One works. If I had received a more “interesting” Torah portion, my whole life might have been different. Now I treasure every opportunity the Eternal One provides to share the ideas in Biblical stories that have changed my life and which can, I believe, change yours as well.