Written by Avery Sloan, RALFTY
One of the things that occurs to help tie every NFTY event together is the theme of the weekend that everything is based around. NFTY MAR’s TheVent, which was supposed to occur this weekend, was cancelled, but the theme Clear Skies Ahead is still a relevant topic and can be related to this week’s Torah portion. Clear skies ahead, especially during this week where everything has felt a little more stressful, is important to remember. Thinking about clear skies ahead is an easy thing to do when everything is going great, but right now when it feels like there have so many clouds in the sky it’s even more important to stay optimistic and to know that everything is temporary.
In this week’s Torah portion a lot of different things occur. Moses received the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai after being gone for 40 days, but when he returns the Israelites, led by his own brother Aaron, made a golden calf and had begun to worship it. Moses got so angry that they had strayed from their religious values that he threw the tablets with the commandments down causing him to have to travel all the way up Mt. Sinai once again to repeat this process. This time things went more according to plan, the Israelites trusted he would come back, did not craft any more golden animals, and Moses returned without smashing the tablets.
This first part of the Torah portion relates to the theme of growing and learning from the past. The Israelites weren’t able to successfully break all of their habits at once and ended up still worshipping idols when Moses left them by themselves. This example of how the Israelites weren’t able to complete their goals can serve to remind us how we can’t always accomplish everything we are trying to do without some time to figure things out or change another aspect of our lives. For example at the beginning of the school year I started going to more speech and debate tournaments with my school. This was something I was excited to become more involved in, because I liked the people in the club and it was something I wanted to get better at. I also was aware that this was a fairly large time commitment with tournaments lasting all day. So at the first tournament this year, after putting in a whole day of debating, it was disappointing to say the least when my partner and I lost all of our rounds. At least we were consistent with 5 out of 5, but that wasn’t how we wanted to start off the year. At first, I let myself get discouraged by this outcome and my partner and I didn’t go to another tournament for a couple of months. It wasn’t until recently I realized that yes, we had taken a day out of our lives for this debate, but in order to actually do well, it is necessary to also put in time and energy to prepare for the event. Neither my partner nor I did very much of that, since it just wasn’t either of our first priorities. While the Israelites knew that having faith and not worshipping idols was what they were supposed to do, in this situation all they were thinking about was the fear that they were abandoned and they couldn’t break their habits from the past. It wasn’t until they had a second chance that they put their energy towards putting their faith into Moses and God.
Later on in the Torah portion something else interesting occurred. Moses receives the commandments, has a conversation with God, and travels back down Mt. Sinai to speak with the Israelites. When speaking with them, he puts on a veil to cover his face as he was still glowing from his conversation with God. The purpose of the veil was to protect the Israelites from the blinding glow of God and in a more figurative way, putting on a veil is something that all of us do in our daily lives. Just as Moses chose to protect the Israelites from the glow of God, we all put up our own masks to shield our emotions and thoughts from others as we progress and change. This weekend’s theme of clear skies ahead is important to think about as we try to progress and grow as people, however it is crucial to realize that we don’t truly know what anyone else is thinking or feeling besides what they chose to share. As I was writing this D’var I thought about the past year and how I’ve grown as a person in a number of ways. At TheVent last year, besides the physical change of wearing both glasses and braces, I also had a different group of friends at school. While I am still just as close if not closer with my friends at NFTY, I now have a much stronger community at my school to rely on. Last year I found that a number of times I would grow frustrated by the lack of inclusion and difference of opinions I had with my friends but nothing would ever change because they had no way of knowing how I felt if I didn’t tell them. These veils or social masks that we wear can also be harmful through social media. I know that even if I saw my friends earlier that day or did something I enjoyed doing, it never feels great to see people I know on Instagram look like they are having more fun than I am. Even though I know Instagram is not representative of real life, it can be hard to separate those experiences. One thing that is important to keep in mind as we grow and change, is that even if it seems as if someone is doing everything you want to do or excelling in an area you feel you are lacking, there isn’t a way to tell if that’s actually representative of their experiences through our veils.
While it is important to recognize that everyone around us has these masks, it is equally crucial to shed our own masks to move towards clearer skies. In order to truly be able to grow as a person it would only make sense that you’d have to be an authentic person to do so. To be disingenuous constantly is just exhausting, but also if you are constantly holding back there is no way for you to achieve your full potential. On the first week of the new semester this year, my APES teacher went around to all of us to ask us some questions to get to know us better. He started off by asking us our birthdays and ages and then his next question was “what do you want to do with your life?”. This caught me by surprise and I was not prepared to share my life plan with a teacher I had known for less than a week at an hour that on a weekend I would not even have been awake at. In this situation I tried to mostly just brush off the question and answer pretty generally, despite having a much clearer idea in my head. If I seriously answered the question I would have talked about how I see myself after attending college then going to graduate school to become a Jewish educator or a Rabbi, but in that moment it was easier for me to keep my two identities – a student and someone who is passionate about Judaism and leadership – separate. While it wasn’t incredibly important for me to share my entire life plan with my science teacher, there was also no reason for me to hide my real answer which likely would have only been positive. Seeing past others’ social masks is a difficult task and it is even more difficult sometimes to get rid of our masks. Despite how challenging these two things can be, if we are able to be more authentic people and separate our perception of reality with what is actually occurring, it can help us to be better versions of ourselves and work together to find out clear skies ahead.