When I was 6, I wanted to play piano, so my parents found me a teacher whose name was Marco. Marco came to our house to give me lessons. He would teach and joke around with me, but he was a serious piano teacher, and he always expected my best. When the lessons were finished and he would go home, he expected me to practice. That’s when things got tricky… Sometimes I wanted to practice, and sometimes, I just wanted to do other things: play with my sisters, play video games, or just use my toys. The times that I did practice I chose to for a couple of reasons: first because I wanted to get better; second because I knew that if I didn’t, he would know and I would get in trouble. Finally, if I did a good job at the concert, I would get a prize.
I’m sharing this story, because when I read my Torah portion, parshat Kedoshim, it reminded me of Marco, and what motivated me to practice the piano. The Torah portion has two chapters, each filled with a collection of laws. As I read the two chapters, 19 and 20, I realized how similar they are, and how different. In many cases the laws in the two chapters are identical or very similar, but the reasons given for why someone might want to follow those rules, are very different. In Chapter 19, again and again, we see a positive reason for following the laws: to become Holy. In Chapter 20, again and again, we see a totally different side to why someone would want to follow the laws: because they would be severely punished if they did not. After reading the chapters, I wondered why is it that the Torah states the same rules more than once, but provides different reasons for following them?
As I looked for answers to my question, I found a Midrash or a story related to my Torah portion. The story is about a king who owned a very expensive wine cellar. It was so valuable that he worried that robbers were going to rob his vault. He hired some guards to take care of the vault, some of whom were alcoholics. The next day the king discovered that his barrels were still full and untouched so he paid his guards for their service. First he paid his non alcoholics one day’s worth of pay but then he went on to give his alcoholic guards double pay. The guards said that’s not fair but the king answered that although all of you guys did the same job, half of you put in much more effort than the other half.
I believe that the Torah and the Midrash are trying to remind us that people have or may need different motivations to follow the laws, and it is not the same for everyone; it varies from person to person based on individual’s backgrounds and believes. For me, I try to be nice to others because it is the right thing to do, not because I am going to get in trouble if I am mean. On the other hand, no matter how much I know it is the rule in my house to eat healthy food, I usually choose to eat junk food until my parents force me to eat healthy food before I can have dessert. Another example is my own Jewish observance. I would never consider eating non-Kosher meat, but I needed lots of reminders to learn Musaf for my Bar Mitzvah. Following one Jewish law is a regular part of my day-to-day life, and the other requires lots of encouragement and at times, the fear of punishment. I need different incentives and punishments to follow different rules. I think the Torah gets that, which is why it was written that way that it was.
Many of the laws of my Torah portion are about how people treat each other. I am so blessed to be surrounded by people who treat me with respect and have helped me to get ready for this day. With that, I return to Marco. I was 11 years old when Marco died. I learned from Marco and from the Torah portion that to have a sense of holiness, it is important to work hard, not because I need prizes or want to avoid punishment, but because I want to be the best person I can be. I wish that I had one more chance to practice for Marco, to give my best effort for him. Unfortunately, that is not possible. Luckily, I have my whole life ahead of me to strive for holiness, and to remember the lessons that I learned from Marco and from my Torah portion.
Evan Roffman, Grade 8