Our tradition speaks of the “seventy faces of Torah” — the idea that the Torah doesn’t have one singular meaning, but rather it contains a bouquet of possibilities. A playful story from the Talmud illustrates this idea beautifully, telling of one of the many times when the schools of Shammai and Hillel come to opposite conclusions on a matter of Jewish practice. While they debate about who is right, a heavenly emerges, saying “Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim chayim — Both of their perspectives are words of God.”
I had the privilege of sharing the virtual bima with the Hammer family this past Saturday to celebrate Teo Hammer becoming a bar mitzvah. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what a bar mitzvah ceremony over Zoom would be like. Would the cameras and screens allow us to find the sweet joy and sacredness we experience on the bima at Touro?
In short: It. Was. Incredible. Family and friends from around the world joined together in our virtual sacred space. When Teo finished chanting his Torah portion, the chat window erupted with messages of “mazal tov!” The primary screen, usually selected automatically to match the voice of the speaker, bounced excitedly from one celebratory shout to the next. It was a moment of pure joy.
This was a bar mitzvah service unlike any of 119 that I had before officiated. And it was also exactly like all of the others, as Teo, surrounded by the love of family and friends, was called to the Torah. Just as our tradition teaches: this was entirely new, and also entirely authentic and right and beautiful. The array of smiling faces on my screen was a poignant reminder that there are seventy faces of Torah.
When I asked if I could share some pictures from his bar mitzvah ceremony, Teo requested that I also share how to support the homeless and contribute to his mitzvah project. Click here to learn more.