Thank you all for coming to my bar mitzvah today.
I learned many things through the process of becoming a bar mitzvah. My sister and I have worked hard and learned a whole lot about Judaism and ourselves. What I took away from my torah portion is that you can make a big change in the world by just offering a little help to others. I learned how being kind can make a big difference
The name of my Torah portion is Vayeishev. It’s the beginning of the story of Joseph. It starts with Jacob giving Joseph the coat of many colors and then it is mostly about the difficulties and successes Joseph has on his way to his role in saving the Jews. There is something that happens in this portion that I find very interesting. The torah specifically mentions a stranger that gives a kindness to Joseph at the start of his difficult journey.
“Then a man found Joseph … and the man asked him, saying,
“What are you looking for?”
Joseph said, “I am looking for my brothers. … Where are they pasturing?”
And the man said, “They have traveled away from here … I overheard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ”
So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan.
This portion inspires me to be helpful to others, much as this stranger was helpful to Joseph.
This is a very valuable lesson today, in a world which is far from perfect.
Yes, Joseph is helped by a stranger only to suffer terribly by the hands of his siblings and others before fulfilling his destiny. But why does the Torah specifically mention this passage? I believe it’s because this one kind act of a stranger sets the rest of the story in motion. This shows that one person helping another person, even be a total stranger, can have huge repercussions.
When you help somebody, they might help you or somebody else because of your kindness. Some call this “paying it forward”. Some ways You can pay it forward include: sharing your umbrella with someone you don’t know, or saying something nice about someone else. You could just smile at someone to make their day,
Of course one random act of kindness won’t always change the world that much. But that’s the important thing about paying it forward. It passes from person to person to person so not only do you change the world a bit, but by paying it forward you forge a path of kindness for others to follow.
So I ask all of us to be like the stranger and be kind.
Of course, not all acts of kindness have to be for strangers. Much of our lives should be spent in aid of our those closest to us, our family and friends. I always try to help
my friends and family. At school, I try give people all my spare help. I’m serving as Secretary on the board of my School’s Future Business Leaders of America class. At home, I ‘m trying to do more and more to pitch in and, not only to help mom and dad but to learn the skills I’ll need in my life ahead. In public, I try to do small nice things for strangers like hold the door open for people, being attentive to other’s needs, and trying to be the best Jew I can be. I know it’s small but, hopefully, like the stranger who helped Joseph, it’ll nudge people on to their true path and help make my life a positive influence on the world. I encourage you to go out of your way to be nice and helpful to your friends, family, and especially strangers, because you never know where your positive energy will end up having a great impact.
Speaking of helping, a lot of people have helped to get me here, on this bimah today.
Like Grandpa Warren who has taken a portion of his spare time to tutor me on Hebrew. Thank you SO much Grandpa Warren. I know we were not perfect students but you made a hard thing pretty fun.
There’s also my Grandma Judy who has been an enormous help with our B’nai Mitzvah. Grandma Judy sends me to Camp Coleman every summer which I absolutely love and where I am learning to become a better Jew.
If not for Rabbi Linder I don’t think I would be here today. He has guided me when I didn’t
know what to do.
Again, thank you all so much for coming. I’m looking forward to celebrating with all of you during the oneg following services. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabat shalom and thank you for coming to our bnai mitzvah.
I am so happy you all could make it. It’s been a lot of work and preparation so I’m proud to have read from the Torah and now I’m also kind of relieved now that I’m done with it. [look up and smile]
A LOT of my torah portion is about the problems Jacob’s sons had getting along. In the end, they found the tribes of Israel but they start out not getting along. I feel like I can relate to most to the brothers. Just like them, my brother Stephen and I don’t always get along. Fortunately, we aren’t nearly as bad off as Jacob’s family. Ultimately, I believe that the life lesson that we can learn from my torah portion is how important it is to be nice to other people and family members.
In my Torah portion, their Father Jacob makes it clear that Joseph is his favorite. He gives him a “coat of many colors”, and the torah says that he loves him more than his brothers. This makes the brothers so unhappy that they hated him. Not a good situation.
My parents try to treat my brother and I equally but, as they have told me repeatedly, life isn’t always fair and you can’t expect it to be. But still, fairness and equality are things we all should strive for so it doesn’t create negative feelings and bad relationships. There’s just no need to play favorites especially when it causes so much strife.
Joseph doesn’t help the situation much with his dream analysis. Joseph tells his brothers about a dream he had: “for, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves came round about, and bowed down to my sheaf.’”
And in response, the torah says his brothers “hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words”
Sure, what he says is a prophecy that does end up coming true. But does he really need to say this to them? Joseph was a prophet and blessed by God, but since we’re not biblical prophets, we all would have been better off keeping statements like “you will all bow down to me” to ourselves. I can understand why his family resented him.
It’s so much easier just to be nice to people. But instead, Joe’s bro’s throw him in a pit, and sell him off as a slave. Although I wouldn’t throw my brother in a pit, I can relate to how the brothers felt. I know from first hand experience that having a brother can be difficult and he would probably say the same thing about me.
Perhaps a simple apology from Joseph to his brothers could have saved their relationship. It’s important to treat your family and everyone else with respect. These things matter.
Stephen, I love you and I’m so happy we could celebrate this special day together.
Mom and Dad, I love you both very much and I appreciate how much work you put into helping me become a Bat Mitsvah today.
Grandma Judy, thank you for all of your help today and all my days up to today.
Grandpa Warren, learning Hebrew wasn’t easy and I so appreciate your tutoring me twice a week for over a year. I’ll always remember this time we’ve spent together.
To all of you here today, all of our family and friends, thank goodness our family isn’t like Jacob’s. I will try to show you all how much I love and care about you. Let’s all try to be kinder and more loving to one another.
Stephen and Rachel, your father and I have a couple of gifts for you.
Like Jacob, it is easy for me to pick my favorite:
Stephen, you are my favorite son and Rachel, you are my favorite daughter.
First, in the Braver family, we have a traditional gift of rings for the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We hope that this is something that will help you throughout your lives. These rings are inscribed in hebrew with “This Too Shall Pass”. The thought is that this will help you at all times. When things are good, you will look at it and remember to be humble and appreciative. When things are bad, you should look at it and know it won’t be this way forever.
While Jacob gave a coat of many colors to Joseph, your father and I have beautiful talis’ of many colors to show our love for you. Like both of you, they are scintillating, multi-colored, and wonderful. My hope is that whenever you wear these, you will remember your B’nei Mitzvah, your Torah portion, and this moment. I am so happy and proud of the young man and woman you are becoming and I can’t wait to see the adults that these talis’ will cover/drape.
Stephen & Rachel, you were only 11 years old when we started talking about having a B’nai Mitzvah. Way back then, it was hard to imagine you both as being an adult man and an adult woman.
But you have grown so much in the last year that Monica has to look up to look either of you in the eyes now. So it seems much more real and I now can see you both as young adults.
I give you blessings from your mother and I for what a huge accomplishment you have achieved becoming Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. You have learned Hebrew, have said all the prayers, you’ve read from the Torah and spoken to the congregation. So now, you are now full fledged members of the Jewish family.
Although your mother and I are not particularly spiritual people, I’d like to mention some of the enormous blessings you and our family have received from this long tough process which has made it all worth-while.
Through preparing for this day, all of us, and (especially your mother, Monica), have met new friends, developed new relationships, and deepened old relationships.
I’m sure you have spent more time talking to your Grandfather while he has taught you to speak Hebrew in the last year than your 12 years before that. Someday, you will likely value these experiences and having had this time with him more than you realize today.
Another huge blessing is that you now know what you are capable of.
It’s not just that have you learned an entirely new, foreign language written in another alphabet in only a year of concerted effort.
But now you know you can study and work hard and will be able to learn great things and develop new skills in relatively short periods of time.
Just think, if you can do this at twelve, imagine what you’ll be able to achieve when you’re twenty two. Attending college for something like Law, Medicine or Computers school is almost the same thing: it is learning the language and culture of the law, medicine or IT and you know you’re capable of that now.
It was hard and a huge amount of driving back and forth and there were even some tears but you committed, didn’t give up and now you know from experience that you can keep trying and succeed to learn or do almost anything.
Now as great as those things are, there’s one more thing that for me has been the true coat of many colors of becoming a Mitzvah.
When I was growing up, my family moved six times, almost every other year across the rural deep South. Each time, I got plopped down in a strange new place where the people weren’t very much like me.
But every place that we moved, we made contact with the other Jewish people in each area like a huge extended family and these people were more like me. When you’re the new kid in La Grange Texas or Vicksburg MS, meeting other Jewish people for me was a true blessing. Throughout high school, college, and my life since, many of my closest friends and most important relationships have been with Jewish people or friends of those Jews or married to Jewish people.
Your mother, grandmother, and I had a very Jewish experience again just this summer when we took a cruise ship to Asia. Out of the 4500 passengers, about 20 of us were Jewish and celebrated Shabbat services on Friday night together. Even though many of them spoke no English at all, we still all knew the same prayers and the same tunes like the sh’ma or kaddish. I had the same comforting feeling I had when I was your age: that even when I am in far off lands, I was with my people and this is who I am. And now this is who you are too.
The coat of many colors you have earned today is full membership into the Jewish community. No matter where you go for the rest of your lives, there will be Jewish people and our community there who you can connect to and be supported by. I hope this blessing will benefit you like it has for me. Today, you have earned it.