This week’s parsha includes blessings and curses. It reminds us of our own power, to set our course, to chart our journey. It teaches that there are consequences to our actions, and that we have control in our own lives. It is a very appropriate parsha to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah, for a young man to accept the responsibilities of the covenant.
As our Bar Mitzvah mentioned in his words earlier, Behukotai speaks extensively about the blessings and curses of observing the mitzvot, the commandments. The focus here is in this world, yet the commentaries immediately push back on that literal meaning. We can look at this world and see that the normal way of the world is not to see Divine Justice in every moment. If that were the case, we would live in a very different world. We would never see sin or wrongdoing. How could you possibly make a negative choice if you KNEW, KNEW with all your heart that there would be immediate consequences. No one would ever speed on the highway. No one would ever take too many slices of pizza or act with greed or malice. Yet in such a seemingly perfect world, choice would also be lost. Would we have free will if we could not REALLY make mistakes?
I know in my life, I have learned some of my most important lessons from mistakes. Shortly after I first learned to drive we went to a bat mitzvah on the other side of town. In an unfamiliar part of town I was going slightly too fast and did not know that a traffic light was around the curve. (This is before GPS and traffic light warnings on your phone). I was just about able to stop, BUT I tapped the car in front of me. There was no damage. My dad made me get out of the car and talk to the other driver. It was horribly embarrassing. Then even more challenging, he made me drive the rest of the way to the unfamiliar shul. I don’t remember anything else from that day--but even decades later--it has taught me to be a more cautious driver--even if Rebecca would like me to go a bit faster at times! In that moment, my father also taught me the importance of resilience, of continuing to try, even if I did not want to.
Standing here today, seeing this room, seeing this young man, I see the power of free will, of determination, of hard work. Our Bar Mitzvah also spoke about the value of an individual. Our parsha speaks of if we wish to donate ourselves, our value to the service of God. It then continues with tithing, with giving a percentage of what we have to serve God. As he mentioned, while it gives different values for people at different ages, it does not subdivide within them. God does not see us as more valuable for being productive or not. God does not increase our worth based on our property or wealth or job or education or internet presence or popularity. To God, ALL of us have value. Every single one of us. We have value whether we are child or adult, every one of us has potential!
One of my favorite texts is from Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5. It is shared as a warning to potential witnesses, reminding them to be truthful in their testimony.
Therefore, Adam the first man was created alone, to teach you that with regard to anyone who destroys one soul, the verse ascribes him blame as if he destroyed an entire world, as Adam was one person, from whom the population of an entire world came forth. And conversely, anyone who sustains one soul, the verse ascribes him credit as if he sustained an entire world. The mishna cites another reason Adam the first man was created alone: And this was done due to the importance of maintaining peace among people, so that one person will not say to another: My father, i.e., progenitor, is greater than your father. ..And this serves to tell of the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, as when a person stamps several coins with one seal, they are all similar to each other. But the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, stamped all people with the seal of Adam the first man, as all of them are his offspring, and not one of them is similar to another. Therefore, since all humanity descends from one person, each and every person is obligated to say: The world was created for me, as one person can be the source of all humanity, and recognize the significance of his actions. https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Sanhedrin.4.5?ven=William_Davidson_Edition_-_English&vhe=Torat_Emet_357&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en
Standing here today, let us recognize the blessings of our lives. Let us imagine the world we can create together. Let us work to build a world where we see the holiness in EVERY human being. Let us learn and celebrate our differences so that we may rejoice in what we have in common. This world is better for having every one of you in it!
In some communities, bar and bat mitzvahs are very ritualized. Week after week, young men and women come forward. They recite the Haftorah and then it is time for the next family.
At CBI, we are blessed to really get to know the young people in our community. Maureen has been working with our Bar Mitzvah for months. He has been practicing with his grandfather and his parents for months, yet in many ways, we have all watched Aaron grow into the kind, intelligent, young man that stands before us today. We know that for him, today is not the end of the journey but the beginning. He has recited the sacred words, practiced and practiced and practiced, and now accepts Torah as a vital, living dugmah (example) for his life.
Getting to this day was not easy. Like the farmers of old, the journey was filled with twists and turns. Today we acknowledge that he takes responsibility for her Jewish life. It is not only about his parents encouraging him to live a Jewish life, but his recognition and his desire to find meaning and hope through our shared faith.
Young man, the years to come are sometimes filled with tumult and tsurris. In the preparation for becoming a Bar Mitzvah, you showed fortitude and determination through challenging circumstances. You showed determination that today was the day that God had made, and you would rejoice in it! As we studied and prepared for your remarks today, I was moved by your insights. Your thoughtfulness and consideration--even if sometimes it took some prodding--are skills to continue to cultivate! The years to come are a time of discovering and proving our identities to ourselves and others. May you hold fast to your Jewish values as you grow. May you find joy in USY, Hillel and Israel experiences. I pray that you will continue to hold fast to your kind and insightful nature, that you continue to feel deeply and help support this world.
As you grow, know the support of those around you. We are here for you--not just to celebrate today--but to be with you on the journey ahead. We have walked in your paths and are ready to walk with you. We are ready to stand with you. Take our hands,continue to embrace your heritage and keep asking great questions. I pray that your life will be filled with only blessing and simcha, and when the challenges come, you will find opportunity. Shabbat shalom!
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ ה’ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ (ס)
The LORD bless you and protect you!
יָאֵ֨ר ה’ ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃ (ס)
The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!
יִשָּׂ֨א ה’ ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃ (ס)
The LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!
וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרֲכֵֽם׃ (פ)
Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.