Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jordan Ganz on Vayshlach

Shabbat Shalom!

When I began to learn about my portion, I came to understand that it is really telling the story of my life. No, I didn’t sleep on a rock, have weird dreams, go off to a foreign country and marry four wives. But in other ways, the story of Jacob in this portion really hit home for me, even as Jacob was LEAVING home.

The title of the portion, “Vayetze,” means “and he went out,” and it’s all about Jacob’s journey, the first time he ever went away from home

On the first night of his journey, Jacob was understandably nervous, and he had a dream about angels on a ladder, going up and coming down.

Probably this dream came as a result of Jacob’s own fears of traveling alone for the first time. OR, the restless night could have been caused by the fact that his pillow was a rock …. And by the way, the word for rock in Hebrew is evan… just like my brother, who has always been a rock for me, someone I can rely on. Just an interesting coincidence.

With all of Jacob’s concern about traveling, it is interesting that the traditional Jewish traveler’s prayer includes a verse from the end of this portion.

So what does this have to do with me?

Well. I’m not the best traveler. I love it once I get there, but it’s the getting from here to there that I’m not so crazy about! So I can understand why Jacob was so nervous that he actually made a deal with God, saying “If you watch over me and get me back here safely, you can be my God.”

As much as I don’t love to travel, I know that traveling is an important part of growing up. Every new experience has helped. Going away to camp has helped most of all.

At nine years old, I went away for my first summer to Brant Lake Camp in the Adirondacks, for 7 weeks. I had checked it out the summer before on sibling day. Evan had been going there for several years and my cousin Bradford had been there too.

I was very nervous to go somewhere without my parents, a place I didn't know anyone. Each summer, I get anxious about going away to camp, but my parents encourage and support me. And each summer, it gets a little easier to leave home. The good news is, each summer at camp gets better and better!

I’ve learned how to be more mature, independent and make many good friends. I've enjoyed sailing, kayaking, lacrosse, baseball and color war with my friends, to name a few of my favorite activities.

Growing up doesn’t just happen at camp, but also from experiences I’ve had on other journeys, even ones close to home. When I was 8 years old, I broke my arm on the slide at our club. I was very brave the whole time. I made the best of my summer and had a wet cast, so I can still swim and enjoy our vacation at Aunt Andrea and Uncle Bob's beach house in Amagansett.
I tried not to complain, and when the cast came off, I told my mom that this was one of my best summers. Having had this first experience at the hospital prepared me for the next time when I went to the hospital for a hernia operation a couple of years ago. I wasn't scared at all and my family members were all there for me.

Aside from my parents, grandparents and other family members, two other family members have really helped me to grow up: Evan and Benji, our dog.

Evan has helped me improve in sports, school and other aspects of my life. When he comes home from college, we both look forward to our baseball and lacrosse catches in our backyard. We've probably had a few hundred catches, but we both still really enjoy that time together.
I always wanted to have a dog, since I was a little boy. FINALLY, my parents made it happen! It just so happens that when Evan went away to college, we got Benji, our 2 1/2 year old Shih-Tzu. Evan thought we got Benji, to replace him, so he wasn't crazy about this whole idea. But every time, he came home he enjoyed him more. After time, they bonded, too.

When I get home from school, I say hello to Benji and play with him, before I even say hello to my parents. He greets me at the door, wagging his tail and I drop my backpack and immediately start playing with him, Benji licking me all over, so happy to see me. Having Benji has taught me responsibilities and caring for a pet.

For my mitzvah project, I conducted a food drive for the Food Bank in Stamford. I collected 300 pounds of food and delivered them. I sorted and stocked the shelves with my friends. Some people donated money, for me to do the shopping. From that experience, I learned it is a mitzvah to help others who are in need and that feeling makes me feel better about who I am as a person. I also will be serving meals with my Mom, to get the true meaning of my mitzvah project.

Just like Jacob, I’ve started out on a long journey. And every step of the way has helped to grow.

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