Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jennifer Rich on Vayishlach

Shabbat Shalom. And…hola!

If you know me, you know how much I like asking questions. I’ve always liked asking questions. I think it’s the best way to learn new things. Sometimes other people find my questions annoying …. Like when I ask my dad questions about football ---- right in the middle of a New York Giants football game. I always get confused about the penalties. There are way too many of them. My favorite penalty is ------- “in the grasp”. It may be within somebody’s grasp, but all those penalties are certainly NOT within my grasp.

It’s also difficult for me to be quiet. When I have a question, I have to ask it! I smiled when I learned my Torah portion says it’s good to ask questions. Lots of questions. The tougher the question, the better. Sometimes the really tough questions make us wrestle within ourselves for the answer. For example, there is the never ending question of the difference between right and wrong. As I get older, I wrestle with that question more often and the answer is not always so clear. Should I be honest knowing it will hurt or embarrass somebody or can I figure out a way to still be truthful without causing any pain?

In my Torah portion, Jacob is given his new name ------ Israel. Receiving that new name was not easy for him because he had to wrestle and struggle with an angel to get it. The word Israel means to struggle with God – and that’s exactly what the Jewish people have been doing ever since. We don’t wrestle just with questions about God, we wrestle with questions about everything.

Here are some questions I’ve been wrestling with lately:

Why does God allow so much pain and suffering in the world? In 2009, why did God cause so much suffering to the New York Mets? I’m serious. It seemed like every time I went to a game this year somebody was injured. I was at the game when David Wright got hit in the head by a fastball. I was also at the game when Jon Niese fell off of the pitcher’s mound and tore his hamstring. But the scariest injury I saw was when my mom got hit in the face by a foul ball. There were three silver linings to that day ----- they gave my mother the baseball, it was only a bruise and it was K-Rod bobble-head day!

I’ve even posed many questions to Rabbi Hammerman, who has promised to give me some answers. I don’t even have to look at him right now to know he is probably looking at the congregation and shaking his head ‘No’.

I’ve asked the rabbi a variety of questions--- Like:

What came first the chicken or the egg? Should I practice for my Bat mitzvah, do my homework or take a nap? Why do some countries hate the United States? Why do some people want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and what would these same people think if the circumstances were reversed? Why are some people against not only the Jewish religion but any religion other than their own?

These are some questions we wrestle with, but can’t be answered with just words. They must be answered with actions. It’s easy to ask, “Why is there homelessness? But the real struggle is to trying to do something about it. For the last several years my family has spent Christmas Eve at a local homeless shelter, serving dinner with other congregants from Temple Beth El, to the residents of the shelter. Sometimes, I think it was the first time some of these people were actually served a meal by someone happy to be serving them. Of course, after we volunteer, we usually go to the movies and enjoy a late dinner of Chinese food which ------ is usually the only place open on Christmas Eve. We hope to continue our tradition and be doing this again in a few weeks. Also, the baskets of food you see decorating the Bimah will be donated to a local Fairfield County food bank.

It’s easy to ask God how he could have allowed the Holocaust to happen. But the real struggle – or question we wrestle with today is --- how do we do everything possible to prevent anything like it from happening in the future? Currently, hundreds of thousands of people are being slaughtered in Darfur. Isn’t this also a Holocaust? Why? For what reason? It’s 2009, not 1939! We should all wrestle with those questions for a while. . . . . . .

There are about 70 different ethnic groups in Darfur. If you’re in the wrong ethnic group – what happens?? Should you and your family be slaughtered?? I surely don’t think so. How can something like this be happening today? We, as Jews, know all too well about being targeted for torture and death because of our religious beliefs. What can be done to stop this? ………………..
That’s what becoming a Bat Mitzvah is all about, It’s not about just thinking of the answers, it’s about taking decisive actions and living them every day.

One way we do this is through our Mitzvah projects. My project was to create a living piece of history for the Jewish Historical Society of Stamford and Temple Beth El. I copied, organized and catalogued the dedication plaques from the old prayer books, in some cases the Temple’s original prayer books, before they were recently replaced with more modern books. You know, the one where the prayers include the women, too, such as Rachel and Leah. This catalogue immortalizes many of the Temple Beth El congregants that came before us and without whose efforts we may not be celebrating my Bat Mitzvah in this beautiful sanctuary tonight – and that – is a concept even I can grasp!!

No comments: