Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Ethan Finkelstein on Beshallach

Hello everyone, thank you for coming to share this great day with me and my family. It is also very special to share this day with Zoë – we will have the memories of this day and our preparing for it to talk about for the rest of our lives.

Today, Zoë and I are reading the parsha, Beshallach. I really like Beshallach. It is a great portion to have because it is about a very important part of Jewish history. If the Jews had not escaped from Egypt, then either I would never have been born or I would be a slave in Egypt.

In the portion, after crossing the Red Sea, the song of victory is sung. According to the Midrash, the angels and the Israelites started to celebrate the defeat of the Egyptians, but God stopped them, saying, “My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?”

But Jewish tradition asks to go even one step beyond not celebrating the defeat of our enemy. Tractate Avot, which is in the Talmud, says “Ayze hu gibor? Ha’oseh soneh hu ohavo.” This means: “Who is a true hero? The one who turns an enemy into a friend.”

Martin Luther King Jr. whose life and legacy we remember and celebrate this weekend, had a similar philosophy. He said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemy into friend. How can we turn people into friends? Through love and kindness especially to those who are different from us or less fortunate. They don’t have to be enemies, just different.”

I think turning enemies into friends is very important, because it could help bring peace around the world and make the world a much better and safer place. For example, in the Middle East, there is so much hatred among countries. If they become friends all the effort and resources now used toward war and terrorism could perhaps be used to get oil and other energy more efficiently. That could change the world. It could happen - for example, the Egyptians enslaved the Jews a long time ago and now, Egypt and Israel have a peace treaty. Do you think Moshe would have imagined that was possible?

Dr. King’s philosophy can also be applied in day-to-day life. I am a big Steelers fan (Go Steelers!) and I have a teacher who is a big Ravens fan. Whenever the Ravens beat them, he walks up to me and starts to gloat. Whenever the Steelers win, I go up to him and gloat. I am also a big Yankees fan and whenever the Yankees beat the Red Sox, I gloat with some Red Sox fans, (the Rabbi, for instance). Even while enjoying the victory, just like the Israelites at the Red Sea, I realize that it is more important not to put down anybody, but to simply appreciate our differences.

It is also important to not fear those who appear different, or whose situation in life is different. For the last few years on Christmas Eve, my family and I have served food at Pacific House, a homeless shelter here in Stamford. They are having a very difficult time in life and some might look a little scary on the outside. But it is great to serve food to them, talk to them, and see the smiles on their faces and learn they really aren’t different, and there is no need to fear them. They aren’t enemies.

This philosophy also applies on the baseball field. I love baseball and it is a very fun sport to play. I have also learned a lot playing baseball. I have learned the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship and also that you can be friends with those on the opposing teams.

This ties into my mitzvah project: I am collecting and donating new and gently used baseball equipment to a group called, “Pitch in for Baseball.” Pitch in for Baseball delivers baseball equipment to underserved communities around the globe. Hopefully those who get to use the equipment will learn these same lessons and perhaps create bonds between communities as they play baseball that can help turn some enemies into friends.

So that’s something important I’ve learned from my portion. Now we’ll hear from someone who needs no introduction, but I do want to congratulate her on becoming a Bat Mitzvah today.


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