Wednesday, October 2, 2013
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Matthew Zweibel on Bereisheet
Those of you who know me well know that I am very interested in computer technology. In fact, this past summer I went computer camp designed several games, learned Basic coding and hung out with awesome computer nerds.
As I studied my portion of “Breisheet” I came to realize that there are lots of similarities between the creative process that goes into computer programing and the process of creating the universe described in my Torah portion. One similarity is trial and error – sometimes in designing a program we go through hundreds of attempts before we get it right , it took me 4-5 tries to finally get a game to work, and it took G-d 6 days to design the universe. There is a Midrash that says G-d created ten universes and destroyed them all before finally settling on this one.
As the world was being created, just like a video game, it’s a step by step process. With creation, the first step was when G-d said “let there be light.” When you create a new virtual world, the first thing you do, is turn on the computer to get “light.”
Also, the creation of the universe happened because of words – G-d’s words created the world. The same thing is true with computer code, where the building blocks of creation are letters and numbers.
After G-d created light, the next thing done was that G-d created boundaries separating sky up above from waters below. Programming also involves building walls- fire walls for security and barriers that lead to the next level.
When you create a game the questions you have to ask are “What is the goal of the game?” “How do you win?” “What’s the purpose?” “How long can I play on the computer until my parents kick me off?” G-d had to ask the similar questions about creation. “So how do we win the game of life?” I think it is by following mitzvot, learning Torah and always trying to get to the next level of kindness.
Also, what is the role of Shabbat in the virtual world I am creating? Do you need a day of rest in creating or playing in this virtual world? Also, is this work “perfect,” like the Garden of Eden? Or do you program in flaws? Final question – in a virtual world, do the people have free choice or are they programmed to respond in certain ways? How does that differ from our world? Or not?
So the goals of video games and the creation are the same to when you have to create a perfect world. Our world was never more imperfect. But understanding the past is critical to improving our world in the future.
And that brings me to my Bar Mitzvah project. As some of you know, my maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors who lost close family members in the Shoah. I decided to learn about my grandparents’ experiences and document their stories for future generations.
I also decided to research some of my other close relatives who perished to find out what happened to them. What a journey of discovery it has been! Yizkor book records from Berehovo, Czechoslovakia and documents from the Tomaszow, Poland ghetto. Survivor lists from concentration camps, and displaced persons cards from Holocaust survivors. If you want to know more, take a look at my Bar Mitzvah booklet. I hope to see the actual Yizkor records and continue my research next February when I visit the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem with my Bicultural Day School 8th grade Israel trip.