Friday, November 14, 2014

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Charlotte Freund on Toldot

Shabbat Shalom!

As many of you know, I have a keen interest in art.   You can see an example of my work on the back of my Bat Mitzvah booklet.  Being an artist has helped me to look at the world around me with wide open eyes. For example, when I created something called the “Tree of Life” in art class, it took me several sessions of painting while looking at trees in order to get it right. Doing art forces you to be more observant and look beyond the surface.

In my portion of Toldot, Isaac is depicted as being blind.  Commentators explain that the blindness was not purely physical.   Some say he was affected by the traumas of his childhood, when he was nearly sacrificed by his father Abraham.  Others claim that he was blind to his own children’s flaws, especially those of his older son Esau. 

It’s understandable that Isaac acted this way. 

For example, one modern commentator said, a grandmother she knew would swear that if her grandkids were ax murderers, they would be the BEST ax murderers out there because they could do no wrong.  The commentator then poses the question: “Do we do our children a favor when we raise them with what looks like unconditional love, but is blind denial, pretending to be love, Jacob and Esau’s clothes?”

I think the answer is no.  We need to see clearly the flaws in ourselves and others, even those we love.  If Isaac had done that, perhaps Esau wouldn’t have strayed so far from his family.  The brothers didn’t see each other for 20 years and the family was torn apart. And Jacob wasn’t so perfect either.  If his parents had been less tolerant of Jacob’s scheming, maybe Jacob wouldn’t have had to run away from home and get into all kinds of trouble.

People my age tend to close their eyes to things – we don’t listen to the advice we’re getting. Like when a teacher suggests that a paper be revised or that we come to them after class but we don’t take advantage of it. Also when we don’t listen to our parents like when they suggest not to stay up to late on a school night and then we can’t get up in the morning.

As we grow up, we tend to rely more and more on first impressions and don’t see the whole person.  In the Torah, Jacob and Esau are stereotyped by their parents: Jacob is seen as the scholar and Esau the athlete.  I think there’s a little of Jacob and a little of Esau in everyone.  Certainly, in me.   It’s too easy to stereotype people.  Everyone does it, saying things like, “He’s such a nerd” or “She’s so fake,” when in fact, everyone is much more complicated than we might think.

Also, it’s important not to be blind to the suffering of those around you.  My mitzvah project has helped me to understand that people in our community are going hungry, even though we may not see them every day.  I’ve volunteered at the food pantry at Person to Person and now I am working with young children at the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford helping them with their homework.  There’s a prayer in the morning blessings where we thank God for opening the eyes of the blind.  When I volunteered at these two places, it helped me to understand what this prayer really means.

Also, as part of my mitzvah project, and in remembering the great trip to Israel I took with my family through the temple three years ago, I’ll be donating a portion of my Bat Mitzvah money to The Israeli Guide Dog Center for the Blind. The Center’s mission is to improve the quality of life of people who are vision impaired by providing them with safe mobility, independence and self-confidence through the faithful assistance of guide dogs.  I only wish Isaac had been able to take advantage of this program.  It might have made a big difference in the lives of his sons.

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