Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Max Eber on Parashat Noah

Jambo! Karibu! Hello and welcome in the language of Swahili. I learned these words in my trip to Kenya this past summer. As a present from my uncles, I was allowed to go anywhere in the world with them. The second I knew about my present I picked Kenya. Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to go there.

Kenya could be described as no better word than free. Freedom of the people, the animals, the trees, the grass, everything was free. The lions would lazily stroll around as the warthogs relaxed in the safety of their burrows. This is exactly the opposite of what the animals on Noah’s ark must have felt. For an animal that has been living in absolute freedom its entire life, to be thrown into a cramped boat with many other animals must feel just awful. All freedom was taken away from it and it was forced to sit in a small pen for weeks on end. Very often people don't realize what they have until it is taken away from them, just like the animals and their freedom.

Many rabbis argue over the issue of whether Noah or Abraham was more righteous. Abraham lived in a good time when everyone was nice. He was a great tsadik and studied torah. Sometimes it is difficult to stand out when everyone around you is being superb as well, but on the other hand it is easy to do good because everyone is encouraging you and setting an admirable example. Noah lived in a bad time when everyone was wicked. He was no tsadik and did not study torah, but none the less he did not steal or kill or be wicked. In his time it was easy to be bad and submit to evil ways, but looking at it from the other perspective, simply not being bad, makes you seem great. There are valid points on both sides of the argument and I am unable to decide who is more righteous, but if Hashem chose both of them to aid him, they must both have been righteous enough for their jobs.

After Hashem destroyed the world with the flood, he promised everyone that he would never destroy it again. Many believe that no matter what we do, we don’t have to worry, because of Hashem’s promise. What they fail to realize is that what we do, is what we do and he never promised that we wouldn’t destroy the world. With all of our pollution and waste we are creating global warming and an environmental crisis. With all of our war we are killing off all the nations of the world just as the flood had. Hashem promised that he would never again destroy the world and he intends to keep his promise, but we can just as easily destroy it for him. As I become a bar-mitzvah I see that I have the responsibility and opportunity to change the world for the better. I realize that I am just one person, but as Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

When our safari group pulled up to our first wildebeest right when we got there, we stopped in awe. After taking about 300 pictures each of this one wildebeest, we decided it was finally time to move on. After about 2 days of being in Kenya, we would see a wildebeest and our driver would ask us, “Do you want to stop or look for something better?” Naturally, we said better because the wildebeest were so common that we were sure to see many more. We would rather go see lions than to stop and stare at a lowly wildebeest. So we moved on. When we were finishing up our journey and we had 1 or 2 days left, we stared, dazzled at the thousands of wildebeest stretched out over the plains, but just one meant almost nothing to us. When we finished our trip and came home I saw a deer walking through my backyard as I have a thousand times. I looked at it, but I don’t just mean I peeked and said, “Oh look a deer.” And then walked away. I looked at it as if I looked at the first wildebeest in Kenya. And I looked at its legs and muscles and the way it moved and ate. And just then did I realize that each individual, no matter how many there are, is special. Now I regret not taking the time to look more at the wildebeests and the common animals. Although the so called “better” animals were amazing, the common ones are not as appreciated and they should be, because no matter how many, each is special.

This is my conclusion. Where everything I have just spoken about gets wrapped up with just a few words. As I was writing this I thought to myself, “What could sum up everything and still leave a lasting impression?” After a while I came up with my answer. Happy is simple. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it is. It is the key to happiness. While I was in Kenya, I went to a village. All that they had were the things they made with their own two hands and what they gathered from nature. The thing that surprised me the most is that they were smiling, every last one. They were smiling and singing and dancing and they were happy. They didn’t need the televisions and electronics that we have or the games and toys either. All they needed were a few simple things and they were truly happy. When I was looking at the first wildebeest, my jaws hurt from my huge grin, but I couldn’t control it. I was fulfilling a lifelong dream. I was in Africa. Why should I contain my emotions? Simply seeing the one wildebeest made me happier than many, if not all, of my toys had. When I saw the deer in my backyard, after I returned, I was smiling and a warm feeling rose from within me. Once again, I experienced this pure happiness. The argument with the rabbis over Noah and Abraham about who is more righteous and who stands out more, doesn’t really mean anything. When a person stands out and they are recognized for their actions it always feels wonderful, but what truly is wonderful is knowing inside that they did the right thing and acted like who they are. Simply being yourself can make you truly happy. Freedom is something we all take for granted. Without it we would be utterly miserable. We all don’t realize how lucky we actually are. Now I’m not saying freedom is some simple thing because it’s not. It’s a complicated and difficult matter, but we are free and simply that should be enough to make you happy. So there you have it. It’s all wrapped up. But you don’t need me to tell you all that. Just look around you. Stop to look at the next deer you cross, the next time you watch TV or the next time someone makes you feel small. You don’t need much to make you happy. So, if you leave this shul with one message tonight, make it this.

Happy is simple, always remember that.

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