Thursday, October 23, 2008

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Melissa Miles on Sukkot

When I was thinking about this speech, it occurred to me that one specific theme seems to pop up in almost every aspect of my life, from softball to learning my haftarah. Strangely enough, the same theme also is found in today’s service, several times over!

And what is this theme? Life is like the Zoomerang, my favorite roller coaster at Lake Compounce. It is full of ups and downs, and even a few loop-de-loops, and lots of struggles that you have to overcome in order to get to the “good stuff.”

In softball, you have to strike out a few times – or in my case, a lot of times – before you can really appreciate hitting a home run. It was the struggle that made me strive even harder to hit the home run and then, when I did, to enjoy it more.

Sukkot is called z’man simchataynu which means time of our happiness. You might wonder why it’s called a time of happiness when Sukkot is associated with so many sad and serious things, like the end of summer and the wandering in the wilderness. This gives us a clue that for Jews, happiness is really all about accepting what life throws at us and appreciating the good things.

My Torah portion drives home that point. Moses recalls breaking the tablets containing the 10 commandments; and he remembers that things got bad. But then he made another set and things got better. My haftarah describes a prophecy about a huge war that will cause massive destruction, but it will be followed by the messianic era. And there is a third selection from the Bible read today, from the book of Kohelet or Ecclesiastes.

This is one depressing book! But when you read between the lines, it’s very reassuring. I read through the book and was intrigued especially by this verse:

“Better a poor, wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer has the sense to heed warnings. For the former can emerge from a dungeon to become king while the latter, even if born to kingship, can become a pauper.”

I interpret that to mean that even if you are born with nothing you can still rise to the top, like Joseph did. But if you are already at the top, you feel no need to work to stay there and there’s nowhere to go but down.

All of this teaches us in how important it is to overcome all the sad things in life. At the end of Sukkot, we have a very serious day called Shmini Atzeret where we say YIZKOR prayers and pray for rain. But on that same night we have one of the happiest celebrations in the year, Simchat Toroh.

In my own life I too have gone through, and will continue to go through many struggles, as everyone does, to finally reach the good things. With the death of my dad many people reached out to us which made me thankful to have such great friends and hard almost impossible to think how other people go through worse situations with no one to fall back on and no one there for them to help them.

This situation in many ways, has made me a stronger person, and a better and more appreciative person I believe. Someone who is happy is not necessarily laughing or having great fun but can accept things the way they are and accepts themselves for who they are, as well as others.

For my mitzvah project I’ve been volunteered at Brighton Gardens, doing activities with the residents there. I know that I can make them happy, since they too have gone through lots of life’s ups and downs.

The Zoomerang has taught me to appreciate not only the good stuff that awaits me at the end of the struggle, but also to enjoy the ride itself.

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