Friday, January 9, 2009

TBE Bar/ Bat Mitzvah Commentary: David Rutstein on Parashat Vayeshev

I have proudly worked at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center for the past three years as a curator and volunteer. I have really enjoyed the experience of learning how to take care of these helpless animals, which depend on me. My responsibilities have included; providing food and water for the animals, cleaning out their living spaces, making them very comfortable, brushing them down, walking them for exercise, and lastly, just making sure they are happy and healthy!
One day when I was working there, someone dropped off a chicken that had been raised at home. The family felt they needed to get rid of it, for reasons unknown. Little did I know that they had not asked for permission. So when the chicken was placed in the coop, I was shocked to see that all of the other chickens were attacking it. The chicken was the odd one out, but fortunately survived.

This story came to mind when I was learning about my Torah portion and saw how Joseph was ambushed by his brothers and thrown into a pit. I realized that just as the owner of the chicken should have known better than to throw a defenseless chicken into the Nature Center’s coop, so should have Jacob known to protect his son Joseph from his jealous and angry brothers.

But Jacob didn’t know better, in fact he helped to make matters worse, by playing favorites. He bought Joseph this wonderful multi colored coat and then sent him up to visit his brothers up in the north. The commentators explained that from a couple of ounces of wool, the multi colored coat he gave to his favorite son, led to Israelites becoming slaves in Egypt many years later. One act of bad parenting led to horrible things in the future.

But Joseph needed to learn some sensitivity too. He should have known that all of his boasting and feelings of prominence would upset his brothers, which would eventually lead to envy and hatred.

I learned sensitivity at a very young age. When I was much younger, my sister and I were outside playing. She was playing with toys, while I was busy digging for worms. At the same time, my mom was making scrambled eggs for my sister’s lunch. When Jillian didn’t want to eat them, I thought it would be a good idea to try taking care of the worms by building them a house made from a shoe box and feed them the eggs. For some reason this made such an impression on my mom, that she still talks about it today. Compassion and sensitivity to others means a great deal to me.

When that tragic day of 9/11 occurred, my first grade teacher asked if anyone wanted to contribute something that could possibly help those in need. My only thought was to go home and take my “piggy bank” into school the next morning with all the money I had saved to the age of 6. When I presented her the bank, she just looked at me and started to cry. Later, she called my Dad to express how deeply she was touched by my actions. Another proud moment of helping others occurred several years ago when my father put together an ongoing food donation program. I helped him bridge a relationship between three Stamford Dunkin Donuts stores and the Norwalk Homeless Shelter. I was so eager and honored to help deliver the unsold baked goods on a weekly basis to these starving, helpless people. To this day, the program is ongoing.

If only Jacob, Joseph and his brothers had learned to respect and show sympathy towards others, possibly with their “own box of worms,” maybe history would have turned out differently. The funny thing is that I am not the first person to have learned sensitivity from worms.

Through research, I discovered that worms played an important role in Jewish history. The “Shamir” was a worm that had the power to cut through stone, iron and diamonds. According to the legend, it was used by King Solomon during the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem, in the place of cutting tools. For the construction of the Temple, which is a symbol of peace, it was inappropriate to use tools that could also lead to war and bloodshed.

Many of you may not know that I am a black belt in Tae-Kwon-Doe. As a black belt, which was a very intense demanding three year journey, I learned many important life lessons. Not only have I embraced all the responsibilities of becoming a “Black Belt”, but I’ve also learned how important it is to use my power for knowledge and defense, never attack, as well as a commitment to promote goodness and pass onto to others what I have learned. Quite possibly, this lesson goes all the way back to my experience when I was trying to help the worms when I was younger. It is fortunately a lesson that Joseph learned later on in his life as he became more powerful.

With great power comes great responsibility!

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