Friday, April 24, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Matthew Morgenthaler on Parashat Shmini

Shabbat Shalom!

I’ve heard that in the old days, bar mitzvah students have stood and said, “Today I am a man.” Well, that’s not really true. I’m not a man yet, but becoming bar mitzvah is sort of the half way point, when a boy really starts becoming a man. But that’s something I’ve already had to think about for a long time. It’s hard enough to be a good role model as an adult, but I’ve had to do it as a kid.

Because my parents are leaders in USY, I’ve spent many weekends of my childhood going to teen conventions and other events. I love to go; in fact, I was at Spring convention just a couple of weeks ago. Even though I’ve always been much younger than the rest of the kids there, I’ve had lots of responsibilities: helping out, setting up, cleaning up, hanging out – and basically just not getting into trouble.

That wasn’t the case in my Torah portion. Aaron’s kids didn’t know how to stay out of trouble and they paid a very steep price. They brought a strange offering, which some have said was an attempt to upstage their father, and because of it, they died in a flash fire.

Unlike Aaron’s sons, I have no need to upstage my father. I have my own way of showing him up without getting into trouble – its called golf!

About two years ago, I became a better golfer than him. Now, I beat him a lot… well, sometimes. The best part of it is that I get to beat him, … and we get to hang out together.

I’ve also learned that young people can be role models if they focus not on tearing things down but on building things up. In USY, we talk about something called Tikkun Olam – it means repair of the world. In other words, Mitzvah projects.

That is one way a younger person can be a role model. Aaron’s sons were reckless. I don’t like to wreck anything. Instead, I like to fix things. I’ve had lots of practice with legos. (the biggest most impressive thing I’ve built is a boat – from scratch, without any instructions.)

I’m very handy, and in my house have been known to fix anything and everything, all I need is a hammer or screwdriver and I’ll fix a kitchen door, the garage door and stain the deck in no time. Outside the house, I do lots of hauling and carrying. I’m really handy with machinery – I’m really good with lawnmowers and snowblowers. I even mow the lawn at my grandfather’s and other neighbor’s houses and our summer home. And I don’t even charge them that much!

For the last few years, I’ve been helping my dad to finish the basement on the Cape. We’re halfway there. I’ve put up sheet rock, insulation, and wood paneling.

Building and fixing is all part of what it means to be helpful and responsible, not to mention kind and caring. In USY, in school and from my parents, I’ve learned how important it is to be caring. I also learned that from my grandparents.

As some of you know, my mitzvah project involves raising money for ALS, in memory of my Grandma Phyllis. I’ve participated in the ALS walkathon for the past two years. Our first year my grandmother was there and my mom pushed her the three miles in her wheelchair. The following year, we participated in memory of her and we will continue to do so for years to come. I’m also going to be donating the supplies in the bima crates that you see in front of you. They are filled with school supplies, that will be put into backpacks and then given to children who are from families with ALS.

My grandma would have approved of this, because education, learning and reading was so important to her, as she was a librarian for years.

So while it isn’t always easy for a 13 year old to be a role model, it’s much easier for me, because of the role models I’ve had, my parents and both sets of grandparents.

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