Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jake Silver on Bereisheet

Last school year I had the opportunity to hear Gabriel Bol Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, speak about his escape from the oppression in southern Sudan and how he built a new productive life. From his experience he is committed to building a school in southern Sudan to give opportunity to children to receive an education that they otherwise wouldn’t get. This made me think about my portion, Bereisheet, and the challenges and opportunities that Adam and Eve faced after eating from the tree of knowledge.

I studied the story in detail and came up with three important lessons that, it turns out, have a lot to do with my life and this bar mitzvah

Lesson # 1: The importance of education

The story of the Tree of Knowledge is often misunderstood. People think it was a bad thing that Adam and Eve ate from the tree. It was definitely against what God said; but good things came out of the experience. When God told Adam he was forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, Eve wasn’t even created yet. So it was easy for her to misunderstand God’s command when she was talking to the snake. And why was that talking snake put there in the first place?

It was all a set up! I think that God wanted them to eat from the tree. He wanted them to be able to reason and make their own choices. Before that, they were no smarter than animals. But afterwards, they were capable of doing great things, including acts of kindness – mitzvot. It wasn’t just a tree of knowledge after all, but the knowledge of good and evil. Judaism has always taught us that education is very important, especially learning right from wrong. That belief was there right from the very beginning.

In order to connect with my portion and this theme of education, I chose to do a mitzvah project of collecting school supplies for middle school students in Stamford who can’t afford them.

Lesson number two: Everyone is a unique individual

My portion teaches us that all human beings were created in God’s image. This means that everyone is equal but also unique.

I’ve certainly tried to be my own person. I play the bass, which not many people do. Most want to play guitar and drums. But if you think about it, most bands can’t survive without a bass. It makes me unique, and music is a way of expressing my uniqueness. Once I have a little more time on my hands – like tomorrow – I’d love to start up band practice again.

Lesson number three: The process of growing up

As we’ve seen, God seems to want Adam and Eve to be rebellious; to disobey God’s word and make their own choices in order for them to grow up. It’s as if God set them up to break the rule so that they would learn from their mistakes and begin their life outside the garden.

The tree incident was like their bar mitzvah. After it, they gained wisdom and were considered adults. They also gained responsibility and learned that life is not always easy.

Today I begin to leave the garden. Not that I’ve done anything wrong or EVER disobeyed my parents. This is just part of growing up.

As I become a bar mitzvah today, I hope that I can help create a world a little more like the garden was, but where everyone has an equal opportunity to eat from the tree of knowledge as much as I have.

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