Sunday, November 8, 2009

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Rachel Steinmetz on Lech Lecha

At the beginning of my Bat Mitzvah parsha, Lech Lecha, Avraham is commanded to leave his native land and go to the land that Gd will show him. He is promised a special land, set aside for him and his descendants, but he has no idea where he is going.

When I was little, I had an experience of leaving home and not knowing where I was going. One winter day, my mom and aunt packed us in the car and told us to prepare for a long trip to a mysterious destination. We took our blankets and got comfortable for the big trip ahead. As we were just dozing off, about ten minutes into the trip from my grandparents’ house in Greenwich, my mom woke us. “We’re here”, she said, as we pulled up to the Rye Town Hilton, our mystery destination! We were pretty surprised! I may not have been promised a special land set-aside for my descendants like Avraham, but I did have a great weekend with my family!

In Lech Lecha, we read in this portion that Avraham was known as an “Ivri”, which means a Hebrew. He was the first to be called that. The root word for Ivri is: Ayin, Vet, Resh, which also means “the other.” Avraham was an outsider; bold enough to stand up for what he believed in. In a time of idol worshipers, Avraham worshipped only one Gd. No one had ever believed in one Gd before, and he was not so popular for his beliefs.

I can relate to Avraham standing up for his beliefs. Most kids my age are on Facebook after school, and it can be fun to talk to my friends. However, sometimes people say mean things about each other or gossip. It’s easy to get involved in nasty conversations, and it takes courage to stand up for the person who people are putting down. I try to stand up for my belief in kindness and take the side of the victim as often as I can.

Avraham’s courage shines though as he leads a group of kings in a war and rescues his nephew Loat, who had been taken captive.

Then, Avraham has to overcome a different kind of fear – the fear of abandonment and a life without children. God reassures him and makes a covenant with him.

At the end of the portion, Avraham had that child but needed to overcome a different kind of stress. He circumcised himself at the age of 99. Now THAT took courage.

A lot of things in life take courage. For Jews, it’s taken a lot of courage simply to survive, after centuries of persecution. When President Roosevelt said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he could easily have been talking about the Jewish people.

But there are times when we are in fact supposed to fear. The word “fear” YIR’AH, also means to respect. So we can and should fear God.

We should also respect our elders. I respect the people I was named for: my first name Rachel was for my great grandmother, Rose. She was an independent, generous, warm woman who loved to cook and spend time with her family and friends. She was ahead of her time. She graduated high school and got her driver’s license at a time when few woman did. She loved to travel so much that she and a friend drove to Kansas at a time when that was considered a bold thing to do. I also have a strong sense of adventure and dream of traveling out of the country sometime soon.

My middle name, Shoshana, was for my great grandfather, Sam Resnick. He had a store in Greenwich, and he worked so hard, never taking time off or spending even one night away from home. He took good care of his family. Like Sam, I work hard at the things that I love.

Respect for my elders is what has inspired my mitzvah project. For the past seven months, I’ve been going to Sunrise Assisted Living to lead games of bingo for the residents. I’ve come to know some of them very well and really enjoy their company. They love Bingo and really hate it when I have to leave.

I learned that your Hebrew name, or shem, is connected to your soul, or Neshama. In fact, the word neshama has the word shem right in the middle! I will try to be even more like the great grandparents for whom I was named, working even harder at the things I love.
And like Avraham and Sarah, I hope to be even more kind and courageous and make my family proud!

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