Thursday, October 14, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jonathan Pollack on Noah

I thought my bar mitzvah was a big deal, but then I found out that the entire Stamford school system had declared this a four day weekend. I guess I’m more important than I thought. They were so considerate that they wanted me to have extra time to get a head start on my thank you notes.

Interestingly, a main theme of my portion, Noah, is how even an average person can actually be more important than anyone could have imagined.

At the beginning of the portion, Noah is called a righteous person for his generation. All the commentators wonder why it has to say “for his generation.”

There are two main possibilities. One is that he wasn’t very righteous, but that compared to everyone else of his generation, he was. The rest of them were so bad that even an average person would look good in comparison. The other possibility is that when everyone else is so bad, it’s a lot harder to be good – or even to be just average. So someone who is just average in that crowd is really great.

The commentators compared Noah to Abraham. He’s considered to have been a greater person than Noah, but his generation was better, which made it easier for him to be great. So in a way, because his generation was so evil, Noah could have been greater than Abraham.

Throughout history, up until our day, average people have often been called upon to do extraordinary things. Think of Columbus, the other reason, aside from me, for our day off from school on Monday. He discovered the Americas. What else did he do in his life?

In the world of sports, we have people like David Tyree, who is now a re-tiree, ending a short NFL career in which he happened to have had a major impact in only one game. That game happened to be the Super Bowl when he made the greatest catch in NFL history.

Sorry, rabbi. For those of you who don’t know, my team, the Giants, beat the rabbi’s team, the Patriots, in the Super Bowl.

So, is this my moment? Is this my chance to do something great, like Noah, Columbus, and David Tyree?

There are two ways to look at it.

Yes, I have just read from the Torah for the first time and also recited a haftarah. This is a very important day and I’m proud of what I have accomplished.
But the other side to this is that, no, today is not “my historic moment” because today is just the beginning. It’s really just the preparation, the basic training for that moment. No one knows when it will come. But whenever the time comes, I know that I’ll be prepared as a Jewish adult to take it on.

So even though what I’ve done today is very special, I know that I’m going to be called upon to do a lot more. Not simply to read Torah again, but to use what I’ve learned, my knowledge and my talents, to help people and to help the world.
One way I’m doing that is through my mitzvah project. I am organizing a toy drive for the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. I am collecting new toys for infants and DVDs and books for adolescents. If you would like to donate today, there is a collection box in the lobby. Otherwise, you can either donate by dropping items off at my house or writing a check to me, which I will use to buy the appropriate items. I will be collecting for the next two weeks. I greatly appreciate your help and support. In addition to the toy drive, I have also helped out in the last year by tutoring students at Roxbury Elementary School and participating in a basketball league with children with special needs.

So maybe it’s a little too early to say that these days off from school are dedicated to my bar mitzvah. But my time will come and I’ll have lots more opportunities to show my talents. This is just the beginning of my special moment.

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