In the portion of Vayetze, Jacob flees his brother fearing for his life.
At the same time, he also fears the unknown, as he heads off to a
distant land that he had never visited before. The story in this
portion is how Jacob is dealing with his fears so that they will not
I can relate to Jacob. I have also been to new places – like camp – where
I have not known a single person. I have also changed schools a couple
of times. The kids are great at all three schools I have been in, but
very different. For one thing, they dress differently. The schools
have all different cultures. One school had all Jews, and the next a
variety of people. It was a dramatic change going from one to the next.
And change can be scary at times.
It’s not like I’m always fearful, but when I do get scared, I’ve learned
a secret that never fails to calm me down.
The secret is MUSIC!
Let’s just say that I REALLY to sing! I sing in school – and not just in
chorus – but randomly. I sing around the house. I sing everywhere.
And I sing everything! As many of you know, I can go from Adele to
rap to Broadway Show tunes without skipping a beat.
At school my friends say “You’re really good!” At home, my sister says:
“Ellie stop singing!”
When I’m not singing I’m drumming. I’m always tapping out beats,
especially at times I when I feel nervous or fidgety. During the past few
months I’ve been doing that a lot!
Whenever I sing I feel better. It makes me feel I can handle anything!
For instance, I’m terrified of being on airplanes.
But when I listen to music – no problem (except when they say “turn
off all electronic devices” – I must admit that once or twice I have failed
to do so!
When I was younger and home alone in the house, and there was a loud
noise followed by the dogs barking, I would go up to my room and put
on my iPod.
Even now, I play music all night long. When I don’ have it on, I feel
lost. It’s harder to sleep. I can imagine what Jacob must have felt like
when he lay down to sleep on that rock – before having his famous
dream about the angels going up and down a ladder. I wish I could
have lent him my iPod. I bet he was listening to one, actually, and
that it was playing “Stairway to Heaven!!”
I find that music doesn’t just help me when I feel stressed. It helps me to
help others. When my friend was sad recently, I started to sing to her.
It just happened! I started singing “Just Whistle a Happy Tune” -
but of course, at the time I couldn’t whistle. And she started
I’ve come to learn that many of the prayers in our prayer book are
designed to lift our spirits when we are afraid. A great example of
this is the Sh’ma, which is recited several times during the day, when
you wake up until you go to sleep. It’s very comforting.
I also understand that while there are moments when anyone might be
Afraid, I’m very fortunate to know that I always have clothes to wear
and food to eat. Foe my Mitzvah Project I have been helping Person
to Person. After Yom Kippur, I helped to organize the food donations
that were made by congregants here. I went to Person to Person’s
warehouse and put food on the shelves. Also, I’ve been collecting
clothing here and in my neighborhood for the past several weeks and I
will be donating those clothes to Person to Person as well.
Now that I am a Bat Mitzvah, I’ve come to realize that you should never
let fear conquer you – but if you feel afraid, I’ll always be here to sing
you a song – or to whistle a happy tune.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Elise Schoenfeld on Vayetze
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