Tuesday, November 6, 2012

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Nathan Salm on Vayera

            Good morning and Shabbat Shalom!  

Thank you all for coming to my Bar Mitzvah, whether you came across the country or across town.  It’s been a really difficult week here on the East Coast and as I am putting the finishing touches on my speech, many of us are still without power, electricity or even water.  Going through such a difficult time has made celebrating my Bar Mitzvah with you all extra special and I’m so happy to see all your faces here and relieved to see that we’re all safe and sound. 

As you may know, it’s a tradition for the Bar Mitzvah to discuss the day’s Torah portion in their speech and relate it to a personal experience.  Many of you may also know that my Little League team won the city title this past summer (if you can think back to a time before Hurricane Sandy).  I was fortunate enough to play an important role, pitching in some of the games and playing third base in others. But in one key situation in the final game, a leadoff batter from the other team hit a sharp ground ball in my direction at third and the final hop surprised me and it hit off my glove, causing the runner to be safe at first.  It may have been one of my only errors all season, but it was the first in a key spot.  I felt really badly and a little embarrassed, everyone was watching.  But, just at that moment, some of my teammates and my coaches gave me some words of encouragement, telling me it was OK and that I would make the next play.

            Well, no other balls were hit in my direction for the rest of the game, so I had to wait until the next season, my first in Babe Ruth, to make that play.  But what’s important is that the sensitivity of my coach and teammates helped me to get over the bad feeling of that moment.  Some might think that being sensitive to others doesn’t really make much of a difference in the end, but the one who needs the caring usually feels much better, and that makes a huge difference.  I know from this instance and from many other experiences in my life, just how important it is to be sensitive and caring to the feelings of others.

I also know this from my Torah portion.  Today’s portion, Vayera is all about focusing on the needs of the others – of people we know, to be sure, but also, and especially, of the needs of people we don’t know, of even complete strangers.

For example, at the beginning of the portion, Abraham and Sarah welcome a couple of strangers into their tent. Abraham uses his whole household to welcome them and the actions he takes lay the groundwork for the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, or hospitality.  My family and I have personally experienced this sense of hospitality as so many friends and people in the community have offered us their homes and services during this week as we and so many others are still without power.

For Abraham, the guests turn out to be angels, and their mission is to tell Abraham some great news, that he and Sarah are going to have a child.  Sarah’s reaction is full of shock, saying that both she and Abraham are too old to have children.  In reporting what Sarah said, God actually tells Abraham a little white lie about how Sarah had reacted when she heard the news, saying that only Sarah was too old.  This is another expression of sensitivity to the feelings of another.  By this example, the Torah is saying that sensitivity is important to God, so it should be important to you, too.

A third example of sensitivity in my portion is when Abraham argues with God to save the people of Sodom from destruction.  He didn’t even know the people of Sodom, but he really went to bat for them pleading with God to spare their lives, doing his best until God made him to realize that there weren’t even ten righteous people in the whole city. 

All of these examples from my Torah portion really provide some meaningful life lessons.  The next time someone on my team makes an error, or misses a free throw, or blows a layup or strikes out, I’ll know that I can play an important role.  My job is to say, “Don’t worry about it, it’s OK” while at the same time not making a big deal about it myself.  I’m sure that if Abraham were out on the field next to me, he would do the same. 

I’ve also learned some things about sensitivity from my mitzvah project.  I have been volunteering at Stamford Animal Rescue, where I organize the pet food pantry.  The food is delivered to families in the area to help defray the cost of feeding their pets.  Sensitivity is needed here because the people that the food is delivered to might feel embarrassed that they need help to feed their pet.  It was a great project, and I urge everyone here to take a look at this organization.  I am very happy to tell you that the baskets of pet food on the Bimah today and a few bags that were too big to fit in the baskets will be donated to STAR.  These families will especially need additional food following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

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