Today we read two portions of the Torah, which bring to an end the book of Leviticus. The first one, Behar, contains a number of commandments. The second one, Bechukotai, talks about the consequences for Israel if they follow those commandments, or if they don’t. What’s interesting to me is that many of the commandments described in Behar are in the singular. When it says “Do not wrong one another,” it’s talking to a single person, not to the whole nation. But when the blessings and curses are given, they are given to everyone.
What’s the lesson here? The Torah is teaching us that the things we do make a difference for everyone else.
It reminds me of a story I heard on the news a little while ago. There was a guy at McDonalds, and he told the cashier that he wanted to pay for the person behind him. And then, the person behind him said he would pay for the person behind him. And this went on for about 50 people. Until someone stopped it.
Every person in that line had to decide by himself to continue to pay for the person behind him. Everyone made a difference.
I’ve done something like that, at an amusement park when I was about to leave and had extra prize tickets and gave them to strangers.
One person can make a real difference. So none of us should ever be afraid to stand out from the crowd and do some good.
As you might have guessed, I’ve never been afraid to strand out. I’m about a head and a half taller than anyone else in my class. People just don’t believe I’m in seventh grade. For that matter, they also don’t believe I’m Jewish! So I’ve learned to be very proud of being different, and proud of who I am.
I’ve had great role models who have taught me how important it is to make a difference. Probably the one who has influenced me most is my grandfather.
Grandpa taught African American studies at Westhill before Mom and Dad ever knew each other, much less before Alexa and I came along!
By teaching that subject, Grandpa was leading new generations on the path to acceptance by teaching students about the contributions made by African Americans.
Grandpa decided to join the military even though there weren't (and still aren't) a lot of Jews. For him it was simply a matter of doing his civic duty. He had a big influence on my dad, who followed him into the military.
From the time he was teaching classes at Westhill in the 1970s, Grandpa lay a foundation for Alexa and me to be accepted in the community, even though he had no way of knowing that at the time.
Grandpa has also been by my side almost from the moment of my birth to today, three days after my 13th birthday, pulling, pushing, guiding and teaching me on my path to becoming a Bar Mitzvah, and more importantly, how to be a Jewish man.
Grandpa is on my side no matter what . . . he definitely tells me what I'm doing wrong, whether on the mound, at the plate, or going over my Torah portion, but his patience with me (as well as "let's go over that one more time”) is what's helped me to stand before you today.
Because of my size, I have to be a role model to many of my classmates and teammates. I may not always succeed, but I do try (sometimes). On the basketball court, it's easy for me to see the entire court because, yeah, I'm a "little" taller than most of my teammates and the competition, so I can see who's open and who's got a good shot at the basket. On the baseball field, I like being shortstop since it's up to me (and the coaches) to direct the play, let my teammates know how many outs there are, where the play should be made, etc.
On the field, when we're losing even though we've played a good ballgame, I try to encourage my teammates (especially the rookies) to keep their heads in the game and to keep fighting. We may lose but we should still put up a fight.
Not necessarily easy being a chocolate Jew but with my family in front, beside and behind, I know that I can make it work. And if I can set an example of being kind, caring and devoted to helping others, it can make a difference, not just for me or my family, but for the world.
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