Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Hudson Price on Toldot

Shabbat shalom. Thank you all for coming here to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah – my whole family is here, all of my friends are here – everyone I love. This week’s parsha is significant because of the story of the twins Jacob and Esav. I love to go camping, hiking, boating, and especially mountain biking. So, given all of this, you would think that I am a big fan of Esav, one of the two twins discussed in today’s torah portion. He was a big outdoorsman, and Isaac loved him the most because of his great hunting skills.

Ya’acov, on the other hand, was known for spending most of his time indoors, in a tent, studying.  (I enjoy that too, by the way).

So you can understand why I feel compelled to ask, why do the Torah and the commentators, for the past three thousand years, all seem to favor Ya’acov?  Why does Rebecca favor him?  Why does God seem to favor him?

I think it all comes down to how Judaism defines a hero.  The Talmud asks, “Who is a hero?”  “Ayze-hu Gibor?” The answer is “Hakovesh et yitzro” – the one who controls his impulses. 

I know all about heroes.  I’m a big fan of Marvel and especially the Iron Man series.  

While some families in Stamford sit around the dinner table discussing their day, the Prices dive into deep conversations about what defines a superhero.

Is Batman a real super hero?  Not in my mind.  The argument can be made that Batman just uses a bunch of gadgets and has no real super powers.  Couldn’t anyone can get into shape and buy a Bat mobile?

So by that standard, if Batman isn’t a super hero, Esav isn’t either.  He isn’t even good. He may have been a great hunter but that doesn’t make someone a hero.  If anything, he is the exact opposite of the Talmud’s definition.  If you are defining a hero as someone who can control his impulses, well, Esav did not do too well on that count.

You might recall that at the beginning of the portion, Esav sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.  He could not control his hunger. I hope it was good soup!

While Esav was not a hero, by the Jewish definition, there are lots of heroes who have never been in comic books or movies, selfless people who made great sacrifices at great risk without looking for recognition.

One such hero was my great great uncle Hy. He was an amazing person who passed away in 2009.  Whenever things seemed hopeless, he always found a reason to smile.  He never gave in to the fear or despair during World War II and was able to overcome the most impossible odds by helping hundreds of refugees in post war Europe immigrate to Israel.

The Zionist movement needed money, arms and a way to smuggle the Jews out of Eastern Europe. The L’Brecha organization was being funded by American Jews.  They had brought large sums of American money to Bratislava.  With the money, Uncle Hy and his friend purchased a hotel. This hotel fronted the comings and goings of Eastern European survivors who were looking to return to their homeland, Israel.  Uncle Hy would travel by smuggling himself from boarder to boarder. He risked his life to bring money and a way to escape for hundreds of Eastern European Jews. He went fearlessly, faking different dialects and bribing border patrols to let him in and out of countries in the dead of night. In 1946 Golda Meir personally thanked and acknowledged my Uncle for his bravery on behalf of the people of Israel.

It’s in his memory that, as part of my Mitzvah project, I will be donating money to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Israel.  I earned the money by making rainbow loom bracelets and selling snacks at school.

So, although I love outdoor activities as well as reading, I understand that neither by itself makes you a hero.  Yes, self-control, matters – but you need to care for others too. To quote the Disney film “Hercules,”   “A hero is not measured by the size of his strength, but the strength of his heart.”

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