Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jeremy Young on Nitzavim Vayelech

Shabbat Shalom!
When I first sat down with the Rabbi to write this speech, I wondered if I could really actually relate Torah to real life. As it turns out, it’s pretty relatable!
So here goes…
It happened in the fall, about 5 years ago.
I had always loved playing sports, but was basically mediocre at basketball, baseball… and don’t even get me started about soccer!
But on that day 5 years ago, which happened to be “Bring a Friend Day,” my good friend Miles brought me to my first ever hip hop class – and immediately I was hooked. 
Why did I come to love dance so much? 
For one thing, it gives me the chance to express something deep inside, and even when I’m on the stage, I truly dance with a feeling that no one is watching.
Also, it gives me the chance to do something a little different; not only to march to the beat of a different drummer – but to dance to it as well!
But one of the best parts about being a dancer is dancing at home and watching my Dad, Andrew and Marissa try to copy my moves. I love them, but let’s just say, they have other strengths! 
Sad to say, I wasn’t so good at hip hop at first, but I didn’t realize it until I tried out for a selective performance group.  I was devastated when I didn’t make it.
Fortunately, Jimmy, Liana and Monica, the teachers who conducted the tryout four years ago and who are still my teachers today, gave me lots of encouragement, telling me that I should never give up and always believe in myself.   They said I would come back the next year even better.
I took this to heart and I practiced a lot, and the next year, I made it into the performance group.  And, this year, I’ve been added to an advanced competition team. 
In Nitzavim, one of my Torah portions today, Moses talks to the people about God’s teaching, saying in chapter 30 of Deuteronomy,
  כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא.
“For this instruction, which I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.”
The Torah then continues, saying “Lo B’Shamayim Hee,” “It’s not in the heavens.” Meaning, it’s not beyond our reach.  In other words, what the Torah instructs us is not beyond our abilities to accomplish, although lots of effort is needed – but the spiritual rewards of accepting the laws of the Torah, of living a Jewish life, are so worth the effort.
Just as dancing for me has been at times fun, challenging, hard, overwhelming, and worthwhile, I know that following the teachings of the Torah and being a Jew is not just simple and easy.  But, just as dancing ended up being something that I can learn and grow with, and keep striving to become better and better, the lessons of the Torah are also not things that you just learn once and then move on.   Over the years while growing up, I’ve experienced lots of great Shabbat dinners at my house.   They usually aren’t hard.  But fasting on Yom Kippur isn’t easy, and it seems like every year I learn a new rule or requirement for Passover.  And I know there are lots of holidays and other Jewish laws that I don’t know much about at all, although I know I have lots of people in my life who can teach me about them.
Of course, when it comes to prayers and traditions, because of my Hebrew school education and growing up in this temple, I am prepared to continue to learn.  And, it doesn’t hurt that I was once rabbi for a day at Temple Beth El.  My parents won that experience for me at the Temple auction and I got to learn what it’s like to be a rabbi. Hey, did you know there’s a bathroom back behind the bima? Pretty cool, right? Just so you know, you can’t hear the flush from out here!  I tested it with the Rabbi.
My mitzvah project is an example of how things that seem so difficult and out of our reach can be made possible, even if they never become simple.  This summer, I volunteered with several children with special needs at the Hand in Hand camp in Stamford.  I worked with three young children who were mostly non-verbal.  I helped them make their camp experience as normal as possible.  I helped with swimming, dance, art and several other activities.  By the end of the session, the kids had really improved.  One was becoming a little more verbal, one was learning to repeat words, and one was learning sign language.
These kids are a real inspiration to me, just as my dance teachers and friends are at dance class – and just as my family and community here at Temple Beth El have inspired me to do things I never thought I could do.
It’s funny that in Hebrew and English, two sayings that seem to be opposites are actually saying the same thing: “Lo B’Shamayim hee” means “it’s not in the heavens,” but what it really means is, “The sky’s the limit!”

And it always will be!

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