Wednesday, October 11, 2017
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Gil Vadel on Sukkot
Thank you all for coming this morning. This is an amazing week, for not only am I am becoming a bar mitzvah, but I’m also getting my black belt!
I’ve worked all my life to become a bar mitzvah and seven years to become a black belt in karate, and it’s all coming together right now.
It wasn’t planned this way. There’s only one time a year when you can test for black belt. It’s a three-hour test, and the date was moved up from December to next week.
As for my bar mitzvah, that date was planned three years ago, but really it was set when I was born, 13 years ago on September 30th. And although today’s service is not a grueling three hour test, because it’s Sukkot it’s not much shorter, and this service has lots of special features.
So you can imagine that the past couple of months have been especially intense.
So this is what I’ve had to prepare:
For my bar mitzvah, I had to do everything you see here today. In addition to that, there’s my mitzvah project, plus keeping up with my Hebrew studies, plus writing this speech.
For my black belt, over the last several weeks I’ve had to complete 7,500 exercises, practice all 18 of my forms 100 times, and hardest of all, I had to complete 300 random acts of kindness; things like holding the door for someone, taking out the garbage, helping the janitors clean, and returning a lost driver’s license, etc.
So I’ve been very busy. Oh yes, I’ve also had to eat and sleep and occasionally do homework. (Pause)
While working on these two big events together, I’ve discovered that there are some amazing similarities between getting a black belt and becoming a bar mitzvah, especially when the bar mitzvah happens to take place on Sukkot.
One of the names for Sukkot is זמן שמחתינו - “the time of our happiness.” But Sukkot isn’t a happy time in the way that Purim is – with lots of celebrating, singing, costumes – and drinking (for those who are over 21). It’s not happy in the way that Pesach is, with all that eating, staying up late and, um… those four cups of grape juice.
Sukkot is a different kind of “happy.” Today we read from the book of Kohelet, which states, “ לֵךְ אֱכֹל בְּשִׂמְחָה לַחְמֶךָ, וּשְׁתֵה בְלֶב-טוֹב יֵינֶךָ”
“Go eat your bread with happiness and drink your wine with a glad heart (if you are over 21).”
The idea is that life is short so you need to enjoy all that you have and be satisfied with it. With the harvest collected and the days getting colder, this holiday is really a holiday of appreciation. When the pilgrims landed in Plymouth and were celebrating their first harvest, they looked to the bible for a holiday as a model for the first Thanksgiving. That holiday was Sukkot.
As the rabbis stated in Pirke Avot, “Who is truly wealthy? The one who is satisfied with what he has.”
I can recall a similar lesson being taught in karate class. My teacher often says, “Be happy but never satisfied.” It’s a great quote, made even greater because it came from Bruce Lee.
It means that we should always be pushing to improve, but we should also be content with what we’ve accomplished and with who we are.
Judaism also says we should try to constantly improve, which is what we focused on during the High Holidays. But right after Yom Kippur is done, it’s a custom to immediately start to build our sukkahs. So Yom Kippur is the part where we are not satisfied, and Sukkot is the response, that, no matter what happens, we should be joyous and appreciate who we are.
That’s actually pretty easy for me, because my name, גיל, which means joy.
Unfortunately, there are people close by who can’t be so satisfied, because they don’t have enough food at home. For my mitzvah project, I am working with 3Square to donate bags of food to kids who aren’t as fortunate as I am. All the food you see here on the bimah (instead of flowers) and the food bags on the tables later will be donated to the local children who don’t have enough to eat on the weekends. I am looking forward to going to distribute the food myself in a few weeks.
All in all my bar mitzvah has been joyous and it’s been a great adventure like sukkot.