Tuesday, November 21, 2017

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Jonathan Cohen on Rosh Hodesh and Vayetze

Chodesh tov.

You may have noticed that I haven’t been here in Stamford lately.  Well, at least I hope you noticed!  For those of you who don’t know, over the summer I moved to Minneapolis, MN.

If you are involved in Federation, you also might have noticed that the former CEO has been absent for quite a while.  Well, he’s my father and he’s the reason that I was forced to move to Minnesota.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Twin Cities are an awesome place.  But moving is never easy, particularly at Bar Mitzvah age.

Moving has always been a challenge.  In fact, much of the torah deals with our ancestors when they were on the move.  This week in the Torah, we are reading about the wanderings of Jacob.  This coming week’s portion is actually entitled “Vayetze – And He Went Out”.  Jacob was returning to his ancestral home to escape his very angry brother Esav.

This also happens to be the week when so many people are traveling back to their original homes for Thanksgiving.  At least Jacob didn’t have to fly Spirit Airlines to get where he was going.

According to Vayetze, Jacob was nervous about his travels; just as nervous as I was before heading west.  His nervousness was eased by a famous dream he had one night during his travels.  Jacob dreamed of a ladder with angels going up and angels going down.  Jacob woke up from his dream feeling confident that G-d would protect him on his journey and that the angels would be his guides.

Rabbi Naftali Yehudah Berlin interprets this in a very interesting way. He said that “the angels represent G-d’s providential relationship with Jacob.  They are his agents in this exercise.  As Jacob came to the border of the Land of Israel, the angels who had to this point accompanied him, departed.  The new companions, the angels descending, represent the universal providence that G-d is always with us.”

Jacob realized this when he woke up from the dream.  He left so confident that he renamed the holy spot where he had slept “Beth El” or House of G-d.  Ironically, my journey wasn’t just from Stamford to Minneapolis but from Beth El to Beth El.  This Beth El was our synagogue here in Stamford and our new synagogue in Minnesota is also Beth El.  See how I am looping everything together?!

Just as Jacob realized that G-d had appointed angels for both sides of his journey, I realize this too.  Many people here in Connecticut have helped me along the way.  And now, I have new supporters, teachers and friends who are helping me during this stage of my life.

No doubt, the weather in Minneapolis can be cold, but the welcome has been very warm. After all, they didn’t come up with the expression Minnesota nice for nothing.  My new school, Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School is smaller than Bi-Cultural, but the people are just as kind.  We live in a beautiful neighborhood across the street from a park and while I miss the beach, we have lakes – ten thousand of them!

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have help and guidance during transitions or difficult journeys.  When I visited a homeless shelter with my classmates, I saw how bored the kids were and how much they needed something to help them smile.  I realized the food and shelter they were being given was vital to their survival.  But I wanted to give them something that was vital to their happiness.  That is why for my mitzvah project I am collecting games to distribute to kids in shelters who meed something to get them through tough times.


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