An important theme of today’s Torah portion, Vayera, is about being tested in life. In this portion, most of these tests center on Abraham to see how loyal he was to God and Judaism. According to the ancient rabbis, Abraham had to pass ten tests during his lifetime.
Perhaps his greatest test was the last one, where God tested Abraham by instructing him to sacrifice his own young son, Isaac. In the story, Abraham took his son to Mt Moriah to sacrifice him. Just as Abraham was about to kill Isaac, an angel told him, “‘Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” And so, Isaac was spared. Abraham was being tested by God to see if he would obey him.
I’ve had to deal with several tests too in my life, some more difficult than others.
When I was about five or six, my mother got sick. Eventually she had to be hospitalized for long periods of time. My siblings and I visited her at least twice a week while she was hospitalized. To keep her spirit up, we brought my mother “Get well soon” balloons, flowers, and cake. Our visits probably helped her live longer.
It’s interesting to note that the mitzvah of visiting the sick comes from this portion. On the third day after Abraham’s circumcision he was still suffering and in a lot of pain. God offers kindness by visiting Abraham, and sets an example for the rest of us.
While we did everything we could to keep our mother alive, and although it was not ultimately enough, she is here today in spirit. So we were successful in completing the mitzvah which, according to the Torah portion, was satisfied when we at least assisted in aiding her throughout her illness, and we know that we often put a smile on her face.
When my mother passed away, I was tested again by having to continue life when things were so difficult.
Of course, I was helped by my father, assisted by other adults, such as babysitters and my grandparents, but it was a very difficult time to go through, especially as the oldest child, and I had to stay strong. This sad, challenging experience taught me not to take my life for granted, and so I try to make every day count.
There have been other tests in my life experience as well. Moving to the US was a big test. When my mom became ill, we needed to be pulled out of school in Japan, and we moved to this area to get her the best medical care.
When we moved back to the New York area, my parents didn’t want me to forget my Japanese, so they sent me to a Japanese school in Greenwich, Ct. There, I was the only completely American student, excluding my siblings. I looked and felt very different from my peers. I was challenged when I had trouble making many friends because I was the “new kid”.
Also, being the only American student, I spoke and understood less of the Japanese language than the other children, and, at the very beginning, I did not do too well in Kanji tests, which are the Japanese characters. Eventually though, I passed more of these “tests,” as I started to study more. Slowly, I overcame the test of socialization by becoming friendly with a few peers in the classes.
I have been physically tested as well. Some of you may already know that I have broken, at separate times, my arm and my leg from one sport: skiing. My parents decided I was just “unlucky” both times, so I was forced, against my will, to keep trying. Again, here, I was tested to persevere at something at which I had already failed twice in my mind. Although I am physically healed by now, I am still a bit scared to go on trails with many trees. Sometimes, I am forced to face this challenge, and my fears are subsiding. Just for the record – I still enjoy skiing a lot.
A separate test for me family-wise was getting to know my new mother, Jill, who has adopted all of us. I became used to not having more than one parent for period of time, and so when my father said that he was getting remarried, I had to, yet again, get used to a new, significant change in my life with someone I didn’t know as well. With any relationship, it takes some time to get to know the other person. Jill’s love, warmth, kindness, and support, not to mention her efforts in helping me in school and for this bar-mitzvah, make me feel that I truly have a mother again. I am very blessed.
For the past year, my patience has also been tested in preparation for this very day. I have probably spent more than 150 hours to arrive here– so that’s 30 minutes a day for about nine months, times four weeks per month, which equals 126 hours, but there are more than 28 days per month, except for February, plus extra time over the past month, and then there’s the 7 extra minutes to do these calculations.
I have thought many times, “Ugh, this is too much work.” Or, “I want to give up,” but I knew those were not practical answers, so I kept on going, despite how demanding it was and how much effort it took. By the time I hit October, I felt well-prepared.
As challenging as my tests have been, other kids face far greater challenges. For my Mitzvah project, I want to help less fortunate kids have access to technology. You can read about my project, “One Laptop per Child,” in my Bar Mitzvah booklet.
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