Tuesday, March 26, 2019
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Sawyer Price on Tzav
My portion of Tzav describes the sacrifices that took place in the temple back in ancient times. One of them was called Todah – the sacrifice of thankfulness. They were brought to express gratitude after surviving dangerous situations or unusual circumstances or coming home from a journey.
A couple of months ago, my family went on a journey – we took a cruise to central America. It doesn’t exactly qualify as a dangerous journey, to be on the deck of a Royal Caribbean ship. One of the excursions from the boat touched me deeply.
We were in Honduras, riding on a rickety old bus on bumpy roads and suddenly, 4 or 5 little kids were standing on the side of the road. They were no older than 2 or 3. The bus stopped, and the kids started dancing to the sounds of drums that some older kids were playing. Then, to no one’s surprise, they held out their hands for money and we decided to give them some.
It made me feel sad, to see their ragged clothes and realize how they were so poor that they needed to ask for handouts. At the same time, it made me appreciate all that I have.
When I got home, I decided that for my mitzvah project, I would help kids in our own community who are less fortunate. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m volunteering at the Ferguson Library and collecting books and other supplies which I will donate to Reading Partners, a program of the United Jewish Federation.
That mitzvah project has become, in a way, my Todah, my thanksgiving offering.
Today’s service is too, because sacrifice was replaced by prayer after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Counting blessings has become a big part of my life, bigger than I even knew.
You see, my greatest passion is swimming – I’ve been swimming competitively for the past three years - and I’ve discovered that swimming and counting blessings have a lot in common.
In Hebrew, a swimming pool is called a “Braycha.” That word is spelled exactly the same as the word “Bracha,” which means blessing.
So the question is, how is a braycha like a bracha – how is a pool like a blessing.
When you jump into a pool you bend your knee, which is exactly what we do when we say a prayer like the Amida or the Barchu. You bend your knee – ready to spring into action, and as a reminder always to express gratitude, to always count your blessings, like I did when I was in Honduras.
There are other ways that swimming is a lot like praying. For one thing, it’s something that, while I’m doing it, it gives me a chance to focus my thoughts. Both activities require concentration. Also, when you are swimming, and praying too you are by yourself, but at the same time you are alongside other people. It’s a team sport that you do alone. When you daven in a minyan, you are going at your own pace but you hear everyone around you and you are somehow connected to them. When you are swimming, you are keenly aware of who is next to you, even though you are by yourself.
With swimming, just as with prayer it’s less important to rush through and do things quickly than to do them well – and to always strive to improve.
It’s important not just to improve my own life, but the lives of others as well. That’s a lesson taught to me by the little dancing children on Honduras.