Tuesday, June 11, 2019
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Nathaniel Harrison on Shavuot
Hag Samayach – happy Shavuot!
In today’s Torah portion, we read about how the Ten Commandments were given at Mount Sinai. There is a tradition that the people heard God pronounce the first letter of the first word of the first commandment, and then they were terrified and asked Moses to interpret the rest.
The funny thing is that the first letter of the first word is an alef, which in Hebrew has no sound. So what they heard was something beyond sound, something more real than what was actually spoken.
That’s the kind of deep listening I have learned to do; something that we all need to learn how to do.
For instance, if someone says “I’m fine” but if you really hear how they are saying those words, you know that that person is not really fine.
I’ve learned how to listen deeply in part from my brother Jewels.
Jewels and I have a very special relationship. He’s been there for my whole life so we can understand each other in ways that others can’t. Sometimes if he seems agitated, I can tell when he is interested or dismissive of a certain topic. I know what makes him laugh. (I also know how to tick him off). He loves especially to laugh whenever I mess up at something, or when he’s enjoying something. He loves walking in the woods, being outdoors and stimulating activities such roller coasters and high-speed elevators and trains. We also love watching certain movies together, like “The Walk,” about the man who walked in between the Twin Towers. He especially loves those final scenes when the walker is looking down on the view of New York City.
So you can see that we know each other really well. But we communicate with very few words.
Jewels got me into music. Although many ask which of us I think is more talented musically, I give them the same answer – that I’d rather not compare myself with him. In fact, music is a great vehicle for self-expression – it helps me to blow off steam or it gets me energized. Suffice to say that we are not competitive about that – or anything. Jewels is not a competitive person, and I never feel upstaged by him – which is a good thing, because he’s playing later on.
Also, in learning how to listen deeply, to hear beyond what’s being said, I’ve discovered how to better understand that what people say isn’t always what they mean, especially in today’s word. There’s so much slang, there are emojis and texting and social media, which makes it easier to say things carelessly and often anonymously. People often don’t understand what they are really saying, and how it can be hurtful.
Sometimes, people have said mean things to me, but I am able to let insults pretty much roll off my shoulder. I understand that they are frustrated and need to feel better about themselves. This is especially true in hockey, which is something I really enjoy – so I don’t let others’ frustrations ruin it for me. I understand that some people have trouble dealing with people who are different from them.
Earlier this year, my hockey team – which is very diverse – had to deal with another team that made racist comments toward me and a few of my teammates. When this happened, we ignored it and kept playing our game to the best of our abilities.
So you can see why for me words matter – but what matters even more is to understand what’s really being communicated, even beyond the words. And that’s one of the big lessons that the Ten Commandments are trying to teach us.
For my mitzvah project, I’ve been helping kids with special needs to develop their tennis skills, in coordination with coaches from Special Olympics. I also did a few musical fundraisers with Jewels for organizations such as the New Canaan Food Bank.