Adult B’nai Mitzvah 2021
Maimonides said – “Much wisdom have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, from my pupils most of all.”
I have learned so much from the nine of you – some might call you our baseball team, or perhaps our Supreme Court, or maybe our minyan-minus-one. But that begs the question…. Because yes, you are a team, a group – and in a sense that has been thrust upon you – you didn’t all know one another when this thing began, but now you will share this moment forever. And I want to add a shout out to the 11 who left us along the way. You also have been part of this experience. And I’m not sure I could have stuck with this for so long, through several dates and four torah portions. It was getting to the point where we were beginning to wonder if perhaps we might cover the entire torah before this was done. So all 20 are very much a part of this family.
Still, this nine is very special. And while you share this experience, you are also nine individuals. Your journeys to this point have been vastly different – your backgrounds ranging from far flung places like Poland and West Virginia, and even more exotic places…like Long Island, to even more exotic places beyond the boundaries of our faith. Each of you had to make the individual decision to take on this commitment. And it wasn’t easy. You had to learn the varying styles of several teachers. But you were always here, in sickness and in health, and births, deaths and bar mitzvahs in the family. So from each of you, I’ve learned the value of commitment, of stick-to-it-iveness – and of having the faith to embark on the journey even when you didn’t really know where it was going to lead. Like Abraham and Sarah, and Jacob in our portion, you heard the call – but we never really told you where you would end up – you found that out for yourselves.
We never really told your families either – and they are the other side of this epic story of commitment and faith. I know what sacrifices they have had to make – and I know that each of them understood that in some way, you were doing this for them as well as for yourselves. So we’ve learned from you, each of you individually, the importance of family.
Your four portions actually, when put together, form a sentence. Vayetze – Behar – Bechuikotai Hukkat. And you journeyed to the mountain, where you found in the mitzvot of Judaism, laws to guide your life.
It’s a loose translation.
You have climbed the mountain. And at the same time, you have been a shining reminder to me of what it’s like to plumb the depths of Jewish experience, as if for the first time. Covid denied us the chance to do everything I would have wished. But you did a lot.
And the stakes are high.
In 1948, Ben Gurion sent Golda Meir on an emergency trip to America, where she needed to raise $6 million from American Jewry in just a few weeks, or the fledgling Jewish state, as yet unborn, would not be able to withstand the onslaught of five Arab armies. She spoke to a gathering of Jewish leaders in Chicago and told them. “You have two choices, we have only one. We will fight; that decision is taken. You can decide only one thing – whether we will live.”
Six weeks later, she returned from America, having raised $50 million dollars.
One might think the stakes aren’t so high now, or the situation so dire – and they may not be. But the choices are still the same. By making the choice you have, by becoming more committed, more knowledgeable, and more comfortable Jews – by embracing your heritage as the gift that it is, but rather than putting it on the shelf, you’ve taken it to your hearts, and worn it for frontlets between your eyes, placing it in your minds, you have made the choice of Jewish survival. Not just survival, but renewal. And the message you’ve sent is a powerful one, for your families and for our community, and for the Jewish people everywhere. And it is a message I cannot send. Your message is that ANYONE can do this. And your message is that EVERYONE MUST. Everyone, in some way, must show this extraordinary commitment to the Jewish future – for there to be a Jewish future. You’ve shown that Jewish renewal is synonymous with personal and spiritual renewal. You could have gone to an ashram – you chose the bima. You chose the Torah. As Jews, you chose LIFE.
So this is what I couldn’t teach you in class. I couldn’t tell you how we would all feel today, and how much we were depending on you. I didn’t want to burden you with that. But now you know. Generations move through you – you span them – and you today have ensured that Jews will continue to wrestle with Torah for generations to come…and that we will continue to choose life.
Please stand as I bless you with the words of the Talmud:
May you live to see your world fulfilled,
May your destiny be for worlds still to come,
And may you trust in generations past and yet
May your heart be filled with intuition
and your words be filled with insight.
May songs of praise ever be upon your tongue
and your vision be on a straight path before you.
May your eyes shine with the light of holy words
and your face reflect the brightness of the heavens.
May your lips speak wisdom
and your fulfillment be in righteousness
even as you ever yearn to hear the words
of the Holy Ancient One of Old.
Mazal tov to all of you – may you go from strength to strength, from generation to generation.