I met a family online this week and mom and dad introduced me to their son who said that he heard about all his friends having a bar mitzvah. And that his friends had been studying privately with a Rabbi for years. And this student asked me – so what is a bar mitzvah?And so I answered him saying – well literally it means son of the Commandments. And what are these commandments we are talking about? We are talking about the 10 Commandments which are 10 rules or governing principles that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, when the Jewish people were on their way from being slaves in Egypt journeying through the desert for 40 years until they got to the promised land, the land of Israel.
Now the cool thing is, these rules of how we interact with each other, and a higher power are not a fad or a fly by night scheme that we see so often advertised on social media to make you a better or richer or healthier person. The Torah is 3000+ years old , and you have to look at it as a life hack, or a cheat code for how to be a great human being.
So becoming a Bar Mitzvah means that now I am not this kid of five years old or seven years old who’s not really responsible for my actions. I am now a teen who will soon become an adult, and I have to live in a way where I look out for opportunities to be good and to be kind. To stand up for justice to prevent against bullying and racism, to be respectful of parents, teachers and siblings, and to have self-respect for myself.
My student asked “well what is my Torah portion about – the one that I will be performing at my bar mitzvah?” I explained that his portion speaks about an incident that occurred in the desert when the Jews were on the way to the land of Israel from being slaves in Egypt. And the incident went down like this: a woman came down with a very bad skin condition, which was basically psoriasis, and it hadn’t been seen by anyone before at that time. The elders of the group were very freaked out, not because they were so concerned about catching the psoriasis, but more that this person looked so different from them and they saw her as a freak, and a weirdo. So what did they do? Well, they told everyone all the Jewish people that this woman was being moved to a corner of the camp, and was going to be isolated there, and nobody was allowed to come into contact with her at all. In the middle of the night, one compassionate woman broke the rules and snuck out to visit the sick woman, and she brought her food and kept her company at a safe distance and spoke with her for a few hours. Then this woman snuck back into the camp undetected. And the next night this kind woman brought some of her friends along to keep the sick woman company. And then they snuck back into the camp undetected, and then the next night a larger group went to visit the sick woman. And they repeated this until the woman was healed and was able to return back to camp. The elders of the group never found out what had been done. But what a wonderful lesson this teaches all of us, which is to be kind, and to be good, and to not judge people based on how they look. Judge people on their character – are they good to you? Are they kind to you and if the answer is yes, then it doesn’t matter if they have boils on their skin or are a different race or a different religion or a different sexual orientation.
It’s not just about going to Hebrew school and learning to read Hebrew to be able to flawlessly sing a Torah portion. Being able to stand confidently in front of family and friends to sing a Torah portion is key. But so is leading a life with intentionality and purposely to make the world better. This is the Judaism I teach online at CoolCantor.