This drash was given November 7, 2015 by Sebastian Middle
My Torah portion is called “Hayei Sarah” or “Life of Sarah” but it is really about Sarah’s death and Abraham’s bloodline. In our story, Abraham’s wife Sarah dies; he goes on a journey to find a suitable burial place and finds a cave amongst the Hittites. They offer him the cave for free but he insists that he buys it. He buries Sarah there and goes home.
Once home, he asks his servant to swear to him that he will take his son Isaac back to his homeland and find him a wife from there. He would know who the wife was because she would offer both him and his camel drink from her water vase. If he didn’t find him a wife there, then he was clear of his deal and didn’t have to do anything else.
The servant finds a beautiful wife for Isaac from his homeland named Rebecca. The next morning, they embark on the journey back to Abraham so they can marry. Once Rebecca sees Isaac, it is described as love at first sight and some say she literally fell off her camel when she saw him. Isaac finds comfort in his wife’s companionship after his mother’s death. Abraham breathes his last breath and is buried alongside Sarah, as his both of his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, show up to be by their dad’s side.
My interpretation is that the Torah is teaching us that the death of our first patriarch and matriarch, Abraham and Sarah, is hugely significant. That is why the Torah spends so much time on the details of the matter of the funeral and acquisition of the property. This matters because they were the founders of the Jewish religion. Instead of taking the property for free, as was offered to him, Abraham shows that he is noble and generous. Plus, if he pays for it, then there are no strings attached. As our first patriarch and matriarch, Abraham and Sarah are role models for all of us, emphasizing generosity and love and care.
My opinion is that Abraham, as a father, like all parents, wants what is best for his son. He also wants him to stay within the heritage, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, and thus take a wife that is suitable for him in order to pass along his family’s culture and beliefs. Isaac and Rebecca are also important role models for us because they were upstanding pioneers of the Jewish religion.
I have a role model in my family, and it is my Papa, who is here today. I was sitting with him at my uncles’ house in Michigan, and he was telling me about how important a Bar Mitzvah is and how it is the passage into adulthood in the Jewish religion and how I should be proud to be Jewish. He is a large part of my inspiration for having my Bar Mitzvah. I admire his wisdom, his views on the world and that he volunteers at the Holocaust Museum. He, like Abraham, has taught me to be proud of my heritage. I want to be like him.
Becoming a Bar Mitzvah to me means becoming a man in the eyes of my people and my culture. It is a very special thing that I’ve been studying for and am excited to accomplish. I’m following in the footsteps of my ancestors, doing what they did, and adding my own footprint to our heritage. It also means learning to express myself in relation to Judaism’s three pillars of G-d, Torah and Israel.
I believe that the Torah is a very important and beautiful piece of the Jewish culture and history and a symbol of resilience. My views on G-d are that I have some questions about G-d. What is G-d? Does G-d really exist? How do I know? The closest I can get to this is that G-d is something in each of us that we can feel. I believe in the Jewish culture and heritage, and I believe that religion is a very important thing in our society that has been something for people to believe in and to hold on to when there was nothing else.
Becoming a Bar Mitzvah also means accepting more responsibilities for the Jewish people, human beings, animals, and the planet. My responsibility to the Jewish people is to be proud of my religion and abide by the Jewish rules, be a good Jew and a good role model/representative of my culture. My responsibilities to human beings are to treat everyone with an equal amount of respect and compassion, to treat others how I want to be treated, and help those in need. My responsibilities to animals are the same as mine to human beings; they are a vital part in our ecosystem and deserve love and respect just as any human should. My responsibilities for my planet are to take care of it and all it provides for me because we are nothing without it.
I’ve had a few challenges along this path. The most challenging issues have been learning and memorizing trope and leading prayers, but at the same time all the work I’ve put into it is paying off and today, it feels really good!
Two days from now, November 9th, is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, when the Nazis in Germany burned synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes and businesses in 1938. There is a Torah in the ark behind me that Rabbi Ted bravely saved from a burning synagogue in Berlin. Many Jews left Europe then, including Rabbi Ted, and went to Shanghai, China, where they didn’t need a visa. In1949, a group of these German-speaking Jews came to San Francisco and founded B’nai Emunah. Today, I am celebrating my Bar Mitzvah with Rabbi Ted on his 95th birthday and am honored to do so.
I have a few thank you’s to share today. I’d like to thank Sima for help in Hebrew, Rabbi Mark for working with me on my talk and asking me lots of questions, Sharon for spending hours and hours with me on preparing me for today, Gab my Hebrew teacher from last year, my parents for everything, my sisters Anya and Sasha for being here, my dog Ace, well, because he’s my dog, and all of my relatives and friends for being here today to celebrate with me.