At my retirement party as Sr. Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, I was spoofed for the number of times I made reference over the years to the importance of my Bar Mitzvah!
In truth I consider that day, March 21, 1959, the most important day of my life.! I don’t say the best day of my life. Those were the day I got married, the days my children and grandchildren were born, and the day I was ordained as a rabbi. But as for importance my Bar Mitzvah Day tops the list.
Why? I never thought I could do it. That’s why. I mean, me read from the Torah with NO VOWELS (The Hebrew texts of Torah scrolls contain neither vowels nor punctuation)? There is NO way! I was so scared of my impending Bar Mitzvah that I thought I would die before I could get up there and read with no vowels.
But then I went through my first ever exercise – as I realized years later – in deductive reasoning. The process went like this.
- There are others in my Bar Mitzvah class
- Some of them have already had their B’nai Mitzvah services
- None of them died.
- Some of them are dumber than I am
- Based on 1-4 I might survive.
And I did! And every time I have faced a challenge since then that I didn’t think I could conquer, I think back to my Bar Mitzvah and I say, “I didn’t think I could do that either. Maybe if I just keep trying the best I can, I can do it. It worked when I entered rabbinical school knowing no more than my Bar Mitzvah prep Hebrew and felt like a complete dummy! Though I can’t say it has worked every single time, that mantra has helped me more often than not.
But there is another reason my Bar Mitzvah is so important. It made me take Torah seriously! My portion, Va-yikrah, the first in the book of Leviticus is among the most esoteric in all of scripture. And yet there are two lessons in what I read that are as modern as today:
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse for violating it (Lev. 5:17)
- Victim compensation should be the major form of redress for financial crimes. (Lev. 5:24)
These discoveries occasioned a major WOW for me! If such treasures were gleanable for my dry as dust portion, what insights relevant to life today are waiting for me to discover in the narrative portions of the Torah. Fifty-four years later, my book, WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME: Finding Ourselves Biblical Narratives is the result. I hope you find it meaningful reading!