Written by Josh Asherian, 7th Grader
My Bar Mitzvah parsha is Bereishit. This parsha mainly talks about the creation of the world and mankind. There are two important life lessons that we learn from this parsha that I would like to share with you today.
The first lesson is to take responsibility for your actions. Hashem tells Adam and Chava that they can eat from the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden except for the tree of good and knowledge. The serpent convinces Chava to eat and Chava then convinces Adam to eat. When Hashem asks Adam “Did you eat from the tree that I told you not to eat from?” Adam blames Chava and says “The woman that You gave me made me eat.” When Hashem asks Chava “What have you done?” Chava says “The serpent made me do it.” In the beginning of creation, Adam blames Chava and Chava blames the serpent. They are unable to take responsibility for eating the forbidden fruit. From here we learn that we should not blame the environment or our parents or anything else but be accountable for our actions.
The second lesson is the idea of education. Adam and Chava are thrown out of the Garden of Eden and Hashem puts keruvim and a revolving flaming sword at the entrance to keep them out. Keruvim here are angels of destruction but later on we learn that there are also keruvim on the Aron Kodesh which is placed in the Holy Mishkan, Tabernacle. The keruvim on the Aron have the face of a young child and are representative of the Holy Shchinah, Divine Presence. So are keruvim angels of destruction or are they Godly angels with faces of children?
They are both. From here we learn that if a child is properly raised, inspired, and educated in the ways of Torah and mitzvot, then that child will be a keruv, an angelic figure. But if a child is not raised to do good and just runs wild, then that child will be a destructive angel. I’d like to take this opportunity here to thank my parents and my teachers for teaching and inspiring me to always do good and to follow in the ways of the Torah so that I can be a positive figure in society.
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
“In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)
Let us pray that the new year will bring all of us, the AJA community, and the world around us, the inspiration to pursue our dreams, while staying grounded to our strong faith.
Chanie Wilson Steinberg is a 1984 graduate of Hebrew Academy (now AJA lower school) and a 1989 graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta (now AJA Upper School) She holds a BA in Biology summa cum laude from New York University, and an MD from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She and her husband, Scott, have three children currently at AJA: Sophie (9th grade,) Jordan (6th grade) and Isabella (1st grade). Chanie’s brothers Joey and Benjy are also proud graduates of AJA. Chanie’s mother, Meta Miller, is a former teacher and ECD director at
Moed tov. For my Bat Mitzvah, I chose to read Megillat Kohelet. Kohelet was written by King Shlomo, or Solomon, late in his life. He had become aware of the mistakes he made throughout his life and wrote about them, I think, to help people live meaningful lives. His first two chapters are particularly depressing. He describes how everything in the world meant nothing to him. Or, In 12 year old terms, his life was a fail. In פרק א פסוק ד it states:
“דור הלך ודור בא והארץ לעולם עמדת “ "a generation comes and generation goes but the world keeps going on and on."
In פסוק ט he says for the first of many times ואין כל חדש תחת השמש , there is nothing new under the sun.
In פרק ב, Shlomo thinks that by buying more items, he will be happier - he discusses building houses, planting vineyards and orchards with all types of trees, and he owned more than all of his family in Jerusalem. פסוק י: וכל אשר שאלו עיני לא אצלתי מהם לא מנעתי את לבי מכל שמחה “Whatever my eyes desired I did not deny them, I did not deprive myself of any kind of joy.” but, in pasuk יא he concludes again that “all was futile … and there is no real profit under the sun.” Again, we realize that he describes his life as a fail.
In perek gimmel, however, I found him to be more optimistic. This is the chapter that the 1960s rock band, the Byrds, made famous with their song Turn, Turn Turn. “everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to wreck, and a time to build ….” and so on. I find this more optimistic because it shows that while there are bad things in life, there also are good things. So as one goes through bad times, you know to think about the good that you had and the good that will be ahead.
In the remaining perakim, Shlomo continues to consider how to find meaning in life. He tries a lot of things, but in the end he says the way to find true meaning is to believe in (G-d) and to follow his commandments. He concludes in perek yud bet, pasuk yud gimmel אֶת הָאֱלֹקים יְרָא וְאֶת מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי זֶה כָּל הָאָדָם
“Fear G-d and keep his commandments, because this applies to every person.”
So, when I reached the end, I realized at least one reason why we read this book during this high holiday season - right after we pray for a happy, healthy and peaceful new year and for atonement for our sins -- it’s a reminder that to have a meaningful life we must follow God's commandments.
But, I also learned more as I learned Kohelet -
First, when reading Shlomo Hamelech complaining and complaining, I thought it’s easy to complain. We can all easily complain If you have a bad teacher, or a bad referee, or big homework assignment. We could think, why is this all happening to me? But then , Kohelet teaches us that we need everything in moderation -- he was the richest person, with the most things a person could have, and he was not happy. And in perek zayin, pasuk alef he says something I thought was interesting - "טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן" - the most important thing isn’t the possessions or being famous, but rather to have a good name. This pasuk really made me think - it’s not what you have, it’s who you are -- how you act, what you do and say that really matters.
As I read this megillah with the many sad entries, I also thought how odd to read this book on sukkot. After all, on the holiday of sukkot we have a commandment to be happy -- shouldn’t we read something totally happy? Why have a reading where someone is struggling in life? I think it is because it’s easy to be happy when all is good in the world. When everything's going right, of course we are happy. Like when AJA crushes another volleyball team and after, we all go out for ice cream. But, what Kohelet teaches is even when there are challenges - and in life we ALL have challenges - we still have a commandment to be happy. There is a war in Syria now, there are hungry families, and people suffering from horrible diseases that doctors still cannot cure. And, even with all this darkness, Kohelet is telling us there are positive times, and we need to find the good, we need to try and heal, we need to make peace in ways that we can and by doing that we will be happy.
I have tried to find the good with my bat mitzvah learning. First, I chose to challenge myself by learning to read the megillah. I wanted to do something longer than the mincha torah reading and learn a new text. I can now say that I truly did not understand quite how challenging the task was when I said this is what I wanted to do, but I am so happy that I stuck with it and learned as much as I did.
Second, I also chose to have a bat mitzvah project where I could help other children in some small way. I have collected books for Page Turners Make Great Learners and I will be reading to kindergarten classes and distributing the books I’ve collected to their schools so that children who otherwise don’t have access to books can read.
So what I learned from this almost full year of learning the megillah, I think will stick with me forever. First, I liked learning the trope - the musical notes - and found it amazing how much faster it was for me to learn a perek at the end of the year than when I started. I hope to be able to continue learning and reading megillah. But also, I want to remember many of the messages of kohelet and Sukkot. Life is not easy - there are good and bad things that happen. Some things we can control and try and make better, and some things we can’t control. For those things, we just have to make the best of them. But to find more meaning and ultimately happiness, we follow the mitzvot.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!
October 14, 2016
12 Tishrei 5777
There are a couple phrases we started saying these past couple weeks and will continue to say for some time. One of them is “Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah.” These are the things that will “revert the evil decree”. It is a confusing concept, but we will dissect it. This phrase in particular is extremely important for us to understand as it is the goal of the Chagim. We say a lot about how amazing H-shem is, about how merciful He is, about how omniscient He is, and how nothing is hidden from Him, but these praises all lead up to this phrase, this cry to H-shem. When looking from a purely literal point of view, they are quite shallow: “Repentance, Prayer, and Charity”. They are admirable, but these three actions seem oddly specific for getting ready for a new year, a better year.
In Pirkei Avot, the second Mishnah, we learn from a man named Shimon Hatzadik. He was the last member of the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, the men of the great assembly, a group of geniuses who led the Jewish people in the first century. They rejuvenated Judaism to thousands of assimilating Jews. They brought meaning to Jews who were swaying off the path of their ancestors. They were great people, and Shimon Hatzadik, perhaps the greatest of them all stated: “On three things the world stands: On Torah, On Avodah, and on Gemilut Chasadim.” They literally mean “On Torah, On Work, and on Acts of Kindness.” These three pillars established by Shimon Hatzadik strongly resemble the three end goals we mention in our Davening: “Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah.” When we compare these lists to each other, an amazing realization can occur.
Teshuvah when translated means returning. Returning to what? Well, as Shimon Hatzadik tells us, Torah. We are returning to the main goals of life, those that align themselves with Torah. When we learn Torah, we learn how to live our lives, we learn our core values, and we learn the amazing depth of our world. We must return to the fundamentals of Torah, to the way of thinking presented by Torah, to the purpose of life taught by Torah. That is the first goal for these upcoming weeks: returning to the Torah, the most important part of Judaism.
Tefillah can literally mean debating or petitioning for yourself or for another. Debate and petitions involve two sides. One side has a goal, a hope to leave with something valuable. The other side has the ability to provide. In our case we are asking G-d, our father and provider for something. But what is it we are asking for? What is our Tefillah for?
We are asking for work, which is a surprising thing to ask for. Who wants more work, more things to worry about? Avodah (work) involves putting forth effort to receive the product of the work. We are not simply asking for work, but for opportunities to accomplish goals in life, specifically goals based on the Torah. We are asking H-shem for purpose and a path to meaningful accomplishment in life. We are arguing that the upcoming year not be a futile one, but a year full of achievement and success - a year where we do not waste our time like we did last year. Our right to Avodah changes us and creates personal meaning in our own lives. This is the second goal: to present our case to G-d that this upcoming year we deserve the right to learn, to understand, to achieve, to grow, and to succeed in Torah and in life.
Finally we have Tzedakah directly translated as righteousness or truth. This is a tough one to understand. The previous two aspects are personal. Teshuvah and Tefillah get us ready for the upcoming year with a strong Torah-based foundation, and a clear goal to achieve in the upcoming year, but righteousness involves more than just ourselves. A single man by himself in the world can never be righteous. Adam before Chava was not righteous, he only became righteous when someone else entered his life. The same applies for the idea of truth. If only one idea exists, can it be true? Well no, it is neither true nor false, it simply exists. Truth can only exist when we can compare it to alternatives. Tzedakah cannot exist by itself, it needs something or someone else. But why does Tzedakah need more than one person, compared to Torah and Teshuvah?
When we do Avodah we change ourselves, we grow and learn and all these wonderful things, we affect ourselves, but something else happens, too. We also have an outward impact. Tzedakah is the outward effect of Avodah. Shimon Hatzadik stated both Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim, acts of kindness, meaning that the personal effects of our actions are critical, but we must make sure to have a positive outward effect too. With Tzedakah we are hoping to create change in our surroundings, as well as in ourselves. We accomplish this through acts of kindness, through charity, through being a teacher and mentor. This is the third goal of the upcoming weeks and year, to be a positive influence on your environment, to have beneficial impact on the lives of others, to improve your society, and to achieve the status of a Tzadik.
These three things: Teshuva, Tefillah, and Tzedakah will remove all the negatives of the previous year, the evil decrees. If we promise to return to the fundamentals of Torah, to have clear purpose and work for our growth, and to have positive impact on the world around us this upcoming year, it will be the best yet. Shimon Hatzadik, someone who made impact on his surroundings, assures us that these commitments will provide a life full of success and meaning. So with that I wish you all a G’mar Chatima Tova, an assurance for good life in the coming year.