THIS PAST WEEKEND, MY DAUGHTER BECAME A BAT MITZVAH, and it was a great time for our whole family. Here's the blessing I gave her. (Many thanks to my rabbi, who gasped when he saw it was about twice this length, and personally cut it down, saving me from myself. If only I could get him to edit my blog postings on a regular basis...)
There are questions that every bar and bat mitzvah is entitled to ask, questions like: "Why am I doing this? What am I doing here? What is the point of all this?"
Naturally enough, you’ve asked those questions, and they’re fair questions.
With all due respect to the wisdom of the great sages around us, I don’t think anyone is more prepared to answer them than you. You’ll answer them on your own terms, through your own journey. The rest of us can only support you along the way.
And the answers will reveal themselves to you over time –- maybe tomorrow, next week, in a year or 5 or 10 or even 50 years.
Your parasha, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17), can help you along. In it, Moses offers a stark and rather ominous choice between life and death –- between embracing idol worship, on the one hand, and Adonai, or God, on the other.
It's part of his epic farewell speech, in which he sounds much like a parent reminding his children of all they must do as they head off into life without him.
In effect, Moses is saying:
“Guys, we’ve been through a lot together, through hard times, doubts and arguments. Even after 40 years of searching, we’re not yet where God promised we would be.
“But along the way, we have built solid foundations for a truly great civilization, one that can sustain us, influence many others and shape the world for millennia to come. If we stick with this, we can create a glorious body of laws, literature, art, music, scholarship, culture. This could be big.
“We’ve come this far, at a heavy price, and there’s so much ahead. How can we walk away now? Please, hold on. Please, stick with it.”
If Moses were standing here today –- and through his ancient contributions, he is in a way –- he might add:
“Nice work. We’ve accomplished so much, often against impossible odds. But the job of completing this civilization is far from over, if it ever can be finished. And we cannot spare a person to help us finish it.”
As in today’s parasha, you too face a choice –- whether and how to contribute to and shape the future of a magnificent 4,000-year-old project.
You’re living in a place and time, unlike almost any in history, which gives Jews the fullest freedoms to be part of this project and to express themselves as Jews. And, just the same, we have the fullest freedom as ever to walk away from it altogether.
Figure out for yourself just how you will contribute –- again, on your terms, in your way –- whether it’s through your love of music, your writing talent, your love of literature, your skill with all kinds of crafts and cooking or even your love of animals.
Whatever your contribution, just remember: We’ve come this far, paid a heavy price to get here, and there’s so much ahead. How can we walk away now? Please, hold on. This could be big -- and you could be a big part of it.