Bar Mitzvah of the Week
Jarrod land & Gabi Greene
October 14, 2017
Parshat : Bereshit: 1:1 - 6:8
God creates the world and everything in it in six days and rests on the seventh. (1:1-2:3)
Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden, where they eat the forbidden fruit and are subsequently exiled. (2:15-3:24)
Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother, Abel. (4:1-24)
Adam and Eve have another child named Seth. The Torah lists the ten generations from Adam to Noah. (4:25-5:32)
God regrets having created human beings and decides to destroy everything on earth, but Noah finds favor with God. (6:5-6:8)
For more information and resources on this portion, click here.
My Torah portion is Bereshit, which means in the beginning. It’s an action packed way to start off the Torah with a lot going on. Such as, not one, but two creation stories, Adam, Eve and the snake in Garden of Eden, and Cain and Abel. With so much happening there are many questions we could ask about my Torah portion. After careful consideration, my key koshi or key question is; what is the point of having two creation stories?
First off, what are the stories? The first story, let’s call this Adam #1, is a description of a meticulous process where G-d creates everything step by step, day by day, until finally creating man and woman simultaneously, in G-d’s own image on the 6th day. G-d tells the pair to fill the earth and conquer it. In the second story, Adam #2, G-d immediately creates only man from the soil and breathes life into Man’s nostrils and then places him in the Garden of Eden, commanding Man to cultivate the land. However, G-d realizes Man needs a helpmate, so G-d put plants and animals in the Garden of Eden. But the animals G-ds created did not provide the support Adam #2 needed, so G-d put Adam #2 into a deep sleep and fashioned Eve, his wife and helpmate, from Adam's rib. Were those two different stories about the same man, or two different men?
So now that you’ve heard a brief summary of both stories we can begin to explore some of the many ideas as to why the Torah contains two creation stories. Rabbi J.B Soloveitchik says that the first Adam is curious only as to HOW the world functions, while the second Adam, the Adam of the Garden of Eden, wonders WHY the world exists, what's the purpose and delves deeper into the meaning of existence. I think that Soloveitchik is trying to say that every person can be very unique or complex. Some only think about the how, some only the why, and some think about both or perhaps neither. Sometimes people will conquer and sometimes they will cultivate, but the ones who are going to be the most successful are the ones who ask both why and how. Sometimes we don’t have time to think about why we need to get things done, especially when we're busy creating the earth in six days.
However, on the other hand there will be times in our lives, at least for me, when we think too much about the wrong things. For example, in school group projects I’m often guilty of bossing people around and trying to make our project perfect, and focusing on the grade, without ever really thinking why we are doing the project or how it fits into the larger scope of the class material. About that, yea, sorry to anyone who has been in a group with me before. Another way to describe this “how vs. why”, is “Doer” Vs. “Thinker”. There are people who are going to just dive right in, say how can I do this, without even taking a minute or two to think up a plan, and then they end up getting elected President and they’re like, “Whoa!, I never expected to win, I didn’t think this through at all” Annny Wayyy. That’s unusual. What normally happens is people get stuck in a project because they didn’t take time to prepare and think about why they were doing what they were doing in the first place.
But, maybe you’re the opposite, you think, but you hesitate to take action. For instance; an amazing idea pops in to your head…., dog scented perfume; one spritz and all the adorable dogs follow you around. I mean come on who doesn’t want puppies following them around? However, you don’t act on that idea and sure enough a few months later, you’re watching shark tank and this random dude is getting a huge deal from Mark Cuban for wait for it.., “Dog magnet”, perfume. Ok, it's a weird product but you get the point. If you think and never act, then the world is never going to get any better.
Thoughtful action is what is needed. As Jews, we have a responsibility to never give up, we need to think carefully about our actions and only then jump in, like the brave fighters of the Haganah who helped found the State of Israel, or David finding Goliath’s weak spot before striking. I believe what G-d is truly trying to tell us by having two creation stories is that we need be a mix of both. We need to sometimes take action quickly without a plan in case of an emergency and other times we need to breathe, get perspective, and think things through. But most importantly we need to find a balance between both Adams. Some people are going to be better at implementing, and some at planning.
Jarrod's Mitzvah Project
For example, for my mitzvah project I tutored 6th graders who were struggling with math. It was a great experience for me because I helped the kids by explaining things a little differently than they were used to. I wasn’t sure why the teacher, Ms. Zirkel, wasn’t able to get the kids to understand the first time, but I realized, people may all need to learn differently. Some need to fully understand “why am I putting these two numbers together?” While others can just take the two numbers multiply and get the correct answer without understanding the full concept. They may or may not have patience or interest, or time for why. I think that the kids need to first always Think in math before they Do. Yes you can just multiply and divide, carry the two yada Yada yada. But if you know why you’re doing the math you’ll better understand it. What I noticed is that a lot of kids were trying to take shortcuts and putting wrong numbers together. When I told them to step back and think about each part of the problem and take their time, it usually really helped. They were doing without thinking, which caused them believe that they couldn’t do the work. It’s important to realize when you're being either too much of a thinker or a doer. If you're able to take a step back and think at least a little before you act, you will achieve more in life.
My Torah portion is Bereshit – the very first portion of the Torah. A lot happens. I want to focus on the story of two brothers Cain and Abel, because I have two brothers. Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s sons. One day both brothers give sacrifices to God. After God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, Cain gets mad and jealous. Cain gets so mad that he ends up killing Abel to release his anger. God quickly finds out what Cain did when Abel’s blood calls out to him from the ground. God says to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” and Cain replies, “How should I know, am I my brother’s keeper?” God punishes Cain and forces him to be a wanderer.
In studying this story, I thought it would be interesting to explore the question: What does it mean to be your brother’s keeper?
Rabbi Harvey Fields teaches, “The word for ‘keeper’ in Hebrew is shomer which also means ‘guardian’ or the one who is responsible to look out for the safety and security of others. Cain failed to see himself as the keeper or guardian of his brother. He did not believe that he was responsible for protecting or caring for him.” I think when Rabbi Fields says the keeper is responsible for “the safety and security of others” that’s the most important part of being a keeper, because we are all one big family. It’s all of our jobs to protect one another.
The ancient rabbis also taught: “Each person is a world. Therefore, individuals contain within themselves future worlds.” This teaches us that we all mean something and everything, and that you are as important as anyone else in this world. This shows us that we need to respect one another and treat each other with kindness. According to the ancient rabbis, and I would agree, the value of each life is enormous – as big as a world!
For me, to be your brother’s keeper means that you protect them and watch over them. It also means to me that you are responsible for them. For example, you would take the blame if anything happened to them. You would try your best to make sure nothing bad happened to them and try to keep them happy and not sad. It means to protect them even if they are annoying sometimes. It means to treat them as if they are superstars. You will have to make them laugh, cheer them up when they are down, and act like they are as important as anyone else to you.
To be your brother’s (or sister’s) keeper means to be a good influence and help them make the right choices and lead them on the right path. It’s your job to try to protect them from unnecessary harm and pain, and not to let anyone hurt them, which is the opposite of Cain’s behavior when he killed his brother Abel. Brothers can be your best friends or worst enemies, but you should always watch over them and take care of them. They are your family, and you should love them even if you don’t always like them.
I want to encourage everyone today to think about what it means to be “your brother’s keeper.” How are you your brother’s or sister’s or friend’s keeper? Do you really treat and protect each life as if it’s a future world?
Gabi's Mitzvah Project
For my mitzvah project, we hosted a 10-year-old girl named Daisy in our house for a week through the Fresh Air Fund. It relates to my Torah portion, because we looked out for Daisy and treated her as part of our family. We decorated the house for her arrival, took her with us on many adventures, shared laughs with her, and tried to cheer her up when she got homesick. She had experiences she probably wouldn’t have had with her family, like trapeze and tubing in Sag Harbor. When we first talked about hosting her, I liked the idea, but then it was harder than I expected. It usually takes time for me to get to know people and to become comfortable around them. But to help Daisy, I needed to be a bit more talkative than I normally am and share a room with someone I hardly knew. It made me go out of my comfort zone, and we’ll see if my mom makes us to do it again next summer!