Shabbat Shalom! Thank you for coming to my Bar Mitzvah. You’ve just heard me chant Torah and my Haftarah. So now, this is my Dvar Torah! What’s a Dvar Torah, you ask? It’s a speech about my Torah portion and what we’ve read today. Everyone, ready for this? If you pay attention to me, this can be a once in a lifetime experience to hear ME give a Jewish lecture! It’s kind of like being on Oprah Cause YOU GET A LECTURE, AND YOU GET A LECTURE, AND YOU GET A LECTURE! EVERYBODY GETS A LECTURE!
My Torah portion is about the Golden Calf and the Israelites who worshipped it after they lost faith in G-d. Many, if not most of you, know the story of the Golden Calf as it is one of the most well-known Torah portions that forms one of the most basic tenets of Judaism: that there is only one God and that Jews do not bow down to idols. We know this one pretty well, like when we say the Sh’ma.
I wanted to focus on learning something new, so therefore I’m going to focus on my Haftorah today. My haftorah is about the prophet Elijah challenging the prophets of a foreign god named Ba’al. This connects to my Torah portion because both are about not worshipping idols, but praying to God instead. I want to tell you some interesting things about Elijah - one of the most famous prophets in Judaism. If you’re lucky, you might just hear me make a connection to the Golden Calf, too
What do you know about Elijah? Anyone, anyone? (As each person talks, repeat what people say about Elijah)
Most people think of Elijah as a prophet of God who is a kind and loving person. Maybe you have heard stories about Elijah helping poor people. But what you think of Elijah may not be the whole truth. Elijah can be kind and loving, but he can also be a ruthless and mean person who only cares about his beliefs and thinks that his beliefs are more important and better than everyone else’s.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Ba’al to see which God was real by asking their God (Ba’al) to set an offering of bulls on fire. To show that God accepted the gift, Elijah then asked the God he believed in to set his bull (which was on the altar) on fire, and a few seconds later, Boom Chaka Laka! a streak of fire came down and set the bull on fire. He did that because he wanted to show the worshippers of Ba’al which God was real, and which one was fake. Sort of like how Moses wants to show the Israelites that the Golden Calf was fake, too. We all know about fake news, right? :)
Elijah was a zealot. What does that mean? It means that Elijah was an extremist and would do anything to advance his cause. Elijah was very angry that the prophets of Ba’al were worshipping an idol and not God. He didn’t want the Israelites to worship Ba’al and lose faith in God. Elijah took a jab at the Ba’al prophets and mocked them by saying, “Shout louder! After all, he is a god. But maybe he’s on the phone, or maybe he’s stuck in traffic, or maybe he’s away on a business trip or maybe he’s taking a long nap?” (OK, OK, I updated it a little!) Elijah is a very interesting character. He’s more complicated than you thought.
But if Elijah was trying to stand up for God, wouldn’t you think that God would be happy that Elijah was trying to convince people to do the right thing? However, there is a midrash - a story that’s not in the Tanakh but which tells us interpretations of stories in the Tanakh - where God said that Elijah was being too zealous. As a result, God gave Elijah eternal life and told him that he had to be at every single bris that would ever happen! Then he had to report back what happened and if they did it right. Elijah says to God, “Since I am zealous for the Lord and since I cannot tolerate any kind of sin or sinner, what will I do where the father of a child is a sinner? Certainly I cannot restrain myself.”
Wait a second! God thought that Elijah was being too zealous and then made him be at every bris? Why would God think this would help teach Elijah something about zealotry? The midrash continues to say that God would forgive the father, even if he was a sinner. Elijah then asked about what to do if he saw that the mohel and the father were both sinners? God said they would both be forgiven. Elijah asked what to do if he saw that everyone at the bris were sinners? And God said again that they would all be forgiven. God might have known that Elijah was the kind of person who would take things too far in his zealotry, that he would let his anger take control of him. I think that God wanted Elijah to learn to let things go. Maybe by sending Elijah to each bris, God wanted to teach us to be more in control of our behaviour and how we do things in life.
This reminds me of another story in the Torah. When the Israelites were thirsty in the desert, Moses was told to talk to the rock to bring forth the water, but he took things too far there, as well. He struck the rock instead, which was not what God had told him to do. It was the exact opposite! The water came forth and the people drank, but God punished Moses there, just like the midrash says God punished Elijah. In both cases, we can interpret that God wants peace and not always a show of force. So the way that Elijah would accomplish his goal was that at every bris, the baby being circumcised would have to sit on Elijah’s chair (a pillow). That is how Elijah is achieving his eternal goal. But it’s also meant to teach us that we never lose faith in God.
There are tons of other stories that have to do with Elijah. This story is from the Talmud. It’s about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asking help from the Messiah. The story is this: Rabbi Yehoshua asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?” Elijah answered, “Go ask him.” The conversation went on until Rabbi Yehoshua went to the Messiah. When he arrived at the Messiah, he saw the Messiah sitting among the poor and ill and helping them unwrap dirty bandages and put on new bandages one by one. Rabbi Yehoshua was confused. He asked the Messiah, “Why do you take off one bandage at a time when you can take them all off at once?” The Messiah answered, “I take them off one by one because if I take them all off at once, I won’t be able to help someone that asked for my help right that second because I will still be putting on my bandages.” Rabbi Yehoshua realized the Messiah’s logic and agreed with him. The Rabbi needed hope in a time of sorrow and learned the Messiah was someone who was doing a lot of good to help make the world a better place. One moral of this story is that if you have time to do what you need to do, then take your time and do it right instead of doing it as fast as you can and messing it up or not doing it right.
But that’s not the end of the story. Rabbi Yehoshua also asked the Messiah, when will you come? The Messiah answered, “Today.” Rabbi Yehoshua thought, ooh, so it’s probably soon. But then he didn’t come. So Rabbi Yehoshua went back to Elijah and said the Messiah told me that he would come today. But he lied to me! Elijah explained, what he meant was he will come today if you will listen to his voice.
What this means is that we have to bring the Messiah. You have to earn it by doing the best that you can. You have to prepare for the Messiah to come. This story shows us that we should also do our part to help and do volunteer work in order to repair our broken world. This is called tikkun olam.
I’m also contributing to repair the broken world. For my Bar Mitzvah project, I knitted scarves to give to homeless people. I decided to do this project because I wanted to find a way to help homeless people in a way that felt personal. I mean; who doesn’t love a hand knit scarf, especially this season when it was freezing?? I figured maybe a small gesture like giving someone something you made for them could make them feel more human in what can sometimes be a very cruel world. By knitting the scarves, we take a little bit of time to do something that can help a lot of people. By doing small acts of kindness and showing compassion to those in need around us we can build a better stronger community for everyone. Thanks to my friend Elle for making some to make my donation even bigger.
Speaking of acts of kindness. I would like to thank my mom and my dad for spending an unbelievable amount of time setting up various different things for my Bar Mitzvah and for always making me practice my portion and my haftarah because without them making me practice, you guys would have heard some pretty bad stuff. I also want to thank my brother Barak. Second, I want to thank my tutor Josh for coming to my house every week to tutor me for my big day. Third, I want to thank my Rabbi, Rabbi Penzner for helping me get this whole speech up and running. I also want to thank my Zayde, and my family for coming all the way from Israel, in FEBRUARY, to celebrate with me.
סבה, סבתה, דודה גלית, ודודה לילך - תודה רבה רבה שבאתם. אני אוהב אותכם כל כך הרבה!!!
And last but not least, I want to thank everyone who changed their vacations plans to make it here today.