He hates bar mitzvah lessons and...

Posted by Rabbi Goldie Milgram |
Photo credit: Google images

Do you know about the omer? It's a practice of taking two qualities, pairing them together and contemplating them all day to see how your life is changed by the practice. This happens on the days between Passover and Shavuot and it's called :counting the omer." Some communities just count the days, but I prefer this contemplative practice. It let me to a wonderful encounter with a bar mitzvah student today, that I hope you will aprpeciate too:

A random bar mitzvah boy had written with a question, after visiting this website. We'll call him Ben. He asked if I would send him a speech about Esau, who is in his Torah portion. No chance of that, though I didn't say so because, from my social work background, I know that the presenting issue is often not the real problem.

So I wrote back "Skype me?" and sent my skype name. And he did. So, with his permission, our dialogue as best I can recall:

R'Goldie: Ben, chag sameach! What's this about wanting an already written dvar Torah for your bar mitzvah?

Ben: Oh no, that's not what I meant it for, Rabbi! Please don't think I'm being lazy. I just really relate to Esau. He's like me and I just want to see if anyone else gets him the way I get him.

R'Goldie: You feel drawn to Esau, he's a very interesting character indeed. Tell me about him, the way you get him.

Ben: Why don't people like him? So he gets tired of hunting, and he gets dressed up to bring food to his father, and he cries when he realizes he's been double-crossed. He's sensitive.

R'Goldie: Yes, he is.  And you, I take it, are also sensitive.

Ben: I couldn't stop crying when I read Esau was crying. It's because my parents are getting divorced and they are always deceiving each other about something…and I don't want to be a soccer player, even if my dad is a soccer fanatic. The kids kick me even when the ball isn't around--just to see me cry. My parents insist I go to soccer practice and bar mitzvah lessons. The rabbi always sighs when I come for lessons and fifteen minutes later his phone rings and he runs off 'to handle something…see you next week.' So I wrote to you when I found your bmitzvah.org website during my search about Esau.

R'Goldie: I'm glad you did, that's why we have two websites. How sad and painful for you. Your parents are divorcing, behaving deceptively to each other. And your father wants you to be like him, and doesn't get you. You and the rabbi haven't exactly bonded. And, by the way… you just gave a beautiful d'var Torah.

Ben's wiping his eyes, he's so sad. But he perks up and exclaims: I gave a d'var Torah? How's that?

R'Goldie: Pretty close to one. You begin with the yearning to be understood, enter the spirit of one of the characters, Esau, and pour your energy, love and understanding into precisely how the Torah depicts his experience. In so doing you open us up to seeing Esau quite differently to what happens at first glance. How you 'get' Esau will be interesting to everyone. You are not alone, many find it difficult to be seen and appreciated for who they are. Many feel sad about divorce and deception in their families. That's all ideal material for getting people interested in your talk.

Ben: Yeah, lot's of my friends have divorcing parents. But I wouldn't want to make my dad feel bad with a topic like this. Especially not at my bar mitzvah!

R'Goldie: Good to hear! Honoring parents is a mitzvah some find challenging...soooo....How about just drawing and writing about your take on Esau, the part about your family doesn't have to be made explicit. Or, would your family's synagogue consider it appropriate if you make a midrash about it—that's a story, poem, ballad or play? Visual art can be used to make a midrash too!

Ben: I could ask my dad to play guitar for a ballad…(his face is a real study, he's relating to his dad!) Hey, I'm getting excited about this! My dad loves playing guitar as much as he loves playing soccer. And yes, once in a while there is something different than a speech. But I don't know if dad would realize I'm Esau in the ballad. I so want him to 'get" me!

R'Goldie: When the time comes you could maybe tell him, or introduce your offering by saying: "I wrote a ballad, or play, or story or whatever about Esau because I'm like him." You can also ask your parents to bless you for who you are. I wrote a guide to how to create such a blessing for b'nei mitzvah in one of my books. I also just sent you a link to a chapter in a book where Rabbi Sarra Lev noticed many of the things about Esau that you brought up today. I don't know you well enough to say if the whole book will be of interest to you though.

Ben: Wow, thanks! Rabbi, is asking my parents to bless me for who I am part of becoming a man? 

R'Goldie: It can be, you get to decide that and for sure always be yourself, treasure yourself--you are a very talented, articulate young man.  I have to go now but wanted to say you can be in touch whenever you wish. And I want to bless you Ben, to honor your netzakh, your drive to know, to find out, to be true to yourself, to who you are, and to who you are becoming. You have the drive it takes to succeed in becoming bar mitzvah on your own terms. And you know how to wrap it in chessed--lovingkindness. Thank you for being in touch, Ben. You really made my day!

Ben: Rabbi, thank you for your time. I won't forget today. You took the time to understand and I feel a whole lot better.

Can you guess what the two qualities were for today? Netzakh and chessed! I'm bloggin every day of the Omer this year (hopefully), you can read along daily here. We are on Day Four. You can catch up starting with Day One here.