Dvar Torah for My Son on His Bar MItzvah

The following is adapted from the speech I gave at my son’s Bar Mitzvah.

G_d relates to Moshe different than Avraham

wrapping-tefillinG_d spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. 

וָאֵרָ֗א אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י וּשְׁמִ֣י יְ’ לֹ֥א נוֹדַ֖עְתִּי לָהֶֽם׃

I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name [Hashem]

לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֥ר לִבְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל אֲנִ֣י יְהוָה֒ וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים׃

Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the LORD. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements.

Didn’t Avaraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov know Hashem?  Weren’t they prophets?  Didn’t Avraham argue with G_d about saving the people of Sodom?  Then didn’t he reach such a level of trust in G_d as to who lives, who dies, who tells your story, that when G_d says your own son is supposed to die, you do it?  And 37 year old Yaakov has such trust in his father that he says tie me up dad!

Further, what does it mean to make yourself know G_d by the name ‘Hashem’ versus ‘El Shaddai’?

A Childlike Relationship versus an Adult Relationship

There is a qualitative difference between the times of Avraham and the times of Moshe.  Hashem means ‘my lord’ or ‘master;.  El Shaddai is the G_d of action.

First Hashem – A young child doesn’t question the authority of his parents.  A child trust his parents emphatically – there is question of the parents perfection and Hashem’s perfection.  There are no questions of emunah – of faith in parents and no questions in G_d. In turn, no mitzvos are required of the child.  The child need not respond with any act, because whatever he does, he will be cradled and little is really required or expected of him.

Every relationship teaches us something about our relationship with G_d.  Just as our relationship with our parents changes, so does our relationship with our Creator.  (In Jewish sources, the creation of a child is the combination of G_d and your two parents partnering to make it so.)  The parent doesn’t change much and is more set in his ways, but the child changes.  However, as the child grows, the parent has to change how he or she relates to the child and a first time parent goes through a learning process.  The rules for the first born are generally more strict than for the later born.  So too, bereshis bara elokim, in the beginning of G_d’s creating, there was a strict child-like relationship – Adam an Chava [Eve] are the first born and tol play in the playpen, just don’t touch this one thing!  That’s off limits!  But it’s pretext, according to the midrash tanchuma.  The father knows the child will do the ‘wrong’ thing and now he can take him out of playpen to a far bigger playpen.  In this case, it’s the playpen that we call planet earth and even the space beyond.  It’s a rather larger playpen to explore.

Moshe [Moses] Brings the World to a State of ‘Bar MItzvah’

Noach and Avraham bring the world to a more mature age – they receive the first mitzvos.  Far more action is required of Moshe, and of course, the rest of the generations.  Moshe brings the world to a state of ‘bar mitzvah’.  Moshe asks deeper questions.  

While there is no agreement on whether Iyov [Job] existed or not, some sources say Iyov is Moshe or is written by Moshe.  Moshe doesn’t want to just have faith, Moshe needs to question – “G_d, why me?” “G_d, surely there’s someone else who can do this?”  “G_d, how can I keep leading when my people keep retreating?”  

G_d shows Moshe the back of his tefillin – the knot where it all comes together.  This is the mitzvah that a bar mitzvah boy takes on.  Things don’t always make sense and things don’t always seem to go the way you want them too – there are ups and downs even for, and sometimes especially for, those who cling most to their Creator.  Just as the tefillin of a bar mitzvah boy seems to hang on the head inexplicably, remember that there’s a knot holding it together on the other side.  From the front, it doesn’t make sense how it’s there, but from the back, it all connects.  (Heard from Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky.)  Hashem reveals himself to Iyov in much the same manner – in fact, the tefillin knot episode takes place in a wind which might be the same whirlwind that Iyov sees when Hashem appears to him, if they are, in fact, the same people.

Now compare Avraham’s actions to Moshe and Iyov.  Avraham is told take your son, your only son and make him into an offering for G_d.  Avraham wakes up early and the morning and obeys without hesitation. Avraham questioned at Sodom out of his love for other people, but relents to the will of Hashem being his will.  Moshe does not relent.  He does not relent to save others in Egypt, to save the Jews after sinning, an even to save himself an enter Eretz Yisroel until G_d directly tells him to stop.  In this first exampe, Moshe saves the erev rav and those deserving death in Egypt.  They become a thorn in his side, leading to the chait ha’egel, the golden calf, and worshiping thereof. Meanwhile, Iyov is told by his friend Elifaz, in a partial answer to Iyov’s suffering – you were a judge and you let people go for their crimes.  It is these same people who came back to steal all your property an hurt you. For Avraham, trust is implicit in the relationship to Hashem.  For Moshe, his relationship is with El Shaddai and “seeing is believing.”

Bar Mitzvah Means Your Relationships Get More Complex with G_d and Man Too

While G_d runs the big picture, G_d has given over to man the power to control his destiny and helps man in the way he wants to go.  It is up to us to make sure the way we want to go is in accordance with G_d’s will and so we have the Torah, commandments, and davening to bring us there.  We talk to our Creator, contemplate, think it over, a discern right from wrong when we are honest with ourselves and the Torah.  The mitzvos which must take a child out of his child state and a black an right right vs. wrong are now a vehicle to connect to your Creator in a more complex manner.  The tefillin on the head relates to thinking and contemplating.  The tefillin on the arm is reminiscint of G_d redeeming us with an “outstretched arm” – it represents action and doing.

Adam left the garden, Moshe left the palace, and Yehoshua’s generation left the desert for battles to conquer Israel.  Sometimes we want to go back – we want the simple life.  We want the garden, we want the midbar (desert) where our clothes didn’t wear out and food was never scarce.  We want to return to being that young child or even return to the womb.  Every step forward is more challenging, but every challenge brings more choice, more freedom, and more return through work and effort.

Jewish History and Changing Times are Like this Too

Your great-great-great grandfather Kreitman was, according to my genealogy research, a water carrier in Chelm.  From the looks of his son’s signature on the marriage record (an X) and family stories passed down, the family was illerate.  The simple Jew, the pashut yid of Europe was known to have emunah (faith/trust) far greater than most of us today.  Then everything changed – a new world with new opportunities opened up, and the old world was literally destroyed.  The faith of Avraham gave way to the questioning of Moshe or Iyov.  How could this happen?  There are some answers, but we has not privy to seeing even the knot at the back to know where it all comes together, let alone the front where the ‘magic’ happens.  

There’s no going back – only forward into the world where trust in the Creator must be based on action.  An illiterate water carrier’s 13 year old great-great-grandson can factor quadratic equations and calculate the slope of the water bucket, but still follow the same eternal Torah and find his connection outside of ‘playpen Earth’.  The meaning lies outside the system.  The rat running the maze doesn’t know why it’s running the maze.  Having a job or even learning lots of information is not meaningful, but connecting to something larger outside of the maze is meaningful.  (Paraphrased from The Great Partnership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.) 

Now My Son, It’s Your Turn

About 40 generations from Moshe, my namesake, and Yehoshua ben nun, your namesake, and you begin your journey leaving the safety of the parents nests to go forward.  Moshe stayed in the desert while Yehoshua left for Israel.  This Moshe has found his place an Yehoshua, you are to venture forth to places your father cannot or does not go and find your place.


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