Song of Peace
Through so many years of teaching B'nai Mitzvah students, I have come to understand that the Torah portion a child receives is never by accident. There is always a hidden message that so resonates with the child! Recently, this was reconfirmed for me with my student, Yaffa, during her Bat Mitzvah lesson.
I knew Yaffa was one of the "Intuitive Children" as soon as I met her in third grade. Of course by nature every child is intuitive but I recognized the deep compassion and sensitivity within her being, how she was so drawn to all that is Sacred. As a seventh grader this is still who she is.
As we were concluding her weekly Bat Mitzvah lesson I asked if she had heard about her friend's accident. The friend had fallen off a horse three days earlier and was in the hospital. Being so sensitive she was quite upset! No, she hadn't heard!
I assured Yaffa that her friend was healing and reminded her she could help with prayer, with sending Healing Light. Her whole face lit up with Joy that she could help in this manner as she is a child who understands and sees energy!
At that point her internet went down and our online meeting was cut off. As I waited for her to sign back on I glanced through her Torah portion. A set of Hebrew words immediately jumped out at me!
As soon as Yaffa was back I excitedly pointed the words out to her! "El Nah, Refah Na La!" These were the words that Moses called out to G-d to heal his sister Miriam when she was struck with leprosy! Please G-d, Please Heal her!
"These Hebrew words are so powerful, Yaffa! They are used to help people heal! They are the same words on my healing tambourine! You can use these words with your friend! "
Yaffa shut her eyes to see the words. "Yes," she smiled with her eyes still closed, "I see them! They have a glowing light around them! " I answered still excited, "Use them, Yaffa! Put them on your friend's body!"
She kept smiling and nodded her head, for she had already done so....
I sat in awe afterwards understanding that this child's prayer was truly helping her friend. If the internet hadn't gone off, I wouldn't have seen the healing words to give her. And what are the chances she would even have this specific Torah portion, Beha'alotecha, containing the healing words which she instinctively knows how to use!
No, it is never an accident which Torah portion a child receives....
First from Cantor Lee: As part of the rite of passage for a Jewish teen, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony (usually at the age of 13), the student is required to design a mitzvah project which entails community service. This is such a unique and beautiful mitzvah project that can inspire all of us, I knew I had to share it! When I asked this amazing teen if I had permission to do so, she replied, "Of course you have my permission to share my project! I would really like it to reach as many people as possible!"
As most of you know, I am now 14 which is a later time to be entering the world as a Bat Mitzvah but also still perfectly okay, to me, I feel unique having this experience during this time of my life while various other changes are already happening around me, such as the beginning of high school and making new friends and new memories. I really wanted my Bat Mitzvah to reflect this. A Bat Mitzvah project usually consists of a good deed that you perform in order to enlighten a difference around you. I took this general idea and tried to make it different and unique in the same way that I am. Instead of executing one or two acts of change, I have decided to implement myself in 14 divergent ways of being so that I am able to perform many individual acts both now and in the future.
I call my project “BE,” this is because I want to inspire people to be their greatest selves and to be whomever they want to be. So for my Bat Mitzvah project, I came up with 14 separate adjectives that I want to become during my time as a Bat Mitzvah. And adjoining each one of these adjectives, is an activity that I can perform to further mold myself into becoming this characteristic. I am now going to read through each characteristic and explain how I have or how I plan to exemplify it.
· Active -- planning to participate in runs to support charity
· Appreciative -- simply say thank you and express to people how much they mean to you, it’s easy
· Artistic -- planning to support a classroom in need of art supplies by raising money through selling art work
· Considerate of the earth -- recycle and pick up trash in the woody areas around my town
· Courageous -- be outgoing and assist a stranger or stand up for people
· Determined -- finish what you start, stay focused and get things done. Personal goal and mitzvah regarding school work.
· Friendly -- always smile and be nice to others, encourage your friends both old and new or in the making, a smell gesture could change someone’s day completely
· Generous -- leave a nice tip at restaurants and such and encourage others to do the same, and just generally remember to give back, keep a tzedakah box
· Happy -- or “gay,” I plan to support others being happy as who they are by raising money for Orlando Foundation with bake sales
· Helpful -- volunteer at a soup kitchen, offer your assistance without having to be asked around the house or elsewhere
· Kind -- show small acts of kindness, left notes in books @ library, leave lucky pennies
· Intelligent-- always strive to learn and share information with others. Helping younger students, such as brother and friends
· Caring -- volunteered at an old folks home and socialized with the patients on Saturdays, we also played games
· You -- be yourself among all of these things, I have personally aimed to achieve this goal and be my best self around everyone
With these 14 separate attributes in trying to repair the world, I hope that was able to and will continue to make whatever small difference I can in this large world; I also want to encourage everyone here to do the same. You don’t have to use these adjectives but you can or you could make up your own; we can never stop improving.
Here is Gabbie, 14 years old
Gabbie volunteering with elderly
Gabbie's Project of putting hearts in Library Books
One of our most spiritual commandments written in the Torah is the obligation to wear a special garment called a tallit. When our children become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah they are presented with a tallit, a prayer shawl which they wear for the first time during the service. What is it about seeing our children wearing a tallit that touches us all?
In the original commandment the Torah commands us to wear fringes around the four corners of our clothing, two in front and two in back. These fringes are part of an undergarment which today is called the "Tallit Katan" or small Tallit which is worn under the shirt. It is basically a small poncho, rectangular in shape which has four holes on its four corners. Four strings are inserted through each hole on each corner. They are then folded to create a cluster of eight strings which are tied together by looping one string around the other seven, in a prescribed way to remind us of the 613 biblical commandments. These strings are called "Tzitzit." Those who wear the tallit katan usually have the tzizit visible hanging on their clothing.
The Tallit we use in the Synagogue is the "Tallit Gadol" or the large Tallit which is the prayer shawl used during prayer time. It too has a rectangular shape with eight stings tied together in each of its four corners. Here too the strings are tied in a way which remind us of the number 613. The Tallit Gadol is worn only during prayer times. It could be made from any type of kosher material as long as it is not a blend of different materials.
The Tallit Katan which is worn everyday is meant to be a constant reminder of our unique obligation to make this world a better place for all mankind by observing the biblical commandments and precepts. This obligation is called Tikun Olam, literally repairing the world for the benefit of all.
The Tallit Gadol which we put on in the beginning of services has a slightly different purpose. It also involves a particular ritual. Before wrapping oneself it is customary to check the fringes in order to make sure none are missing or torn. While doing that the Light of G-d, the Shechina, is invited to descend upon us. Then the Tallit is wrapped around the head and a specific blessing is recited. It is then "lowered" to wrap the shoulders.
This act of covering the head and the shoulders with the Tallit and its fringes representing the 613 commandments is meant to help our body and soul concentrate solely on the prayers we about to offer. It is a powerful spiritual ritual of devotion and meditation which connects us to our ancestors of many centuries ago.
Although wearing the tallit has traditionally been reserved for males, females also may now choose to wear a tallit during services. Often the tallit for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah child is a gift from grandparents, parents or another close relative. It then becomes a treasured gift that forever links the child to the love of family and the Jewish People.
Hebrew School Children Learn to Tie Tzizit
Today one of our seventh graders became a Bar Mitzvah, a Son of the Commandments. In his speech this boy explained that he had been asked a very important question by his parents a few years ago when he was ten. He didn't have to make a decision then but with no hesitation he did. Yes, he wanted to follow the faith of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather.
The boy grew up with many stories about his great-grandfather, of how as a teenager he saved his six siblings and parents during the Holocaust. Each night he would take one of his family members on his bicycle and ride miles and miles through much danger to bring them to safety. He managed to get to America and there like so many others worked and saved money in order to bring over his family, again, one by one.
The great-grandfather and grandfather and rest of the family were overjoyed that the boy had made this decision! As it got closer to his Bar Mitzvah year, there was much excitement and planning that the great-grandfather would come from New York for the ceremony. But he passed away just a few months ago.
The boy knew that his great-grandfather put on Tefillin each day and wanted to make sure he knew how to do this as well. He came to Hebrew School with his own pair and asked Rabbi David to teach him. He understood that Tefillin is not worn on Shabbat but since today was a weekday he would wear the Tefillin throughout the service. Rabbi David was especially proud that the boy knew exactly what to do as he expertly put on the Tefillin, recited the blessings and unwrapped it at the end of the service. Information about Tefillin
The boy did a beautiful job chanting from the Torah although it was actually the first time he even actually read from the Torah! Yes he knew how to chant it from the paper but the handwritten letters without vowels in the Torah looks quite different. Although planned, he didn't have a chance to attend his rehearsals. But that didn't phase him.
It didn't even phase the boy that he didn't even know what to expect. None of that mattered. He would not only be honoring his greatgrandfather but today he would be giving a gift to his grandfather. You see, this grandfather who had been battling cancer, was determined to stay alive in order to see his grandson become a Bar Mitzvah. But in the last week it was clear that this was not to be.
So with the family, Rabbi David and I planned a last minute service to be held in the hospice facility. After the grandfather was brought into the chapel, the family members and dear friends gathered around his bed. The boy stood right by his grandfather's side and led the prayers. When it came time for the reading of the Torah, the table was brought right in front of the bed.
As did everyone else, I cried many tears during the service. And more came when the boy told his grandfather, "Papa, it is not whether you lose or win the fight against cancer. What counts is the fight you give and you have fought courageously. You are My Hero!"
Afterwards I said to the boy, "I know Justin, that your Bar Mitzvah service is still a few weeks away, but today is the day that you truly became a Bar Mitzvah." We hugged for a long time and I continued to cry.
After the grandfather was wheeled back to his room, Justin's father came over to Rabbi David and me to thank us. "My father said this was the happiest day of his life. What more could I ask for?"
What more could Rabbi David and I ask for....We are truly blessed.
Here is Justin learning to put on Tefillin at Hebrew School. He is now ready for the last step - wrapping his finger with three loops.
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