Our Community Celebrates

Nathan Zanetich

Shabbat Shalom. I want to welcome my family and friends AND thank you all for celebrating my Bar Mitzvah with me.  Our world has experienced a great tragedy as a result of the Covid19 virus. This global pandemic has changed so many things for society, this last year it changed how Bar and Bat Mitzvahs happened for many kids my age.  No matter how you are participating, either in person or virtually, it means a lot to me to have you be a part of this special day.

My Torah portion is Parshat Vayera. It is the fourth parsha in the book of Genesis, which in Hebrew is called Beresheit. It is one of the longest parshas in the Torah.

My Torah portion contains stories about our forefather Abraham, who believed in only one God. In it, we learn of the miraculous birth of his son, Isaac, born when his mother Sarah was 90 years old.  Perhaps the best known story, at the end of the parsha, is the binding of Isaac, when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son on the alter.    

I would need an hour to talk about all of the lessons we can learn from Torah portion Vayera! 

Today, I will present 3 mitzvahs which I found to be the most interesting and meaningful. Remember that a “mitzvah” is not just a good deed; it is a Torah commandment which God requires of all Jews.

One Mitzvah presented in this Torah portion is hospitality to strangers.  Abraham was famous for welcoming guests into his tent, and he did this even when he was in pain, in this parsha, directly after performing his own circumcision. He welcomed 3 men who later turned out to be 3 angels, who were coming to inform him that, within a year, his wife would bear a son.

Abraham and Sarah came to the land of Canaan with their nephew, Lot, who went to live among the very rich – but also very evil—inhabitants of the city of Sodom.  Influenced by his Uncle Abraham, Lot also welcomed guests into his tent, even though the laws of Sodom actually forbade sharing with strangers.

The ideal of hospitality to strangers is especially relevant in our country today, as we debate how to treat immigrants and foreigners.  Throughout our history, Jewish people have often been strangers to society; so, we have learned—not only by example but by experience—how important the mitzvah of hospitality can be.

The second mitzvah which I found meaningful in my Torah portion was the mitzvah of seeking justice.  When God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy the inhabitants of Sodom because of their evil ways, Abraham tries bargaining with God.  He begs for justice:  Will God destroy the city if there are 45 righteous people in it? Or 40? Or 30? Or 20?  Or even 10 righteous people?  What disturbs me is that Abraham was willing to bargain with God to save people that he did not even know, while he does not even QUESTION God about sparing the life of Isaac.

Obedience of God is another Jewish value found in this Torah portion.  As the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are being destroyed, the angels tell Lot and his wife NOT to look back at the destruction.  Lot’s wife disobeys this command and is punished by being turned into a pillar of salt.

In contrast, at the end of the Torah portion, when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, he obeys without even questioning.  All you parents know that this is the most difficult test that could ever be given to a parent and God probably knew that Abraham would pass the test. He is rewarded for his obedience when an angel tells him to sacrifice a ram instead.  And Abraham becomes the role model for obedience to God’s commands.

Like so many who have become a Bar Mitzvah before me, I have completed a mitzvah project.  I wanted to do something impactful for my community.   After much research, I have decided to focus my mitzvah on the Covenant House of NJ.  The Covenant House is an organization that provides comprehensive residential care and related services to help New Jersey’s youth who have suffered from abuse, neglect, abandonment, homelessness, and human trafficking.  In addition to raising money for this valuable organization, I am taking part in a virtual sleep out on November 5th.  On this day, I will join the Covenant House Sleep Out and sleep outside in solidarity with homeless youth.  I will take part in the virtual program and all money I have raised will get donated to the Covenant House. This organization’s goal is just as God commanded when he spoke of hospitality to strangers.  Help those you don’t know, open your home and heart to others who may be in need.  I am proud to support an organization that does just that.  

I want to thank you all for participating in my important day.  I want to give special thanks to my Bubbe and PopPop who have made this day possible.  They have driven me to tutoring, helped me write my speech, practiced with me so that I am ready, and supported me along the way.  I’d also like to thank my Hebrew tutor Morah Terry who taught me from the beginning to learn to read Hebrew and then helped me prepare for this special event.  Thank you to Cantor Borsky for officiating over my Mitzvah.  I’d also like to thank my parents for planning my Bar Mitzvah and making it happen under such challenging circumstances.  I will remember this day for all the days to come.


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