D’var Torah: Tal Arnold’s Bar Mitzveh

What better Parsha could you have for a Bar Mitzveh than one that features a father and a son? In this Parsha, however a father must encounter the lives of his many mature sons. Whatever happened to those 12 beautiful boys of Jacob’s? How did they turn into killers, liars and  thieves? When did their darker potential show itself?

Jacob dreamed of making a dynasty. Instead he got a chaos of greedy and selfishness. The text bubbles with begats, but the witty writer knew that the mystery in the inheritance is a mystery still. What made Judah, he of the wine-bright eyes and milk white teeth a mench and Iesachar, a shlemeihl? The begats may be there to tell us that we are not exactly children of God in the way the Egyptians were, or the Japanese. We were, after all, adopted.  Mortality doesn’t make us any sweeter, either. Sometimes the gorgeous cherry tree of May yields in August, a very sour cherry. Sometimes the egg cracks and out comes a crocodile.

And this boy, today? Here he stands, all potential, having cracked his egg shell and ruffled his feathers preparatory to flight. He’s looking all around at the size of it all, its overwhelming variety of choices.

I think he’s going well armed on his quest. Like Dorothy in the Wizard Of Oz, he has courage, brains, a good heart which he will put to the service a–that we don’t yet know, but there are hints already. His parents supply him with continuing examples of unselfish love. These boys had no shortage of mothers but who was there to guide Simeon and Levi, those men of blood from overkill in a mock revenge three parshiot before this one–the rape of their sister, Dinah? Who was there to stop the robbery that followed? Did we think he would forget, that horrified father? Did we think he would turn sweet and forgiving for the shame his sons had brought upon him?

Remember that tricky business about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children? I think visited upon is a mistranslation. Visited upon sounds like the Vulcan Death Grip. I would translate this as “remembers,” takes note of. That’s the translation used when God takes note of’ Sarah in her childlessness. Look who is helping 20 generations of Torah scholars? I can see my grandfather cyclotroning in his grave, not an easy feat for a man who died in 1956.

The Torah is full of hard lessons.: Nobody gets a free ride.. The greatest figures have weaknesses almost the size of their greatness. These are ancient postulates. They are said to be grim, but do you like the modern ones any better? Jean Paul Sartre and Stephen King postulate a hell but no heaven, a devil but no God. I like the ancient idea better, the balance feels right.