Wednesday, January 10, 2007

D'var Torah for Shabbat Vayechi

As promised, here is N.'s D'var Torah (Words of Torah = Sermon) about his Torah portion from the Bar Mitzvah. Our rabbi and I helped with the structure of the piece, and our cantor helped with editing and font, but the ideas are all N.'s. ("And they told me he would never read or write...")

D’var Torah for V’Yechi
January 6, 2007

by N.

Shabbat Shalom! My parasha is called V’Yechi. V’Yechi is the last parasha in B’reshit, which is Genesis in English. In my parasha, the action takes place in Egypt. Israel, who is also known as Jacob, knows that he is about to die and he makes Joseph swear to bury him in the cave of Macpelah in Hebron, in the land of Israel. Near the time of his death, Jacob claims Joseph’s two sons as his own and blesses them, crossing his hands so that Ephraim, who is younger, is favored over Menasheh, who is the older boy. Then Jacob calls his 12 sons to him and blesses them, telling each son something that is important about him. After Israel dies, Joseph and his brothers take his body up to Hebron to the cave of Macpelah to be buried with his fathers Abraham and Isaac. At the end of my parasha, Joseph makes his sons swear that when they are redeemed from slavery in Egypt, they will take his bones with them to the land of Milk and Honey.

The part of my parasha that I find the most interesting is the last part, where Joseph asks his sons to return his bones to the land of Israel. I think that this is a story about assimilation. According to, assimilation is the process in which a minority culture adopts the customs and attitudes of the prevailing group. Minority cultures are often pressured to assimilate because it can make the dominant culture more powerful and more unified. When Joseph and his brothers went down to Egypt, the Egyptian Empire was busy making itself richer and stronger by assimilating conquered peoples. Joseph was assimilated into Egyptian culture and he even became the prime minister who ran the government for Pharaoh. Joseph had an Egyptian name, an Egyptian wife and children, he spoke Egyptian and he dressed like an Egyptian. He probably even “walked like an Egyptian.”

When I think of Egypt, I think of the Borg: “We are Egypt. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!” In the Star Trek series, the Borg is a culture of evil. It destroys worlds and assimilates other intelligent life-forms into the Borg Collective against their will. The Borg has the hive-mind, a collective in which there is no individuality at all. The Federation and its allies, fight the assimilation of the Borg. In Star Trek Voyager, there is an episode in which some Borg are infected with a virus that allows them to go to a place called Unimatrix Zero. Infected Borg come to Unimatrix Zero and are able to remember their individual cultures. The Borg collective tried to destroy Unimatrix Zero and three Voyager crew members went to the Borg ship and infected the hive-mind with a virus that allowed the infected Borg to remember Unimatrix Zero all the time. In order to continue to be who they were, the Voyager and the infected Borg had to continually fight total assimilation. For Jews, the Torah and the synagogue are like Unimatrix Zero. When we read the Torah and come to pray and study in the synagogue, we can remember who we are all of the time.

The story of Joseph in Egypt is like the first encounter with the Borg. Even though he seems to be totally assimilated, Joseph had a kind of Unimatrix Zero in his bones. He knew deep down that he was really a Jew. Because of that he was able to save Egypt and rescue his brothers. And he knew that G-d would eventually bring Israel out of Egypt. So he told his sons to bring his bones out of Egypt because he knew he was a Jew.

Jews throughout history have encountered the Borg. They were Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Europeans and Nazis. The message was the same as the Borg: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” But we have Torah, which like Unimatrix Zero, helps us to remember who we are and defend our values. Jews have always stood for the value of life and human freedom. The story of Joseph teaches us that it is vital that we remain who we are in order to bring holiness into the world.

My education at Congregation Albert taught me that I do not need to allow the dominant culture to dictate my values. By becoming a Bar Mitzvah, I have accepted the responsibility of being a Jew and living by Torah. I am now a member of the congregation and it is my responsibility to serve the congregation and be an example of Jewish values to others. One Jewish value is to keep on learning! I will continue my Jewish education through confirmation and beyond.

Another Jewish value is Tikkun Olam—doing something to make the world a better place. My Mitzvah project is volunteering at the Albuquerque Animal Care Center in order to help homeless animals. My dog, Lily, was rescued from the shelter. I am collecting needed items to make “welcome home” baskets for people who rescue dogs from the shelter.

Many people helped me to become a Bar Mitzvah. I want to thank Cantor Finn and Rabbi Black for teaching me Torah. I want to thank my mom for always being there, tutoring me in Hebrew and teaching me to pray and chant Torah. I want to thank my step-dad Bruce for encouraging me and driving me to religious and Hebrew school and for taking me to get my T’fillin. I also want to thank my sister because she is the one who insisted that I go to camp! And I really want to thank my teachers, especially Cookie Gillespie, for seeing my individuality and finding ways to teach me so that I could learn. All of you, my parents and family, my teachers, and Congregation Albert, are part of my Unimatrix Zero!

Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, Sovreign of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this joyous time!


Stephanie not in TX said...

Oh, that is WONDERFUL!! Really, truly, wonderful. What an insightful kid. Congratulations to both of you, and thanks for sharing. And it is nice to know that there are other families out there, whose children speak the same geeky language ;-)

Megan Bayliss said...

FANTASTIC and congratulations "N". Thank you, I have learnt a lot from this.
I am so glad that you are helping homeless animals. What a sincere and responsible thing to do.
I would like to know more about Tikkun Olam if you have time.