Bar Mitzvah of Ben Greenhouse Saturday, June 30, 2007 Parsha Balak
Below are speeches given by both Ben and Rabbi Moshe Weisblum.
Shabbat shalom everyone,
Becoming a Bar-Mitzvah was a lot of work, and there were many people who helped me. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. First, I would like to thank Rabbi Weisblum, who taught me everything I needed to complete my Haftorah. My family was important in helping me become who I am now. My mom was determined to raise me with a strong Jewish foundation, and insisted that I attend Hebrew school. She made sure that I spent plenty of time practicing and studying every night, and encouraged me nonstop. My dad took me to services every Saturday morning and Hebrew school every Sunday. My sister Molly helped me learn to think fast and speak well, and to stand my ground when I think I’m right. I’d like to thank my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and many friends, some from out of state, who came this morning to help me celebrate my Bar Mitzvah. I’m especially happy that my Dad’s parents, my Nana and Papa, are here today, because I know how much my Bar Mitzvah means to them. And I know my Mom’s parents (may they rest in peace) are watching too!
When I would come to Synagogue on Saturday before services to practice my Haftorah, the men who came early were very encouraging and made me feel welcome and proud. I would like to thank them too.
Today’s Torah portion is about Balak. Balak wanted Balaam to curse the people of Israel. Although Balaam refused repeatedly, Balak would not accept no as an answer. Just like Balak, I like to get my way. When my parents tell me to take their word for something, I usually don’t.
I guess you could say I became the man I am today by trial and error. When I was 5, within the space of 4 months, I broke three bones in my left foot and shattered my left elbow. After that my mom was convinced that I should have come with warning labels. I have to find things out my own way. I don’t always do what I’m told, and when I do, I rarely do it how I’m told. I don’t always follow others’ examples. When my mom would tell me not to walk through a puddle, I did, just to see what would happen (to the puddle and to me).
I like to think for myself, make choices, solve puzzles, and build things. My great-grandfather, my grandfathers, and my father all design and build things. I also enjoy building and designing things. I especially like to design and build boats. Ever since I had Legos, I would build boats out of them and test them in the bathroom sink. From this hobby, I decided that I would like to be a marine architect when I grow up. One of my goals is to build a boat from scratch.
My community has a sailing camp during the summer, where I learn to sail and race Optimist Prams and 420s. I recently helped rebuild and shingle the roof on a building on the beach used by my sailing camp. I especially enjoy sailing on our family boat. Now that Hebrew school has ended, I go Wednesday night sailboat racing with my Dad on the Magothy river.
I learn best by doing rather than reading. My favorite classes in school are Math and Tech-Ed. In Math, I’m better at doing problems in my head rather than writing them out. In Tech-Ed, we recently made cars propelled by carbon-dioxide cartridges. We also made model rockets in science, and I’ve made some at home that I’ve flown in the school yard with my dad.
Last year, in 6th grade, I made a magnetic levitation car. In 5th grade, I was on a creative problem solving team that designed a car powered by a cordless drill that could carry two kids. My team came in second in the Maryland state championship for this design, and we took the car to Tennessee to compete in the Global design championship.
Some of my other hobbies are riding my bike and fishing at my neighborhood pier with my friend. I once built a trailer for my bike out of scrap wood and old lawn mower parts to carry my fishing gear. I like fishing from my family boat, too. Sometime I catch fish so fast that my Dad can’t keep up unhooking them.
Every summer, I go to sleep-away camp where I learn about bird watching, and do a lot of hiking, camping in tents, archery, fishing, crabbing, and canoeing.
One of my Hebrew-school teachers once told me that you become a man when you turn 13 anyway, and the haftorah part and the ceremony are just an acknowledgement of that. I chose to have a Bar-Mitzvah, my parents didn’t make me do it. Having a Bar-Mitzvah means a lot to me. I’m carrying out the tradition in my family for every man to have a Bar-Mitzvah. It also signifies that I am taking on more adult responsibilities, in the world and at home.
I think my life will be a series of puzzles for me to solve, and being Jewish is one tool I can use to solve these puzzles. There are many right answers for life’s puzzles. By listening to my heart, thinking about Jewish values, and taking my parents’ advice into consideration, and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, I’ll be able to pick the answers that are right for me. I am very proud and happy to be Jewish.
I look forward to the adventure of the future and whatever challenges it may bring. I hope to go away to college. I hope to travel a lot and see the world. Someday I’ll have a family of my own and perhaps I’ll return to this bimah for my wedding or my children’s b’nai-mitzvah. Then, I’ll remember this day and all of the warmth and friendship I’ve felt growing up at Kneseth Israel.
Rabbi Weisblum's Speech:
Good Shabbos everyone. Mazal tov.
Welcome friends and guests,
How blessed we are at Kneseth Israel, going from simcha to simcha. Last week we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of Rachael Sturgis and toay we continue with another milestone, the Bar Mitzvah of Ben, the son of Dr. Matthew and Mrs. Shelley Greenhouse and the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Greenhouse.
So, Ben, what’s so special about today? Well, we know it’s Shabbos. It’s summertime. For many it’s the first Shabbos away at camp. But for your family, in particular, it is a day that will forever be engraved in their memory.
In life we have dreams and hopes. Our imagination allows us to develop goals and go from milestones to milestones. We consider our future, what our family will look like, where we shall live, what kind of career we shall hold, what great scholars we can become, how we can contribute to our communities, and what kind of car we can drive or how far across the stadium we can hit the ball to cause the winning home run. Our imagination can take us to outer space and to worlds yet to be discovered.
When I was a child, living in Haifa, Israel, my dream was to become a great shabbos observant football star. As I became older, I thought to become the Minister in the Israeli government. In my teens, I envisioned becoming a pilot which, by the way, did become true. And if you ask me today I want to be like my Rabbi. Dreams are not set in stone, they change as our expectations change and we mature.
But for now, I am content to comment on this week’s Torah chapter to this wonderful congregation in Annapolis, who all join me in wishing you and your family a heartfelt Mazal Tov on the occasion of your Bar Mitzvah. May all your dreams, whatever they are today and whatever they will become tomorrow, come true.
This week, in Balak, we read about two characters, Balak and Bilam. Balak was the King of Moab, the fourth most powerful country in the area at that time. Balak was an ordinary man who coerced and frightened his fellow countrymen into obedience. Nevertheless, he was astute enough to recognize that the Israelites, under Moses’ leadership, were not conquering their enemies through brute strength, but by divine intervention, depending on spiritual guidance rather than on the power of the sword. Balak knew it would take more than weaponry to get rid of the Jews. So he sought out Bilam to assist him. Bilam was a master magician and sorcerer who practiced black magic. With no great love for the Israelites, Bilam was very receptive to Balak’s highly generous offer to place a curse on them.
Balak believed that if he wiped the Israelites out, his dreams would come true and he would be happy. But nevertheless, he was unable to curse the Israelite because G-d prevented him from doing so.
Our dreams may not always come true. Our hopes will change over time, as will our mentors and role models. The successful dreamer plans for good and makes it happen. I’d like to share with you a poem by the famous poet, Rudyard Kipling.
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same. Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
The one constant you will always have is your family. Your parents always have your best interest at heart and keep you grounded while your dreams and hopes may soar.
You told us that one of your dreams was to build your own boat. Well, you know you are in the right community. This is a realistic and very doable dream. I’m sure there are members in this community who could help you accomplish this goal. Maybe you can place an ad in the Kulainu, our monthly newspaper or maybe there is someone in today’s congregation who can help you attain such a worthy endeavor.
One never knows where the road to our dreams will take us, but I’d like to impart some sage advice. Stay on the G-dly path, the Derech Eretz, to make the world a better place. Never deliberately hurt someone. Every mother, knowingly or not, endows her children from the earliest age with the teachings from Balak, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Take these lessons; use them in your everyday dealings with those you encounter. Bless others and in return you too will be blessed.
And in your journeys to worldly places, remember that you always have a home right here at Kneseth Israel. We love you and are so proud of you. In your new capacity as a Jewish man in this community, you strengthen us. Once again, I wish you and your family, and all the extended family and friends who came to celebrate this special day with you, Mazal Tov and may we go together from strength to strength. Now Ben, I recite the traditional blessing while you begin your passage into the ranks of Jewish manhood.
"May you continue to be a source of "nachas" to yourself, your family, your synagogue, the nation of Israel and the entire world. Bless you and your parents. May you only know joy and see success in all your endeavors. Shabbat shalom.