On behalf of the clergy, the religious school all of TRS, we say to each one of you “Mazal tov” on reaching this wonderful moment in your lives.
It is an honor to share the bimah with you for this important Jewish milestone in your life. You have all done a terrific job in helping to lead this service. We appreciate and value the commitment with which each of you has brought to this moment – learning the Hebrew, opening up your hearts up through music, and sharing your reflections on being Jewish as you continue to explore your Jewish identity. We are extremely proud of you and hope that you are excited to move on to the next level of Jewish learning and Jewish experiences. Each of you entered the covenant of Judaism with your bris or baby naming ceremony (I’m sure most of you do not recall that moment in your lives – and if you’re a boy, don’t want to recall that moment!). You then reached the milestone of becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the beginning of your Jewish adult life. Now you have reached this milestone, and we know that your Jewish experiences have changed since becoming Bar Mitzvah.
These experiences will change many times as you grow and learn, and you should know that there is always something available to enhance your experience. We hope that you will continue learning, discussing and experiencing Judaism next year with the post-confirmation class of 11th and 12th graders.
So….if you have ever attended a confirmation service (either through an older sibling) or even heard about a confirmation service, you know that as part of a longstanding TRS tradition, the sermon focuses on a television show. Yup. You heard it. A television show. One that has a message to impart to you, a message about Jewish values, Jewish thought, Jewish ideals. It took me some time to figure out what most of you would be watching on TV these days, but every show that I thought of had either been taken by other clergy or voted down by some of you as a “not so great” show.
Then it occurred to me that many of you went on the Confirmation trip to NYC.
And what was it that we saw in a theater full of mostly teenagers, starring the oh-so-cool Daniel Radcliffe? Yup. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Now, for those of you who did not see it, YOU SHOULD! It’s a great entertaining show and Daniel Radcliffe was AWESOME! This story is about young, ambitious man named J. Pierrepont Finch who, with the help of the book called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, rises from a piddly little window washer to the chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company, a company “so big that nobody knows exactly what anybody else is doing.”. Finch finds ways, with the help of this book, to keep getting promoted from one level to the next. Throughout the funny, funny plot, he figures out ways to befriend people who will help his career and demote those who are out to get him. He is sly, crafty, conniving, sneaky, cynical, irreverent, and malicious, and yet, you still can’t help but love him!
So, as I sat and pondered the message that this show carried, I realized that although the music, the dancing,acting and storyline were all fabulous, there was absolutely, positively NOTHING redeeming at all about this show! The star of the show is as malicious as they come, the woman who loves him, will do anything to have him as “her man”, and the other people in the show basically get trampled on or lied to. So what do we do with a show like this? As curious Jews, we search for a message. We try and find some meaning. And I realized that it was staring me in the face all along. Finch made the decision that he would do whatever it took to get to the top. And he did. But at what expense? How many people got hurt or were taken advantage of because of this man, Finch, who let nothing stand in his way. Not even their feelings. He hurt whoever challenged him. And he left us with an important question to ask ourselves. What would we do if we were in his shoes? We are faced with this dilemna every day. We all strive to get to the top. Whether its being recognized as the best saxophone player in the band, or the best athlete, or being the coolest kid around, or getting the top academic awards at school. There is nothing wrong with striving to be the best. It’s great to want to get to the top and the only way to truly be successful is to learn how to grow one’s own potential. Except… when its at the expense of someone else.
So now, I am thinking the show we saw together: How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, should be renamed for you, the Confimation class of 2012: How to Succeed in Judaism without Really Trying. Because thinking about how we treat others, is a key value in Judaism. A large part of Jewish law is about treating others with kindness. The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Hillel, who lived around 2000 years ago. A pagan came to him saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.” This statement is a common sense application of a law set down in Leviticus, long before Rabbi Hillel was around…. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jewish law includes within it a blueprint for a just and ethical society, where no one takes from another or harms another or takes advantage of another, but everyone gives to each other and helps ech other and protects each other. The full scope of Jewish law goes far in requiring us to protect our fellow human. We are commanded to help a person whose life is in danger, so long as it does not put our own lives in danger. We are commanded to help those in need, physically, finacially and emotionally. We are required to give money to the poor and needy, we may not cheat or take advantage of another. And Jewish law regarding business ethics is extensive (Clearly Finch did not read up on this particular law!). We are commanded not to tell lies about a person, or even insult another. We are commanded to speak the truth, to fulfill our promises, and not to deceive others. These are just a few of the many commandments that teach us how to treat other people.
So, back to “How to Succeed in Business or Judaism without Really Trying”. It is your job as human beings and as Jews to figure out how YOU will be successful in your life. How you will find meaning and happiness and fulfillement. How you will be the BEST that you can be. And it is also your job to figure out how to do this without hurting other people. This second part may take a long time, perhaps even a lifetime to figure out. We all inadvertantly or sometimes advertantly hurt others. We all engage in Lashon Hara (the slandering of others), we tell little white lies that can get out of control, we may not reach out to someone when they are hurting or in need. It is human nature to do these things. Judaism recognizes that fact, and we are therefore given ten whole days in between RH and YK every year to think about how we can change our actions.
So, put yourself on that stage, in the shoes of J Finch, or Daniel Radcliffe if it pleases you, and write your own book. Write a book that you can look to for guidance, just as he did, a book that will help you succeed in your life, a book that will help you be the best that YOU can be…without hurting others.
On this evening as you take your stand as confirmands we hope that you will continue the path of living your Jewish life with a metaphorical book in your hand. A book that you are the author of; a book that will guide you through your lives, helping to make you the best that you can be. A book in which you write down your own moral and ethical values based on the experiences that you will have throughout your life. A book that you would be proud to hand down to your future family….
Each of you is a blessing. We are proud of who you are and we look forward to seeing who you become. May your journey in life always be full of learning with plenty of thought and discussion and most importantly may it be filled with blessing and peace.
Please join all of us now on the bimah, so that we may offer you our most ancient and holiest of blessings, the Priestly Blessing.