In lieu of a President’s Message, this month we’re printing a lightly edited version of Benjamin Gyimah’s commentary on his bar mitzvah Torah portion.
I would like to begin by summarizing my Torah portion, Vayigash. Joseph was the favorite child from the beginning and his brothers did not appreciate it. The brothers retaliated and sold Joseph into slavery. For many years, Joseph lived in Egypt and was eventually selected by the pharaoh to be the second-in-command and Joseph became very powerful. Benjamin, the youngest brother, was accused of theft and Judah offered himself into slavery in Benjamin’s place. Judah had promised his father Jacob that Benjamin would return home safely. Judah was willing to do anything to keep his promise, and his speech to Joseph is the longest in the book of Genesis.
When Joseph saw Judah’s loyalty to Benjamin, he revealed himself as their brother. Joseph did not focus on his brothers’ past disloyalty. Instead, he asked them to let their father know that he was alive. Judah and Benjamin rushed to tell Jacob in Canaan and the family was reunited in Egypt after 22 years. On the way, Jacob prayed and received a divine promise from G-d that everything would be ok. The family settled in a fertile area of Egypt, which was a good place to be during an on-going drought.
There are a few themes in this Torah portion that relate to my life. The first is trust. Like Jacob, I have packed up every- thing and moved to another country multiple times. I knew my family would be with me, but that everything else would be different. I trusted that everything would be ok and that G-d would protect my family. Another theme is loyalty. I would never sell my sisters into slavery, although they definitely annoy me sometimes. Judah’s feelings toward Joseph changed as he matured, like I have. Judah kept his word to Jacob to bring Benjamin safely home. I am a First Class Boy Scout and in the Scout Oath we must commit to being physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. I commit- ted to a 50 mile, 5 day hike to earn a hiking merit badge. The first day was cold, rainy, and I dropped my backpack in the water and ruined my supplies. It was hard to keep my commitment, but I pushed through and completed the hike.
The last part of the story that was relevant to me was the family reunion. We have lived overseas or far away from family since I was 3 years old. This year has been very special to me and thankfully less dramatic than the Torah’s story. Prepar- ing for my bar mitzvah was difficult because of moving, learning to read the Torah, and the long commitment. I complet- ed 13 mitzvot in preparation for my bar mitzvah, including donating coloring books and crayons at a hospital; delivering cookies to the fire and police stations on Thanksgiving; donating money to a man falsely imprisoned for 43 years; and packing meals and handing out food to the homeless. I am excited and honored to have this rite of passage into Jewish adulthood. Thank you to all of the people who helped me prepared for today, including Rabbi Ken in Hawaii, Rabbi Emily and Cantor Ruben in North Carolina, Rabbi Yonnie in Virginia, Chaplain Pekar and Mr. Sammy Fineman in Okinawa, Miss Diane, and Cantor Scheff and Rabbi Rappeport.