I was simply thrilled when Brad and Faya from My Learning Springboard called and presented to me an exciting albeit challenging assignment. I would soon join the MLS team to prepare a young boy for his Bar Mitzvah. My work was to guide my new student in writing his D’var Torah, to prepare the siddur for the ceremony as well as officiate the service. My student’s Torah portion was Bereishit. It was wonderful that he would be focusing on all of the beginnings – all the firsts, and how they cross over and illuminate all of the firsts in a young person’s life. One of the most important firsts for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the step taken to begin taking responsibility for one’s actions. I worked with my student to expand on this theme of “taking responsibility” in the stories of Bereishit and had him connect it to his own responsibilities as a young Jewish adult.
Starting the D’var Torah writing process…
As I do with all of my students, I brought in a play, this one based on Bereishit. Reading plays adapted from the stories allow my students to not only loosen up and have fun as they are introduced to the Torah, but it also gives them the opportunity to walk in the shoes of the “characters” of the Torah. It gives them a place to start studying that is neither too scary nor too profound, but rather interesting enough to elicit questions – something all Educators hope to do.
We delved into Bereishit, and I guided my student through points where the theme of “responsibility” were presented. As we moved on to the story of Cain and Abel, I asked him to personalize the story in relationship to his own “responsibility” as a sibling and to his family. Incorporated into his speech he announced his acceptance of responsibility for his family by proudly affirming his status as his “sister’s keeper.”
In the final portion of Bereishit, which introduced the tzaddik, Noah. He learned how Noah was “righteous among his generation.” As we discussed this theme we spoke about how moved he was during a recent family trip to a small village in Peru that he took on the “responsibility” to give tzedaka to the people in Peru as his Mitzvah Project. In order for him to recreate his memories of his trip to Peru to include in his speech, I led him on a sense memory meditation. I had him close his eyes and guided him through the sights, smells, and sounds of his trip to the village that he visited. This section of his d’var torah was simply beautiful and brought his memories to life.
Practicing the Bar Mitzvah speech…
I guided my student in both the preparation and presentation of his speech. I made sure to have him practice his reading skills and I went over some exercises with him so he could improve his “public speaking.” I had him work with a cork. (Yes! A cork!) He would read a sentence at a time with a cork in his mouth (over-enunciating every word), then he would repeat the sentence without the cork. We worked through most of the text this way and he was able to “feel” the difference in his presentation. We didn’t want all of his hard work to remain on the page. We made sure that each of his words were heard.
Click to read The Journey To Become a Bar Mitzvah, Part 2.
By Nicole Raphael, Private Tutor