Hayyei Sarah 5779: Message to Young People
I typically do not give a sermon at a Bar Mitzvah, but given the events of the previous week, I want to share a few brief words. In particular I want to address the young people who are with us today.
In our Torah reading this week, we read about the death of Abraham. “Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin” (Gen. 25:8). But then, we read a curious but extremely important detail: “Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah,” the same burial site that Abraham established for Sarah at the beginning of our reading.
Ishmael has been missing from the narrative for a while, but suddenly he shows up at the end of his father’s life. He and Isaac have been through a lot together. They were pawns in their parents own struggles with each other. They each nearly lost their lives because of Abraham’s actions. They were rival inheritors of the covenant.
So they had every reason to stay away from each other and Abraham. But at a moment of loss, they put all of that aside. They came together, united as brothers, to mourn and fulfill their duty to their dead father.
This week, we witnessed a moment of similar unity. In response to the tragic act of terror in Pittsburgh, people of all different backgrounds came together. In this very sanctuary, hundreds of people came together on Tuesday night to affirm their solidarity with the Jewish community and to defy those would try to intimidate and harm us. Similar gatherings took place all over the country and the world.
We came together. We stood as one. We buried our dead and we mourned our loss. And we affirmed the values that we share: the sanctity of life, the importance of diversity and mutual respect, the love we express for our neighbor.
So, my friends, thank you. Thank you for coming here today to celebrate Jewish life, not only to mourn Jewish death. You or your parents maybe were scared to come today, not without reason. But here you are. I, we, don’t take it for granted.
Thank you also for being there for each other, week after week, service after service, party after party, for the past year. Together, you have celebrated the ways that you all, Jews and non-Jews alike, are growing up, becoming more independent, taking on more freedoms and responsibilities. You have shown unity and care for each other. I don’t take that for granted either, and neither should you.
The bar and bat mitzvah season is winding down for you. Soon you will all move on. But things are different now. You’re not kids any more. You’ve learned to party like adults. Now it’s time to take responsibility like adults. The unity and care that Isaac and Ishmael showed, the unity and care that our neighbors showed on Tuesday night, the unity and care that you’ve shown for each other—God knows, we need more of that in our world right now.
We need you to keep showing up for each other. We need you to start to figure out how you are going to make your corner of the world a better place. We need you step up and take responsibility for fixing what is broken and healing what is ill.
Is this a lot? You bet it is. It’s the task of a lifetime. But know this: I am here for you. This community is here for you whether your family is officially part of it or not. Your parents, friends, teachers—we will all keep helping you grow into mature adults. We’ll show you the way, and sometimes, you’ll show us the way.
And if you follow that lifelong path, you will have a life like Abraham’s: full of confidence that you have lived well and left a better world for your children.