This is the last of the forty-nine gates we must pass through before entering Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah. It is the day that asks us to confront the most deeply held questions about our identities: Are you living a life in which you constantly strive to take the next step in your own growth? Are you the champion of your own life?
It seems deeply appropriate to me that this week has been bookended by people who show the qualities of intentional growth and heartfelt conviction. Last Shabbat morning, twelve adult men and women from Temple Beit HaYam stood before the congregation as b'nei mitzvah—adult children of our tradition. This coming Friday night, ten young people will lead our congregation's service at their Confirmation. I have worked with both groups over the course of the last year. Although the two groups are separated by a lot of years, and by significantly different motivations, they have in common the quality that I call Jewish heroism.
A Jewish hero is not necessarily a person who scores the winning point or who runs into a burning building to save a life. In Jewish tradition, a hero is, most importantly, a person of conviction—a person who lives his or her life with dedication to doing what is right and with deep understanding that a meaningful life is spent in service to something beyond self. A Jewish hero is a person who becomes the champion of his or her own life. This is the quality of the last day of the Counting of the Omer, and it is the quality I have seen in our adult B'nei Mitzvah students and in our Confirmation students.
That's what I heard on Saturday morning as one man described how becoming a bar mitzvah was a way of fulfilling a promise he had made to himself decades earlier, when he felt inadequate to the task of saying Kaddish for his father. It is what I heard when a woman in our class talked about her grief after the murder of her son, how she was not able to recover until she learned to let go of anger and rediscover faith.
It is what our congregation will hear this Friday night from our Confirmation students. Each of them will stand before the congregation with personal statements that announce what it is they intend to confirm about themselves. Here is a small preview:
• "I would like to confirm that I will stay true to the Jewish dream. I will not let anyone tell me or make me do something that I don’t wish to."
• "I would like to confirm my place is in not just in the Jewish community, but the world. I wish to change things."
• "I am a Jew, and all of Jewish history is part of my identity. By learning our history, I confirm myself. This is who I am."
These fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds are heroes, too. They are a model for us all of living a life of conviction and spirit. As we await the giving of the Torah tomorrow night, we are encouraged to take up the challenge, as they have, to live as the heroes of our own lives.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Counting from Freedom to Covenant: Nobility
Ki Tetze: Each of Us Fights a Battle