David Tepper's Bar Mitzvah Speech
Highlights of Torah portion (Vayyetze)
First, I would like to tell you what this morning's Torah portion--called Vayyetze--means.
Before my Torah portion begins, Isaac had given his son Jacob a special blessing that was really meant for Isaac's firstborn son, who was named Esau. But because Jacob got the blessing that was meant for Esau, their mother is afraid that Esau might kill Jacob. So, to protect Jacob, his mother sends Jacob away
As my Torah portion begins, Jacob leaves home in Beersheba and goes to Haran, where his uncle Laban lives. Jacob doesn't know it yet, but Laban is dishonest, a con man. One lesson we can learn here is that the founding fathers and mothers of the Jewish people had their flaws just like everyone else.
On his way to Haran, Jacob has a dream. He dreams about a ladder stretching from the earth all the way to heaven with angels going up and down. In Jacob's dream, God appears and repeats a pledge that He had made earlier--to Jacob's father, Isaac, and Jacob's grandfather, Abraham--that the land he is on will some day belong to Jacob and the many children he will have.
The next day, Jacob builds an altar on the spot and calls the place Beth El--meaning House of God.
When Jacob finally arrives in Haran, he meets his cousin Rachel and they fall in love. He wants to marry Rachel, but he doesn't have any property-and back then you needed to own property in order to get married. So Jacob agrees to work Rachel's father, Laban, as a shepherd for seven years to earn her. He does willingly because he loves Rachel.
It turns out that Laban has two daughters. Rachel is the younger one. The older one is named Leah.
So Jacob works for Laban for seven years, although the Torah says it only seemed like a few days because he loved her so much.
After those seven years, Jacob has finally earned the right to marry Rachel. On the night of the wedding, Laban tricks Jacob. Laban replaces Rachel with his older daughter, Leah. When Jacob wakes up the next morning, he sees that he is married to Leah and not Rachel. Laban tells Jacob that the custom where they live is that the older daughter must be married before the younger. And that, Laban says, is why Jacob ended up with Leah, the older one.
Jacob still wants to marry Rachel. So Laban says, "No problem," or--to borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, The Terminator--"No problemo."
Laban's solution: Work seven more years, and he will give Rachel to Jacob. While Jacob was probably very upset with Laban's dishonesty, he worked another seven years to earn Rachel.
One result of this is that in Jewish marriages today, the bridegroom ceremoniously unveils his bride before the wedding blessings are said just to make certain he doesn't suffer from Laban's bait-and-switch tactic with Jacob. Or, to borrow a line from one recent U.S. President, "Trust, but verify."
Then the story gets complicated. By now, Jacob has two wives-Leah and Rachel. As we know, Jacob liked Rachel more. God saw this, so he let Leah have four children, all sons. Meanwhile, Rachel wasn't having children, so she offered her handmaiden to Jacob as a wife--that makes wife number three--and the handmaiden had two more of Jacob's sons.
Then Leah, who had already had four children, stopped having babies. So she gave her own handmaiden to Jacob as a wife--that makes four wives--and this second handmaiden had two more sons. Then Leah started having children again, and had two more sons, as well as a daughter. Finally, God remembered Rachel's prayers, and she had another son.
Now back to Jacob. After working 14 years to gain his wives Leah and Rachel, Jacob works an additional six years to build up some wealth in flocks of animals. While God helped Jacob and his new family, Laban prospered too.
But by now Jacob wanted to return home to the land of his parents, Isaac and Rebecca. This made Laban and his sons very angry. When Laban threatened to prevent Jacob from leaving with his family and all his property, God appeared in a dream to Laban. God warned Laban not to harm Jacob and his family.
Laban then made a peace treaty with Jacob and officially blessed him and his family as they prepared to return to the promised land. And so, in the words of the movie The Terminator, "Hasta la vista, baby." As Jacob is traveling, he meets a group of angels. And that's the end of my Torah portion.
Afterwards, Jacob led his family back to Beth El where--twenty years earlier--he dreamt about the ladder to heaven. Again, to quote from the movie The Terminator, Jacob kept his promise when he said, "I'll be back."
Looking ahead, Jacob and his family will have many trials and tribulations. Eventually he dies in Egypt.
Highlights of Haftarah portion and how it relates to the Torah
Now I'd like to tell you what happens in my Haftorah portion and how it is related to my Torah portion.
The connection with my Haftorah comes right at the beginning. The prophet Hosea wrote: "And Jacob fled into the field of Aram, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep." In that sentence, the prophet Hosea summed up the early hard life led by our ancestor Jacob.
Hosea tells the Jewish people that Jacob always found support and guidance by believing in the God of Abraham and Isaac. Later in Egypt, God frees the Children of Israel through the leadership of Moses. The prophet Hosea tells the Jewish people to do what Jacob did--to rely on God to save them. Hosea warns them not to rely on local alliances that the Kingdom of Israel was making.
But they did, and, sure enough, the Kingdom of Israel was lost. The Jewish people of today do not come from all twelve tribes. The Jews of today come primarily from the tribe of Judah and neighboring tribes who stuck with the Judeans. The Hebrew word for Jew, yehudi, comes from the Hebrew word for Judah, yehuda.
Personal Thoughts on the Above
Now comes the part of my speech where I explain why the two portions-the Torah and Haftorah-are important to me. What they mean today.
When my dad and I were researching the meaning of Vayyetze, we came across all sorts of symbolism in the story about Jacob. One of the most famous parts of this section is Jacob's first dream, when he's young, and he sees angels going up the ladder to heaven and down the ladder to earth. One way to look at it is that our goal every day should be to climb higher on the spiritual ladder.
Another way to look at the ladder is that our material desires are earth-bound, but our spiritual thoughts are heavenly. And there have been many other interpretations of that passage.
All these are possible. But I'm just a kid. And my parents say I'm very literal. So when I read my maftir, the message I kept getting is that, through diligence and determination, you can get through nearly anything.