Jack, there is a famous story, told in many different ways, about a man named Itzik who lived in Cracow, Poland. He kept having a dream of a castle, a river and a bridge. The voice in the dream said that the river is the Vistula, the castle is in Budapest and under the bridge is a great treasure waiting for you. Jack, I can tell you that Itzik was no fool. One does not go traveling all over Europe because you have a weird dream. But night after night he had the dream and the voice kept asking him, “Why are you still here?”
So, finally, in search of a good night’s sleep, Itzik heads out to Budapest to see what this dream is all about. And after a difficult journey, he arrives in Budapest and finds exactly what he saw in his dream, The river, the castle and the bridge. What he did not see in the dream were the many soldiers who were stationed on the bridge to protect the castle. How could he dig under the bridge without calling attention to what he was doing? He sat on the hill by the bridge and kept watching for his moment to find his treasure.
But Jack, the captain of the guard saw Itzik sitting there all day and he became suspicious that Itzik was plotting an attack on the castle. He instructed the guards to arrest Itzik and bring him in for questioning. Itzik was terrified to be arrested and in the questioning, he admitted to everything, the dream, the trip and the treasure. The Captain looked at Itzik and broke out into laughter. “Treasure?? You came here for a dream about a treasure? You are an idiot my friend. You don’t travel to Budapest because of a dream about treasure. I have a dream about a treasure too. My dream tells me to look under the stove of some poor man named Isaac in Cracow to find my treasure. Do you think I am stupid enough to go to Cracow and look for that stove? I want you to leave this castle, leave this city and go back to where you came from, there is no treasure here.”
So Itzik went home, and since his formal name was Isaac, dug under the stove in his kitchen and found a treasure. It had been under his kitchen all along. Itzik used his wealth wisely and became known as a kind and caring man in all of his city.
Jack, in your speech, you talked about the lessons that Jacob had to learn from the many trials and tribulations he endured. And you spoke about how you have learned from Jacob’s life as well. But there is an important lesson hiding in Jacob’s story and in the story of Itzik that I just shared with you. Jacob’s worst flaw is that he always acts only in his own best interest. He steals from his brother to enrich himself. He blesses God only if God will bless him. He works for his wicked father-in-law only to get what he wants, a wife and some personal wealth and his father-in-law is able to cheat Jacob over and over again because Jacob only pays attention to what he wants. Even when fighting the angel, he asks the angel for a blessing and not for forgiveness from his brother or safety for his family. When his sons attack and destroy the city of Shechem for kidnapping their sister, all Jacob worries about is that other cities will come and kill him as a danger to Canaanite society.
Similarly, Itzik goes to Budapest to find a treasure for himself. He doesn’t even figure out how he can get that treasure or consider that the bridge will be guarded. Itzik doesn’t know that he already has the treasure. He needs the Captain of the Guard to tell him what he needs to do. Even though God is watching over the patriarch Jacob, Jacob never figures out that life is not all about him.
Jack, if I were to give you a lesson to take away from your Parsha and from our story this morning it is that you are never alone is this world. There are many people around you; teachers, friends, parents, relatives and even some strangers, who have important lessons to share with you if you are only wise enough to listen. They will show you where to find the real treasure of life, and yes, that treasure is already inside you, but you will need others to point out just how blessed you already are.
And further, you, Jack, have inside you information and lessons that your teachers, friends, parents, relatives and even strangers will need to learn from you. The greatest treasure of life is found when we are there for others, guiding them to find the great treasures of kindness, honesty and compassion that they don’t know that they have inside them. Jack, we do not live our lives alone. We do not go out every day looking out only for ourselves.
To be a Bar Mitzvah does not take a community. Bar Mitzvah just means you have turned legal age in Judaism. That happens even if you are alone on your 13th birthday. But to CELEBRATE becoming a Bar Mitzvah, you need your family, friends and community to share your teachings and your skills from the bima in synagogue. No matter how afraid or worried you may be, to really grow up in Judaism, you need others to share your wisdom and your ideas. This is what we are celebrating today. It is not a graduation; that will come at the end of High School. You don’t leave here with a license. The party later is not about you, it’s all about who you have become, a part of a community, a congregation, a family. You have become someone who cares about others, someone who improves when you help others improve, someone who grows when you help someone else grow.
So, Mazal Tov Jack on your acquiring the treasure that is yours on this Bar Mitzvah day. The treasure that you receive when you spread your heart and your hands to help others. The more of this treasure, the more of this love you give away, the more you will accumulate in your life.
Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, December 2, 2017.