Hi. My name is Ben, and I live in Danville, California. As a Jewish boy approaching his Bar Mitzvah, I needed to begin to write my D’var Torah, or Torah interpretation. But I needed to know what I was going to write it about. The options were endless. Some people compare their Torah portion to their daily lives; some get way off topic and talk about their garage band; some focus on the literal interpretation of a single word. So what was I to do?
The day that I received my portion I knew. The portion (Vayikra/P’kudei) was about building the tabernacle that would hold the torah (i.e. how many cubits to make the posts, how to make a crimson dye by squishing beetle larvae, what silks to drape over the tabernacle, etc.). Not exactly the most interesting portion ever. But it was mine. So I read it again and again, and finally found a keshar, a connection to my life. Everyone in the torah portion was volunteering for what was holy to them. Be it sewing, welding, or donating, all of them found it important to contribute what was holy to them.
So what was holy to me? The obvious answer is to go on about how I loved studying the torah, or to give a mushy-gushy response about Judaism’s effect on my life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a faithful person, I believe in Adonai, Chai, G-d. I pray and go to synagogue. But I wanted a deeper answer, a more personal answer. So I asked myself, in the words of my amazing rabbi, Dan Goldblatt, “What do you stand for? What pushes you, moves you to keep trying?”
I made a mental list. The Beatles? I’m obsessed with them, but I don’t worship them. Sports? No, too off topic. Music? No, special, but not holy. And then, my eureka moment: the ocean. The ocean was my true home. No matter where I went, there was an ocean. All around the world, the ocean, or “yam”, it was there. All one ocean, connecting us as humans. One Species. One Ocean. One World.
I was born in Monterey, CA. I always tell people, that living there, you had 2 things to do. There was the aquarium, and the ocean. I grew up surrounded by fish. What a wonderful childhood. And it stayed with me. Every time anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would always simply and intelligently answer “a marine biologist”.
When we moved away from Monterey, a part of me was sad. I would miss the aquarium. The sand in between my toes. The cool, winter days where I could take shelter in the aquarium. The otters and seals, floating motionless like large, furry logs. But I knew I could keep all of that in my heart. And keeping it there made my love for the ocean flourish, consuming my life in a burst of wave and salty smells.
So I came back to the future, there on my bed, contemplating my torah portions. And I knew I wanted to talk about beach cleanups, and, of course, the Blue Marble Project. Working with a group called Save Our Shores (S.O.S.). I worked with them a lot and ended up receiving a Blue Marble. And I wanted to pass it on. And pass more on. So for my Bar Mitzvah, we ordered Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guides and recycled blue marbles. Everyone at my Bar Mitzvah ceremony was encouraged to take a marble, and pass it on to someone doing an “ocean mitzvah”, or good deed.
So now, when I look back on that day, I see the look on my grandparents’ faces, the torah, Rabbi’s blessing, the emotional moments of my parents blessings, and a basket. A basket on a back, wooden table, next to kipot (skull caps). A basket filled with shining blue eyes of Adonai, G-d of the ocean, watching me, smiling, gleaming in the light.