With the permission of his parents, here is the original unedited speech "written" by Avi Semon of Milwaukee Wisconsin:
Thank you for coming to my Bar Mitzvah celebration and helping me through the hardest part! I studied the parsha and the haftorah and midrash and want to share some of what I learned.
This parsha is called Vayera. This parsha has a lot in it, from Sarah being told she would have a child, to the destruction of S'dom to the sacrifice of Yitzchak. What I was most interested in both the parsha and the haftorah were the stories about how three sons almost die, but are saved from death or brought back to life by Hashem. In the parsha, the first is about Yishmael. Sarah tells Avraham to send him away because he is bad for Yitzchak. The midrash tells us he shoots arrows at Yitzchak. So Avraham asks Hashem, who says listen to Sarah.
Yishmael is very sick when his mother Hagar takes him away to the desert. Avraham only gave her a flask of water and a little bread. Hagar runs out of water and puts Yishmael under a bush. She does not want to see her son die. The midrash tells us Yishmael prayed to Hashem. Hashem saved Yishmael's life and allowed Avraham to continue loving Yishmael. Later he goes to visit Yishmael. Hashem saved Yishmael and made Yishmael into a great nation because he was Avraham's son and also because Yishmael prayed to Hashem. Hashem told Avraham in advance, that Yishmael would survive and be the father of a great nation, but Hashem tested Yishmael to see if in his darkest hour he would pray to Hashem. Yishmael succeeded.
Yitzchak also came near death at the hand of his father, Avraham. Just as Hashem told Avraham to send Yishmael away, Hashem tests Avraham with Yitzchak but in the hardest way imaginable. I can't imagine how Avraham felt when Hashem told him to take his son Yitzchak up to the mountain and sacrifice him. Avraham never questioned Hashem, even when the Midrash says he was tempted by satan. Even though Hashem gave Avraham and Sarah Yitzchak in their old age, and promised Avraham that Yitzchak would lead a great nation, Avraham did not ask any questions, when Hashem told him to end Yitzchak's life. Avraham trusted Hashem completely.
When Yitzchak asked where was the lamb for the sacrifice, Avraham said, "Hashem will provide." Avraham had bound Yitzchak to the altar and had lifted the knife to kill Yitzchak when Hashem stopped Avraham and showed him the ram for the sacrifice. Avraham had proved himself.
The haftorah tells of a very righteous Shunnanite woman who builds an apartment for the prophet Elisha and always gives him food and shelter on his travels. Like Sarah, the Shunnanite woman is old and has no children. She prays to Hashem, who gives her a son. He grows up, then suddenly becomes sick and dies. She prays and finds the prophet Elisha. He comes back to the apartment, where he finds the boy dead. He lays down on the boy and brings him back to life. This is a miracle of Hashem.
What is the meaning of these three accounts?
I think the first lesson is that Hashem rewards righteousness. Avraham was one of the most righteous men who ever lived. Another part of the parsha shows how Avraham was so righteous that even three days after his bris, when the pain was greatest, Avraham entertained guests. These were the three angels. He was tested many times and passed. So Hashem rewarded him.
The Shunnanite woman also was very righteous. She gave hospitality to the prophet Elisha without being asked.
Hospitality in those days may have been the difference between life and death. They were in the desert without hotels and restaurants to stop at. Travelers could get lost or hungry without the hospitality of others. Now it is the difference between spiritual life and death. A person who feels welcome in this community will try harder to do mitzvot. A person who is turned away will feel sad and angry.
Second, these accounts teach us never to give up hope. As long as we pray to Hashem and try to do mitzvot, Hashem will help us through the worst times. The story of the destruction of S'dom and Amorrah, which is also in this parsha, shows that Hashem will only totally destroy people who have forgotten him. Avraham argued with Hashem to save S'dom if there was ten righteous men. Hashem saved the only one, Lot, and his family. There were no other righteous people.
In my own life, I feel that I came very close to losing hope. The pain was so bad I very much wanted to die. My parents never lost hope. They prayed to Hashem to show them how to help me. Now I feel like the boy who was brought back to life. I pray to Hashem each day, thanking him for allowing me to talk a little and to communicate by typing. I thank Hashem that I feel good most of the time. I pray that someday I will be able to talk again.
I wonder whether I am also being tested, like Yishmael and Yitzchak and Avraham. Hashem has a reason for everything.
I know that for me, a Bar Mitzvah is different from others. I have taken the first step by studying for this day and being called to the Torah. I go to shul with my parents as much as possible. I try to do mitzvot as much as possible.
I want to do everything I can to be a full member of the Jewish people.
I want to thank my parents for loving me so much and never giving up. They are always looking for new ways to help me. I also want to thank my sister Sarah for being such a great sister, and Mikah, who insists that I play with him. Like my mom, he doesn't take "no" for an answer.
I would like to thank my grandparents and aunts and uncles for accepting me as I am, but helping me to be even better. And to thank my teachers and therapists, who believe in what I can be.
I want to thank Rabbi Dovid Rapoport for giving me a meaningful part in the service and for helping me, Rabbi Moshe Rapoport for being so encouraging, and Rabbi Werther from Keshet, who encouraged me to have a Bar Mitzvah. I want to thank Cheryl Moser and all my therapists who helped me practice.
I will try to be as much like Avraham as possible, and always think of Hashem. I will strive to be a full adult member of our community and the Jewish people.