Shabbat Shalom everyone.
My BatMitzvah falls at a very busy time of year. Last week it was Yom HaShoah, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh and next week we celebrate Yom Ha-Ats-mah-oot as well as remembering those who have fallen on Yom HaZikaron. I would like to share a few words with you about the portion that was read in shul this morning - Acharei Mot from the book of Vayikra and also about these special days surrounding my BatMitzvah.
Bat Mitzvah means Daughter of Commandment. This is the day that I officially become a… ‘woman’, and importantly, it is the day that I am able to take on more responsibilities and follow the Torah’s mitzvot.
The Sedra Acharei Mot is essentially about discipline and rules and looks at how to deal with some human desires. Aaron’s sons Nadav and Aveehoo die in unfortunate circumstances and Hashem talks to Aaron in order to guide him on how to react after their death.
Some of the mitzvot in the sedra appear rather old fashioned. Warnings are issued against the offering of sacrifices outside the Sanctuary, and also dealing with matters such as forbidden relationships.
However, the sedra begins with some of mitzvot that still apply today - the rituals of the Yom Kippur service, regarding how to behave and what to wear, laws for fasting and atonement, mitzvot that Nadav and Aveehoo did NOT follow correctly.
Hashem welcomes our closeness and honesty, especially on Yom Kippur. This is the day we are supposed to be most in touch with ourselves as we pray for forgiveness and think about our sins from the past year. Hashem listens to our prayers and renews our best qualities ‘kee va-yom hazeh, ye-cha-pair alaychem, le-ta-hair eT-chem, mikol cha-toh-tay-chem, leefnay Adonai teet-ha-roo’ ‘On this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you from all your sins and you shall be clean before the Lord’. Yom Yippur and this parasha encourage us not to give up on our loving and careful engagement with Hashem.
There are many sacrificial rituals in the sedra, most of which are not practised today. Jews have moved on dramatically from those times, however, the essence and the meanings are still relevant - we need to look at how to change our lives in order to have a better future, and this is something I have learned whilst studying for my BatMitzvah.
As I mentioned earlier, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh, the start of a new month. Celebrating the new moon was the first commandment given to the Israelites, “HA CHODESH HAZEH LACHEM, ROSH CHODASHIM, RISHON HOO LACHEM, L’CHAD-SHAY HASHANAH” “this month shall be to you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you’. For me this is an important day, as becoming BatMitzvah is a new beginning and certainly a reason to celebrate.
The Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh symbolised a new journey for the Jews as they left Egypt, a new beginning as they face the unknown challenges ahead, just as my Batmitzvah today symbolises a new journey and the challenges of adult life that lie ahead for me.
I also discovered that Rosh Chodesh is regarded as a special holiday for women, who are supposedly meant to take a day off at this time. But sorry mum, you’ll have to wait until next month for your day off, we’ve got a busy weekend!....
Next Thursday, is yet another celebration. It is Yom Ha-Ats-mah-oot -Israel’s Independence Day, the 68th Birthday of the modern state of Israel. So there are many new beginnings and many happy occasions to celebrate.
However, as in all Jewish festivals, it is vital that we remember the sad times as well as celebrating the good. This is why we celebrate Yom Ha-Ats-mah-oot the day after Yom HaZikaron, Remembrance Day. Yom HaZikaron is a day to think about and remember the fallen soldiers who have fought for Israel.
This made me think about my late dad and all my grandparents.
My late Grandpa Ray Burns, sadly passed away before I was born. He was a very important figure in my family and a warm and active member of the Woodside Park community. He was on the board and also acted as warden for many years. He also spent his time looking for people in trouble so that he could help them. He did this privately and confidentially and no one, not even his family, knew the details of those he helped – a true Eesh Tsadik – a righteous man.
The Ray Burns Charitable Trust was set up about 25 years ago in his honour after he died in order to continue his work. This trust helps people such as pensioners, single mothers, families who may be short of money, children in care or Barmitzvah boys who can’t afford tFillin. The trust has also been known to help with small medical equipment if it cannot be provided by the NHS. Amazingly - this year Woodside Park Synagogue nominated the Ray Burns Trust as the chosen tsedakah during Pesach.
As you can see, my Grandpa was a truly remarkable man, as was my late Grandma Zelda. Indeed, Grandpa Ray was a freemason and was granted Freedom of the City of London.
How fitting in this week of Yom Ha Atsmaut, that I should be remembering my Grandpa who also contributed to the development of our Jewish homeland by planting trees in Israel as part of a Tzedakah project.
Having just celebrated the festival of Pesach, we can see how important it is to remember the troubles the Jews went through and this makes the celebration of our freedom more meaningful. Memories must be an important part of lives so that we never forget important occasions and special people….
My Dad sadly passed away nearly five years ago after he fought a very hard battle against cancer.
Dad was born in Hungary. In 1957, my grandparents and my Dad, who was 2 at the time, were forced to escape to London because of the uprising. Sadly, I never met my Grandpa Michael but fortunately I have wonderful memories of my late Grandma Edith.
My Dad had a passion for photography, and he turned his passion into a very successful profession. He was self-taught and his work took him all over the world. He worked with many famous singers, as well as many celebrities and sportspersons. He worked with members of our Royal Family, and in 2006, he was awarded the very respected Royal Warrant of Appointment.
He loved to go cycling. He went on a sponsored bike ride from London to Paris to raise money for UCLH, for their new cancer centre which was being built.
He lived life to the full and he showered us with so much love. Dad was so kind, funny and honourable and he was my best friend. I have so many wonderful memories of him and we had so many great times that I will always remember. I miss him every day and I know that he would have been so proud of me and my family today.
In the run up to my Batmitzvah and in honour of my dad, I wanted to do an act of Tsedakha that would make a difference. Whilst I love cooking – skills that I inherited from both my late grandmas, I am also a very sporty person, a skill I inherited not only from my dad, but also from my late Grandpa Michael who was a great sportsman in Hungary.
So I decided to raise money for the Marie Curie Cancer Care by doing a sponsored swim.
Marie Curie are a charity who provide nurses who offer vital care and support to people living with a terminal illness. They were a big part of my dad’s care during his illness and I am so pleased to be supporting this charity.
I have certainly learned a lot studying for my Dvar Torah. As you can see, my studies have taken me on a fascinating journey learning about Parashat Acharei Mot, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtsmaoot and Rosh Chodesh. I enjoyed discovering more about my family history, and raising money for a special charity close to my heart.
I hope you have enjoyed listening to my Dvar Torah as much as I enjoyed learning for it.