Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Hackenbroch, Shabbat Shalom Gila, and Shabbat Shalom to everyone. Thank you all for coming to Woodside Park Shul to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah.
Bat Mitzvah is translated as daughter of commandments. This means that from today, I am officially obligated by the 613 commandments of the Torah. I am now responsible for my own choices and behaviour. This coming of age hugely excites me and I look forward to the learning journey I have ahead of me.
Traditionally, girls mark the occasion of their Bat Mitzvah by saying a dvar Torah on their Parasha. My Parasha is Behaalotcha. I have found Behaalotcha to be a stimulating and thought provoking Parasha.
Allow me to go back in time, and take you on a short journey through the fascinating and action-packed Parasha of Behaalotcha.
Behaalotcha begins with Aharon lighting the menorah, and the Levi’im being commanded to do their duties in the Mishkan. After this, the Jewish people prepare for Pesach and were commanded to offer a Korban Pesach (an offering of lamb to Hashem). However, the Torah mentions that those who have become impure through touching a dead body were not allowed to do the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. Those who were impure really wanted to make the offering and after complaining to Moshe, they were given a second chance, a month later, to offer a Korban Pesach. This is now known as Pesach Sheini. When learning about this part of Behaalotcha I was inspired by the Jewish people’s love of keeping the Mitzvot. When the Jews could not offer a Korban Pesach, they begged Moshe for the opportunity to give this offering. This made me think about the Mitzvot I love to keep, in particular that of keeping Shabbat.
Shabbat is a time for me to reflect on my week and connect with Hashem. It is also a particularly good opportunity to spend time with my family which I really love. Mum and Dad, I truly appreciate your effort in raising me up with this beautiful Mitzvah.
Behaalotcha then changes scene to the Jews’ experiences in the desert at the base of Sinai.
Every morning and night, Mann (heavenly desert food) came down from heaven into the desert campsite and the Jewish people would gather round, collect their portion and eat it. But soon, the arduous journeys through the desert began to generate complaints. As well as that, they got bored of the Mann.
In Be halotacha 11:4 we read
וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ הִתְאַוּוּ תַּֽאֲוָה וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ גַּם
בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ מִי יַֽאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר:
“Vehosafsuf asher be kirboh hitafu taavah vayashuvu vayivku gam bnei Yisroel vayomru mi ya achilaynu basar”
The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving and the children of Israel also wept once more saying “Who will feed us meat?”
They complained to Hashem that the Mann tasted vile to them and they wanted all the delicacies that they had in Egypt such as fish, meat, fruit, vegetables and all other nice things.
As a result of their complaints, Hashem promised to send them meat, “Asher yetze me-apchem-till it was coming out their noses”. He caused a wind to sweep in the quail and all the Jews gathered around it and ate it gluttonously (key word) like a pack of angry wolves. All those who ate gluttonously died of plague and the place was named Kivrot Ha’Ta avah which is translated as grave of desire.
Let’s rewind to the scene of the Jews’ arduous journey through the desert where they made the bad choice of eating gluttonously. The word gluttony describes when a person overeats or drinks, to the point of excess.
Jews are famous for liking their noshing, so much so, that on the festival of Purim the Talmud tells us that we should drink until we don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. Furthermore, we are commanded to eat three meals on Shabbat plus, on top of that, we are told to eat on all the chagim – there are foods associated with every part of the Jewish Calendar. So we’re definitely allowed to eat and drink-in fact, we are encouraged to, but the question is – when does it become too much? When does it become gluttonous?
A good place to start answering this question is to take a look at the concept of eating.
All living things eat, plants eat, animals eat and humans eat. In fact, all living things need to eat – you just can’t survive without it. An example of this, is when many people in history went on hunger strikes, they either didn’t survive or they simply just gave up.
So we know that all living things eat. However, human beings are not like all other living things. Humans have abilities beyond anything in nature. All living things have instincts, including eating, but humans have something extra, something special; they can rise above their instincts and overcome them. Humans have the ability to reason, humans can learn, humans can speak and humans know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong.
The Torah explains how humans have to make eating a human activity – not an animal one. We do this by making the process of eating special.
There are so many ways that Judaism makes eating special. For starters, before we even put something in our mouth we say a Bracha, where we stop, we think, and we say thank you to Hashem for what we are about to eat. This is one way of showing that we control our food and that our food doesn’t control us. Similarly, on Shabbat when we are commanded to eat three meals, we don’t just gather round a fridge and stuff our faces with anything we can see. Rather, we are Hiddur Mitzvah- we beautify the Mitzvah, we lay the table beautifully, make a delicious meal, buy beautiful flowers, make Kiddush, wash our hands, sing songs and sit round the table as a family – and that is when we can truly enjoy our food. That is when the eating becomes humane and not gluttonous.
So we see, Judaism doesn’t tell us NOT to eat- instead it tells to eat- but to eat like a human. So we have to make eating physical, but as well as that we have to make it spiritual. In the desert, the Jews ate physically, but not spiritually – they didn’t make eating special – they stuffed their faces gluttonously like animals and didn’t think about what they were doing, and therefore Hashem punished them.
From here we learn that Judaism really gives good advice about how to eat and enjoy it. Simply, make eating special and as I have mentioned, Judaism has so many ways to make that happen.
Thank G-d I have such an amazing family which has brought me up with many beautiful meals, from lovely Shabbat dinners, to incredibly magical Sedarim. It is here that I have to thank my Mum and Dad for being the best parents ever. Thank you for bringing me up with a strong Jewish education and identity and I hope to continue building on my Jewish identity forever.
Thank you also to my brothers Eitan and Noah for always making me laugh and cheering me up when I need it most.
Thank you so much to my Bat Mitzvah teacher Linda Myer for being an amazing teacher. You inspired me at primary school and our Bat Mitzvah lessons have been so much fun.
And finally, thank you so much to everyone who has joined me and my family today at Woodside Park Shul to hear me speak, after Shul I wish everyone here a betai-avon as you eat the Kiddush food like a true human being.