Shabbat Shalom everybody. This morning, we read parashat Beha Alotecha from the book of BaMidbar. I would like to share a few words with you about this portion, and how it relates to this special day, my Batmitzvah.
This parasha explores many themes. Whilst studying, I learned of the theme of education and leadership, beginning with Hashem instructing Aaron on how to light the Menorah in the Mishkan; the parasha includes the theme of second chances, opportunities to start afresh when the Jews beg for a second chance to fulfil the mitzvah of Pesach; we learn about the lack of appreciation and complaining, how Benei Yisrael were sick of eating manna and wanted meat! and there is even the theme of Lashon Harah - speaking badly about people and the effect it has, when Miriam speaks Lashon Harah of Moses.
And finally, the whole parasha is about the theme of journeys, beginning with the preparations for the journey from Sinai; and the problems Bnei Yisrael and their leaders encountered.
What struck me the most when reading this jammed packed parasha, is how all these themes, both optimistic and disappointing, can be related to everyday life. Becoming BatMitzvah - daughter of commandment, made me stop and think about what I can learn from these stories.
Let me start at the beginning. Hashem instructed Aaron on how to light the menorah, and in turn Aaron educates the Jewish people. Aaron's greatness, even as a High Priest, was that he was a man who truly cared about each and every Jew. Some leaders in the world today can be affected by power and then behave differently. Rashi explains that the words Vaya'as ken Aharon el-mool pney hamenorah heh'ella neroteyha kuh'usher tsivah Adonay ett-Moshe ... And Aaron did so; toward the face of the menorah he kindled its lamps, as G-d had commanded Moses. (8:3) Aaron is being praised, he was a good leader and did not act differently.
And what does this teach us about education? The LbbAvich Rabbi says 'the endEavour must be to kindle the lamp "so that a flame arises of its own accord." We need the guidance and education of our leaders to show us how to develop our talents and abilities.
Last year I started at secondary school- JFS. It was so big and I felt lost in many ways. I needed instructions on how to get to the right classrooms (so mum, I promise you, I didn't end up in Room 17, the detention room on purpose). But I especially needed guidance on how to tackle new subjects. I am thankful to the leaders and teachers at school who have helped my flame to grow this year. On this note, I am also grateful to my teacher Sharon, who guided me in my Jewish learning and taught me for my Batmitzvah.
Next, we read about Second Chances. A year had passed since Bnei Yisrael had left Egypt, and as per G-d's instruction, the Jews were preparing for their first Passover, and most importantly, bringing Korban Pesach, a Pascal offering to the Mishkan. But some of the people were impure because they had come in contact with a dead body. These people WANTED to do this mitzvah and asked Moses to ask Hashem for a second chance.
G-d granted their wish and exactly a month after Passover there would be Pesach Sheini - the Second Passover, when everybody who wasn't able to bring the Paschal Sacrifice had another opportunity to bring it. Another pesach? Another week of Matzot I asked myself?
No-the meaning of the "Second Passover" is that it is never too late; there is always a second chance.
There are many examples in my life where I can remember getting a second chance to put things right. But one thing in particular that makes me think, was when I was given a homework assignment which I really didn't take enough time & effort to complete. I knew I was handing in a poor piece of work, and as I did so I asked for a second chance to redo it. And so, with this second chance I was able to achieve my real capability. I was grateful.
Earlier this year I decided to participate in World Jewish Relief's twinning program and twin my Batmitzvah with a girl called Irina who lives in the Ukraine. Irina lives with her mother in a village and they struggle to make ends meet. I am in the privileged position to give Irina a chance to have a Batmitzvah and some Jewish education. My Batmitzvah means more to me because I am helping a child in the Jewish community that would have otherwise been forgotten. I am giving her a second chance.
And the third theme - lack of appreciation - AHA Jews complaining. Yes, I giggled to myself when I was studying this section in the parasha, not entirely surprised! Infact, the Jews had been complaining since they started travelling. First, it was about their difficult journey, then, they grumble about the manna which was a special food with a taste of whatever they desired, yet now..- they WANT MEAT! are we never satisfied? Ve'ata nafshenoo yevesha eyn kol bilti el-haman
But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes (11:6)
Rabbi Yonatan Eibshitz says 'A person derives pleasure from material things only in comparing what he has, to what his neighbours have. So although they could enjoy every taste in the world in the manna, they derived no pleasure from it, since everyone had it'
I must admit, I complain at times, not satisfied with what I have got, when in truth, I know I am very lucky with what I have. Maybe it's a Jewish thing, but we all get carried away with wanting newer and better things that maybe our friends have. And just because I am used to complaining when I find my homework hard for example, doesn't mean it is the right thing to do.
I realised after I lost my grandma a few years ago, that material things are not important. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful mum, dad, grandpa and big sister who have always guided and supported me in my life and helped me along my journey to my Batmitzvah and without whom, I would not be the person I am today.
In the last part of the sedra, we read about Miriam, and how speaking badly against people, leads to bad things. Miriam speaks to Aaron against Moses, and then, gets struck down with a disease and has to sit outside the camp for seven days, and the Jews don't travel for those seven days, waiting until she is healed.
Reading this section of the parasha really made me think. I wondered why Miriam would be spiteful and purposely speak badly against her own brother? or maybe it was her lack of awareness that in fact brought upon her punishment. We all need to be especially careful with what we say about others and be more aware of what we say even if we don't mean harm.
I cannot deny that I have not spoken rudely about someone before....and inside I knew it was the wrong thing to do, and that it would probably only lead to more trouble. I know I must try to control myself. The story about Miriam in this sedra, shows how damaging it can be, not only for her, who may not even have meant harm, but for other people too, even if they were not involved.
Finally, I would like to talk about the last theme and perhaps the most important one of all - the theme of journeys. The journey from Sinai had really only just begun for Bnei Yisrael and was full of hope and optimism, yet as they continued, they faced challenges and problems. I found this theme the most interesting because I feel like I am on a journey to my adult life, now that I am Batmitzvah. In life, as I enter different phases, I know I will take on different activities or approach old ones differently. I know my journey has only just begun and I am bound to face challenges ahead of me. I will take the lessons of this parasha with me on my journey and try to do my best, learning from my teachers, taking up opportunities if they come my way, thinking twice before I complain and be aware when considering speaking badly about other people.
I hope I will continue my Jewish journey with the lessons I have learnt and take them into my future.