Shabbat Shalom everyone and welcome to my Bat Mitzvah. Thank you to everyone here for supporting me on this special day.
Bat Mitzvah is translated as “daughter of commandments”. This means that, I now have to follow all 613 laws of the Torah. As you know 613 is a big number and not many people these days can keep all of them. However, we can try to keep as many as possible or improve the ones that we already keep. For example, I already enjoy Friday night dinner every week with my family so I will continue doing this and try to make it a bit more special by helping my mum prepare the meal.
A lot of people ask what is the point of having a Bat Mitzvah party and making such a big deal of becoming 12? We celebrate a Bat Mitzvah because we are starting a new stage in our lives and with that, we have a whole new set of opportunities to make good decisions with - this is definitely worth celebrating.
According to the Torah, when a girl reaches the age of 12, they become responsible for their own actions. In my case, everything (good or bad), that I did in the past 12 years was my parents fault! I now have to be extra careful when choosing what is right and wrong because I am now responsible for my own choices. Although it is going to be exciting to have more independence I am definitely going to need my mum and dad’s support for at least another few years.
Today, I am going to speak about my weekly Torah portion, or in Hebrew, my Parasha. My Parasha is Balak; an interesting, thought provoking and also a rather funny Parasha.
In Parashat Balak, two key and kind of comic characters called Balak and Bilam go on a journey. Balak is a paranoid king who asks an old and famous prophet called Bilam to curse the Jews. That night G-d visits Bilam in his dream and says that he can help King Balak on one condition, that he only says what G-d tells him to. Bilam agrees and sets off to meet the King.
Bilam is travelling on his donkey when the donkey suddenly stops in the middle of the path. Bilam is anxious to get to Moab, where the King lives, so out of anger, he strikes his donkey. When the donkey refuses to move, Bilam gets even angrier and hits the donkey again. Bilam’s donkey had in fact come to a stop because G-D had sent down an armed angel to stand in their way. The donkey sees this angel but Bilam can’t. At that point, G-D miraculously gave the donkey the power to speak. The donkey asked, “why did you hit me? Can’t you see what I’m seeing? G-d has sent an angel to stand in our way. G-d doesn’t want you to do this.”
G-D opened Bilam’s eyes so he could now see the angel. The angel reminds Bilam to follow G-d’s instructions and tells him off for hitting the donkey.
The incident between Bilam and his donkey can be interpreted in many ways. One way is that the donkey represents Bilams’ gut instinct and that the fight between Bilam and his donkey was actually a fight between Bilam’s intellect and his gut.
Our gut is the part of us which tells us what is the right and the wrong thing to do, while our intellect is the part of us that can sometimes convince us that we are on the right path even if we are not. We are able to rationalise bad decisions and deeds.
Bilam’s gut was telling him that going to Moav to see the King wasn’t the right thing to do but his intellect had convinced him to go and receive the riches that the king had promised him in exchange for his services.
Nowadays, a person will often face the challenge of choosing to follow our gut or our intellect. Just like Bilam experienced, our gut will be there telling us what the right thing to do is though our intellect might convince us to make the wrong choice. A regular situation that happens in my life is when I have to choose between doing my homework and watching TV. I know the right thing is to do my homework straight away but unfortunately my intellect is occasionally stronger and overpowers my gut, convincing me that putting off my homework and watching TV is absolutely fine.
The nature of this conflict will change at different stages in our life. For example a teenager may be faced with the decision as to whether to join in on some juicy gossip or walk away from the conversation. Our gut would say ‘walk away’ but our intellect could persuade us to take part.
The question is how far do each of us have to go before we listen to our gut and do the right thing that it is begging us to do?
Bilam gave in to his intellect and ignores what he knew to be right. He carried on with his journey and at last reached Moab where he met the king.
Bilam and Balak took part in a ritual before cursing the Jews. When Bilam tried to curse the Jews, G-D controlled his speech and forced poetic blessings to come out his mouth. Balak, who won’t give up easily, took Bilam up to the mountains where they believed G-D wouldn’t be able to find them. Once again, when Bilam tried to curse the Jews, a blessing is spoken instead. Bilam and Balak tried one more time and this time G-D controlled Bilam’s speech and Bilam said the famous Ma Tovu blessing.
This whole process of Bilam attempting and failing to curse the Jews begs one big question.
I imagine G-d could have allowed Bil’am to curse the Jewish people, and then simply ignored his curses. Why make such a big deal out of his words? Why does G-d seem to believe that what comes out of Bil’am’s mouth is important?
Our Rabbi’s explain that if Bil’am had successfully cursed the Jewish people, those words would have power even if they didn’t come true. The Jews who heard them would be disheartened, the Midianites who heard them would be encouraged; the atmosphere between these people would be effected which would weaken the Jews and strengthen the Midianites.
If, on the other hand, Bil’am himself, gave praise to the Jewish people,that, too, has an effect. It disheartened the already nervous Midianites, and strengthened the attitude of the Jews.
Even if Bilam’s curses never actually came true, just hearing negative speech towards a group of people can powerfully influence how they feel about themselves. The power of speech, makes us human; words are the strongest things there are. Words are the way we understand and explain our existence. The story of Bilam shows us just how powerful words can be because even if they have no meaning and aren’t true it makes the people that they are aimed at start to question themselves.
I am so lucky to have been raised in such a positive environment. I have always been taught to speak respectfully about myself and others. As well as that, I have always been encouraged to make good decisions even if my intellect could have told me to do otherwise. I have my family to thank for this.
Firstly, my grandparents, Adn, Papa, Grandpa and Mama. I’m so lucky to have you all.
My brother Charlie and sister Ella- 40% of the time you make me totally crazy. However, during the other 60% of the time, I have to say, I think you’re pretty cool.
Mum and Dad- I love everything we do together and am so grateful for all that you’ve given me and for the strong Jewish identity that I have.
I would like to end off by wishing everyone here a life of making right decisions and always using positive language. Shabbat Shalom