Ki Tissa Batmitzvah
Shabbat Shalom. This weeks Sedra, Ki Tiseh, includes many stories about our ancestors in the desert. I have been interested in how these stories are connected and most importantly, how the meaning of these stories connect with our lives today and in my own personal connection with Hashem, now that I have reached my Bat Mitzvah.
I feel honoured to be standing here today in this synagogue, where my Mother had her Bat Chayil and where my parents got married. This makes Woodside Park Shul a meaningful place for my family, as I am the fourth generation to be part of this community and I am very pleased to be marking my own Bat Mitzvah here.
The Sedra begins by describing how Hashem directed Moshe to count the Jewish people by each adult male giving half a shekel. To understand the importance of this, we need to understand the other main theme of Ki Tiseh, which is the story of the Golden Calf. This time was a low point in our history. As we learn from the Sedra, Moshe did not return from Mount Sinai when the People of Israel believed the 40 days to be over. They panicked, thinking that they wouldn’t be able to have a direct relationship with Hashem, without Moshe. Their use of the Golden Calf as an intermediary to Hashem, was not intended as a denial of Hashem, but a way in which they thought they would be able to communicate with Hashem. However, Moshe returned, furious to find that the Jewish people were refusing to allow themselves to have a close connection with Hashem. Before this event, Hashem, in his full glory, guided the Jewish people through the desert. But as a consequence of these actions, they only merited to have an angel as their guide. It had seemed that they wanted a more distant relationship with Hashem, and so that was what was given to them. However, this was not was they had intended.
What do we learn from this? The Torah is a guide to help us make sense of our choices and our daily lives. The People of Israel made a mistake. They sinned because they thought Moshe should have returned and that their direct relationship with Hashem had come to an end. They had not seen the bigger picture. We are faced each day with only seeing part of the story. We cannot always see the bigger picture immediately. We can remember this every day and have complete confidence in Hashem. We continue today to ask for forgiveness for the events of the golden calf and for losing confidence in our relationship with Hashem, through the Mitzvah of the donation of half a shekel. At the time of the first counting, as described at the start of this Sedra, every male above the age of 20, gave half a shekel. Each person gave only a tiny bit of the whole contribution. It is important to think that as each person gives, each person counts. The total, or whole picture, is only complete from the sum of all the individual contributions. Each person matters. The donation of the coin, represents both atonement for losing confidence in the relationship with Hashem, and is itself a Mitzvah by giving for the sake of a Mitzvah.
We specifically give coins at the time of Purim, the celebration we enjoyed only this week. The word Teruma, or donation, appears 3 times in Ki Tiseh, so we give 3 coins to charity. We continue to perform this Mitzvah each year on the Fast of Esther, before we read the Megillah. This Mitzvah allows each person to stand together in their commitment to the Torah, just as the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai and viewed themselves as a group of people with the same spiritual values and beliefs.
The Sedra has further connection for me with the story of Purim, because Esther always wanted a close and personal connection with Hashem, even though she was surrounded by so many physical riches and lived in a palace. We can all learn from this and know that we all have the ability to have a direct relationship with Hashem, but we can only have this if we truly want to. By just praising or asking Hashem for something every day, no matter how small it is, or how insignificant it may seem; even just asking to be on time for school, stops us from being distracted from everything around us and helps us to be aware that Hashem is always with us. This can also help us to remember Hashem when we are learning Torah, so that we don’t forget that we are connected to something so much bigger than ourselves.
As we have recently celebrated the Purim Story, I feel that Esther is an inspiration to all Jewish girls. Esther had such a strong belief in Hashem, that she risked her own life in order to save her nation. Although the Jews were facing one of their darkest times so far in their history, Esther knew that while the situation seemed horrible, things happened for a reason and she had to trust Hashem. By surviving this dark time together, the Jewish people became a stronger nation. This teaches us that we can’t understand everything, and we can only see what’s happening right now in our lives and not the bigger picture. Also, Mordechai realized that there was a reason in Esther becoming Queen and marrying Achashverosh, who had passed the decree to kill the Jews. So he also trusted in Hashem and knew that there was a reason for this. If Mordechai had not thought that Hashem wanted this to happen, then he wouldn’t have let Esther marry the king, and she wouldn’t have been the chosen person to save the Jewish people. As with the stories and teachings of Ki Tiseh, this message of Purim shows us that events may not always seem clearly related. Only when we know the full story of Purim, can we understand the many ways in which Hashem has saved us. We may not be able to see the bigger picture. In our lives today, this is also often the case.
Another point in the Purim story that interested me and inspired me to find out more, was when Mordechai saved the king from two of his guards, Bigthan and Teresh, who were plotting to kill him. When Mordechai overheard this plan, he did not stop to think that he should not save the king; the king who wanted to kill the Jews and had also taken his niece, Esther, away from him, but he just saw that another person was in need of help and immediately acted. If Mordechai had hesitated and not saved the king, then Haman would have taken control, and Esther would not have been able to prevent him destroying the Jewish people. In the end, Mordechai was rewarded for saving the king. This had not crossed Mordechai’s mind at the time, as he was just being considerate and unselfish. I think that this is a valuable lesson. We should not perform Mitzvahs just for the end reward, but instead we should act for the pleasure of knowing we have performed a Mitzvah and created a closer connection with Hashem. Doing something for a reward may still be helpful to others, but it does not involve us fully contributing to the Mitzvah personally.
As I become Bat Mitzvah, one of the most important things to me is to form a closer bond with Hashem as I am welcomed with the privilege of becoming a Jewish woman. I know that Hashem can see the difference between doing something simply for personal gain, compared with being motivated by kindness, as Mordechai was, and we all have the ability to perform this greater Mitzvah.
Ki Tiseh tells us how Hashem emphasized the importance of Shabbat, just before handing over the tablets to Moshe. This is another example of the importance of remaining aware that Hashem is with us no matter where we are. I feel that one of the hardest things about Shabbat is to stop work for a day and leave it, unfinished, until tomorrow. So praying each day, as we say the Shema and in our own personal prayers helps us remember, that the reason we observe Shabbat, is to develop our awareness and to be surrounded by Hashem’s greatness. In this way it helps me focus on the many things that are good about Shabbat and the aspects I particularly enjoy, such as being together with family all day.
This year, I have greatly enjoyed taking part in the Kolot programme, DLL on Sunday mornings and other community activities. I have particularly enjoyed sharing this learning experience with my parents and friends. I would like to say thank you to Rabbi Wayland for his enthusiasm in supporting the Kolot and community programme and for helping to make this both interesting and fun. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Rebbetzen Gila, who has inspired me to continue with my Jewish learning and realize the meaning of becoming a true Ayshet Chayil. Shabbat Shalom!