Shabbat Shalom everyone and welcome to my Batmitzvah. I would like to share a few words with you about the portion that was read in shul this morning - Parashat Nasso from the book of Bemidbar, and also about what it means to me to become BatMitzvah.
The words Bat Mitzvah means Daughter of Commandment, the day a girl becomes an adult. I don’t FEEL any different and I don’t think anything too dramatic has happened to me overnight?
So what does becoming a Daughter of Commandment actually mean?
I understood during my studies, that from this day, I can choose to follow G-d’s mitzvot and take on more responsibilities. I must be accountable for my actions and consider the path I take into my future as a Jewish adult.
Parashat Nasso is the longest parasha in the Torah and addresses numerous topics, stories and laws, some of which connect and are relevant to me as Batmitzvah.
So I hope you’re all sitting comfortably, I have a LOT to talk about.
The parasha opens with the counting of all the Children of Israel, the first real census. It concludes that the male Levites, aged between 30 and 50, are the ones who will be chosen to do the work of carrying the mishkan, in the desert ‘miken shloshim shana vamala, v-ad ben chamishim shana kol haba latsava la-avoda b-ohel mo-ed’. Every single person was accounted for, whether they were chosen to do the work or not.
After all, everyone is equal in G-d’s eyes.
The parashah goes on to talk about how G-d commanded all the ‘impure’ – ‘tameh’ people to leave the camps.
We learn about the commandment to confess your sins out loud. And the meaning of being really sorry and repenting.
If a man or woman commit any sins against another man . . . they should confess the sin they committed— וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ’vehitvadoo et chatatam asher asoo’
Maimonides says that this mitzvah MUST be a requirement if a person has sinned.
We are all guilty of making mistakes and most of us feel sorry for something we have done at many points in our lives. However, it is not always easy admitting your mistakes and expressing the words ‘sorry’ out loud.
To me, the message behind some of the laws and rituals mentioned in this parasha, is not only the importance of admitting your mistakes, but also the value of a good, trustworthy and peaceful relationship. I can understand the importance of this as I feel strongly about trust and loyalty with my family and friends.
Next, the parasha discusses the laws of the Nazir.
The Nazir was a person committed to making himself able to help others. By being a Nazir, it was a commitment to making the world a better place. The Nazir was so pure that he was not permitted to cut his hair, be exposed or have contact with the dead and he was forbidden certain pleasures such as drinking wine his entire life.
G-d gives a Nazir special strengths and power. Shimshon, from the book of Judges, and the main character of today’s Haftorah, was born a Nazir, and therefore had the power to defeat his enemies and become a successful leader of the Jewish people.
Also mentioned, are the laws of the Priestly blessing, Birkat Kohanim, a blessing familiar to me as I hear my dad say this blessing on Friday night. And indeed these very words will be recited by Rabbi Hackenbroch after my Dvar Torah.
Aharon’s name is mentioned in the blessing as it was he who loved peace and brought peace whenever he heard arguments or saw hatred.
There are three parts to the priestly blessing - the blessing for wealth, the blessing to become more spiritual and the blessing for peace.
The Parasha then concentrates on the offerings of the Leaders of each tribe. Each tribe brought identical offerings but each one special and unique and with different good intentions. Hashem values each offering as special.
This made me think about my mum’s chicken soup. Even though she says she uses the same recipe as everyone else, hers is unique and special to me and definitely tastes the best!
Finally, the Parasha concludes by relating how the goal of the Mishkan was achieved.
So many laws and commandments, no wonder it is the longest parasha in the Torah!
So what is the message from this parasha and how does it relate to me?
One of the things that interested me, was the topic of relationships and repentance. It is clear that G-d wants us all to be at peace with each other and values every relationship.
My friends and family are very important to me and I know that any arguments we may have will be resolved quickly and peacefully. It is sad that so many countries and religions do not follow this message. We hear too often, especially today, about countries and peoples at war.
I also felt that this parasha is about commitment. In order to succeed at anything you want to do, you have to commit, if not, you will never accomplish your goal.
In the run up to my Batmitzvah, I learned that the most important tool to have is commitment.
I discovered some fascinating stories about my family, and consequently decided to twin my BatMitzvah with the memory of a remarkable non Jewish woman named Stefania Pod-gorska Burz-minski who fulfilled many of the mitzvot from this sedra and who had a connection with the stories I found out about my family.
All of my Great Grandma Marie’s immediate family were killed in the holocaust. At the age of 21, my Great Grandma Marie and my great grandfather Henry moved to England, but sadly the rest of her family stayed in France. None of them survived but the person I want to mention most is her younger sister Ester Fersztenfeld.
Ester was sadly sent to Auschwitz at the age of 16 but survived just 38 days. She died alone without her mother and father who had been killed in the same circumstance just 2 months earlier.
As I stand here today I can’t imagine what that must have been like. We have so many things we take for granted every single day, and I cannot begin to think about what she went through.
It made me begin to question how it all happened and how people just stood by and watched. After studying the Parasha, and talking earlier about us all being equal in G-d’s eyes, I couldn’t understand how a thing like this could happen.
So I decided I wanted to twin my special day with someone who didn’t just stand by and watch!
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous currently support aged and needy rescuers in 20 countries. They have a twinning program through which I learnt about courage and making a difference through tsedakha.
The stories of rescue are very powerful. At the same time, the program teaches about the importance of tzedakah, hakarat hatov - the recognition and searching out for goodness, and tikkun olam (repairing the world). All very appropriate and links so well to today’s sedra.
Stefania Pod-gorska Burz-minski moved to Przemysl (SHEMESHAL) in Poland and found work with a Jewish woman who had four sons, including one named Joe. Stefania would sneak into the Jewish ghetto and bring her friends food.
Stefania and Joe became good friends and after Joe, together with two of his brothers were deported, Joe, jumped from the train and made his way back to Stefania’s apartment. Stefania hid him and was determined to help others like him. She found a bigger apartment and after several weeks, Stefania with the help of her sister, was hiding 13 Jews.
The Nazi SS moved into one of her two rooms and managed to stay for seven months with 13 Jews living over their heads. Thanks to Stefania, all 13 Jews survived.
After the war, Stefania and Joe were married.
Stefania was not a nazir, but to me she certainly fulfilled many of the attributes of being a loyal and faithful person committed to helping others and not standing by and watching cruel things happen to other human beings
Now that have studied my Torah portion in more detail, and participated in this special Tsedakah project, I know that with the support of my family and friends and the wonderful experience I have had learning for my Dvar Torah, I feel ready to take on the responsibilities of a BatMitzvah – Shabbat Shalom.