Shemot Batmitzvah

D'var Torah

by Emily

Shabbat Shalom everybody

 

The word Bat Mitzvah means ‘Daughter of Commandment’ and implies the age of ‘responsibility’, becoming an ‘adult’ or a ‘woman’. But what does that actually mean for me?

 

I don’t really feel like a ‘woman’ if I’m honest, and I’m not sure I’m ready to be an ‘adult’, however I understand that Batmitzvah means taking on more responsibilities and following the commandments.

 

It also means I need to think about how I can help others even when faced with challenges of my own. It is very appropriate that the Parasha read from the Torah this morning is Parashat Shemot which is the first Parasha from the Book of Shemot.

 

Shemot marks the beginning of the Jews as a- nation and- community. I feel honoured to be talking about this sedra, not only because it is filled with many important and memorable incidents of our history, but also it is a new book and a new beginning for the Israelites, just as my Batmitzvah marks a new beginning for me.

 

In this Parasha we meet the greatest leader of the Jewish people – Moshe. We learn about the difficulties and hardships the Israelites faced and how they overcame them. Moshe equally had to face up to his challenges in order to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

 

Shemot means ‘names’ and the opening line of the sedra talks about the names of Joseph’s brothers, the twelve tribes of Israel, that grew, multiplied and became stronger and stronger in Egypt after Joseph died.

וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַבָּאִ֖ים מִצְרָ֑יְמָה אֵ֣ת יַעֲקֹ֔ב אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵית֖וֹ בָּֽאוּ׃

V-Ayleh, shmot, bnei Yisrael habaim mitsrayma, et Yaakov eesh oo-vay-toh ba-oo.

And these are the names of the Children of Israel who were coming to Egypt with Jacob...

Rashi, the great medieval French Rabbi from the 11th century says that Hashem names each one of the 12 tribes of Israel at the opening of this sedra to let us know how precious they were to Him and should be remembered even after they have died, and so he names them one by one. I will be talking about the importance of keeping the memory alive of those we love a bit later on in my Dvar Torah.

 

Next in the Parasha, we learn that, as the Israelites grew in number and strength, so did the fears of the new Pharoah, who consequently decided to make the Israelites slaves, embittering their lives and treating them with crushing harshness.

 

This is a key turning point in our history – the Jews becoming slaves in Egypt is a renowned topic in our Jewish books and studies.

 

It is in this sedra that we read about Pharoah’s notorious and despicable plan to kill every first-born Jewish boy. The famous story of the Jewish baby placed into a wicker basket onto the River Nile in hope that he will survive, is the subject of many a Woodside Park Cheder play, we would perform, in order to learn the details of the story.

 

The very waters that were meant to kill the little baby, actually saved him. And of course, Pharoah’s daughter named the infamous baby Moshe  - meaning ‘drawn from water’ 

 וַתִּקְרָ֤א שְׁמוֹ֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַתֹּ֕אמֶר כִּ֥י מִן־הַמַּ֖יִם מְשִׁיתִֽהוּ׃

VaTikra shmoh Moshe, vatomer kee min hamayim m-she-tee-hoo

She named him Moshe, and she said, "For I drew him from the water."

Very quickly in this sedra we learn how Moshe grew up into a man with moral values and loyalty to his religion. Despite being raised as an Egyptian, he was a Jew and aware of the injustice in Egyptian society. Indeed, he killed an Egyptian when he saw him striking a Jew.

Yet Moshe had his own fears and we read a few times in this sedra how his insecurities and lack of confidence held him back from facing up to the challenges set before him.

 

He ran away and became a shepherd, but his fears followed him. When he heard the voice of Hashem calling him from the burning bush, telling him to challenge Pharoah, he argued back.

מִ֣י אָנֹ֔כִי כִּ֥י אֵלֵ֖ךְ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְכִ֥י אוֹצִ֛יא אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

Me anochi kee aylech el Paroh, v-chee otsee et bnei yisrael mimitsraim

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”

And then later,

וַיַּ֤עַן מֹשֶׁה֙ וַיֹּ֔אמֶר וְהֵן֙ לֹֽא־יַאֲמִ֣ינוּ לִ֔י וְלֹ֥א יִשְׁמְע֖וּ בְּקֹלִ֑י כִּ֣י יֹֽאמְר֔וּ לֹֽא־נִרְאָ֥ה אֵלֶ֖יךָ יְהוָֽה׃

V’Yaan moshe vayomer, v-hen lo ya-ameenoo lee, v’loh yish-m-oo b-kolee, kee yomroo loh nirah eylecha Adonai

What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me, but say: The LORD did not appear to you?”

 

Hashem never gives up on Moshe and continues to reassure him to have faith, yet Moshe still argues, finding every excuse he can. He even uses his speech impediment as a reason for not being able to do the job properly.

בִּ֣י אֲדֹנָי֒ לֹא֩ אִ֨ישׁ דְּבָרִ֜ים

Bee adonia loh eesh dvarim

I have never been a man of words…

We see Moshe develop in character throughout this sedra despite continuously arguing with Hashem.

 

When studying this parasha in detail I questioned why Hashem did not give up on Moshe who was clearly trying every tactic to back out of the role. Why did he allow Moshe to be so argumentative? And why did HE not simply cure Moshe’s speech impediment if that was the main thing holding Moshe back?

 

I understood that Hashem wanted Moshe to rise to the challenge DESPITE the difficulties he would encounter. Hashem teaches Moshe that he should have faith in himself and in his community, who will help him achieve his goals, despite the challenges.

 

It made me realise that sometimes it is important to step out of your comfort zone in order to achieve the same end goal. It made me think about the Paralympic athletes who compete globally in their beloved sports despite their disabilities. They do not let their disabilities stand in their way, and their sense of achievement is incredible.

 

Finding a way to overcome your challenges is as important as the task you are facing. Moshe is remembered for being the Greatest Leader of all time in our history, not just the leader who had a speech impediment. 

 

Each of us has inside ourselves the ability to accomplish much more than we realise. Yet sometimes we let our fears and feelings of not being good enough stand in the way. 

 

In this week's Torah portion, we learn how Moshe had within him the ability to stand up against the cruel and powerful Pharaoh and be the one to lead the entire Jewish people out from miserable slavery to freedom.

 

Hashem encouraged him and helped him to see his true abilities. Moshe discovered his hidden potential and changed the course of human history. We, too, can learn how to find our true abilities, overcome the feelings that hold us back, and accomplish what we never thought we could.

 

I can relate a bit to how Moshe felt. I play the saxophone and am now on Grade 6, however, I almost didn’t take the exam as I was convinced that I was not capable of passing. My dad insisted that I go ahead; he told me to try my best and encouraged and supported me. So, I persevered, took the exam and went on to the next grade. This experience made me realise that maybe after all I do have more potential than I believed at first.

 

During my Batmitzvah studies I discovered a lot about my family. Having lost my very special grandma 18 months ago, I learnt that keeping the memory alive of those who were precious to us is just as important as honouring and respecting them during their life. For this reason, I decided I wanted to discover more detail about my great grandpa, as I knew there was a fascinating story to tell.

 

My Great grandma Lieselotte and Great Grandpa Adolf Hirshfeld -  (unfortunate name I know – but he did change it later for obvious reasons) met in Germany and married in 1937.

 

Adolf was aware that things were not looking good in the late 1930s in Germany and managed to get a permit to England where he was sent to the Kitchener Camp in Kent in 1939.

 

I discovered that it happened to be exactly 80 years since the opening of the camp which saved 4000 German Jews. What a miracle that myGreat Grandpa was one of these survivors.

 

I did some research about the Kitchener camp and discovered that it was set up in response to the violence that was spreading across Europe against the Jews and especially after Kristallnacht. Between February 1939 and the outbreak of WW2, around 4000 Jewish men travelled from Germany and Austria to England by train or boat. The organisation World Jewish Relief had rented an old WW1 army base in Sandwich in Kent called The Kitchener Camp.

 

The camp was pretty derelict however in the space of 6 weeks it became a housing estate for 4000 people.

 

Lieselotte managed to escape Berlin and eventually got a permit to England as soon as war broke out. She was the lucky one in her family, as her sister Vera and her husband did not leave. They were both taken to a concentration camp and murdered.

 

This is a story of survival and good luck and the astute thinking of my family. Not everyone was as lucky as the Hirschfeld’s.

 

For this reason, I chose to participate in the Yad Vashem’s Twinning program, to remember someone who was not as fortunate.

 

The girl I was twinned with was called Suzanne Rechnic. She was born on 26th of October 1936 in Paris, 71 years to the day before I was born. Suzanne was one of 4000 children rounded up in 1942 by French Police. She was then shipped off to Auschwitz together with her brother Maurice and her sister Cecile and murdered. She was only 6 years old.

 

I would like to remember Suzanne, as well as my great aunt Vera and to light a candle every year in order to keep their memory alive.

 

I have certainly learned a lot studying for my Dvar Torah and looking in detail at the Parasha Shemot. I would really like to thank my teacher Sharon Walters – our studies together have taken me on a fascinating journey, researching astonishing stories about my family and participating in the Yad Vashem Guardian of the Memory program to remember the life of Suzanne Rechnic.

 

I have really appreciated the true meaning of becoming a Batmitzvah and hope to take these lessons and values into my future as a Jewish woman.

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