Welcome everybody, Rabbanim, family and friends. Thank you all for joining me in celebrating my Bat Mitzvah today.
As part of a modern society we believe connections make us stronger. It’s not only about what you know, it’s also about who you know. Personally the part of Judaism that I relate to most is the sociable aspect. Therefore, in the run up to my Bat Mitzvah I was curious to explore the concept of friendship in Judaism.
During my Bat Mitzvah lessons we have been learning about the meaning of friendship through a Jewish lens and I would like to share with you today a bit about what I have learnt.
Growing up, I was always taught that Judaism is a religion that centres around community. We have guests for friday night dinner to celebrate Shabbat. We celebrate our Bnei Mitzvot with the whole community - just like today. And in school i have found that I have gravitated towards the Jewish girls as they have been taught the same values of friendship and community as I have. It connects and binds us!
On Friday night we sing Ey-shet Chay-il a song about women of valour and we have the Jewish custom for parents to bless their children. The boys are blessed ‘to be like Ephraim and Menasheh.’ The girls are blessed ‘to be like Sarah Rebecca, Rachel and Leah’.
What was so special about Rachel and Leah that we bless our children every week to be like them?
In parshat Va-yay-tzay the story starts with a description of the two sisters:
‘(16) Now Lavan had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. (17) And Leah’s eyes were weak; but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon.’.
Yakov meets Rachel at a well and falls in love with her. Yakov agrees with Rachel’s father, Lavan, that he will work for him for 7 years in order to marry Lavan’s daughter. Seven years pass and the time for the wedding arrives. Lavan keeps his promise but at the last minute switches Rachel for her elder sister Leah. Yakov doesn't notice the switch until it is too late.
But didn’t Rachel know how deceptive her father could be? Shouldn’t she have been able to anticipate his deceit?
Indeed, Rachel and Yakov suspected Lavan would try something like this and therefore created a secret code to confirm their identities at the ceremony.
When Rachel sees her father’s trick, instead of thinking of herself and the life she would be missing out on by not marrying the love of her life, she thinks only of her sister Leah and the embarrassment it would cause if Yakov identified her under the Chupah as the wrong sister. To save her sister from embarrassment Rachel teaches Leah the code.
In Parashat Va-Yik-Ra we are taught ‘Vi ahaf ta lorey acha como cha’ - love your neighbour as you would love yourself. What does it mean to love your neighbour as you would love yourself?
It means we should always try to understand a situation, not just from our own viewpoint but rather we should strive to understand how the other person may be feeling and how they are affected. By being aware of one another's points of view and looking out for each other we can build better friendships and a stronger community just like Rachel and Leah did.
But the value of friendship in Judaism runs even deeper than building a strong community. In the Gemarah Taanit it says: ‘HAR BEH LA MA DA TEE MERABOTIE OOMECH CHAVOREE YOTER MEHRABOTIE’. I have learnt a lot from my Rabbis, but from my friends I have learnt even more than that. How could we possibly hope to learn more from a friend than a Rabbi?
The Lev Simchah explains in Maggdei HaEmet that a rabbi can teach the letter of the law. A rabbi encourages fear of God but a friend... A friend can lead you to the love of God which is even greater still.
From here it is obvious that relationships in Judaism are integral not only to the continuation of our community but also to the way we practice our faith.
Moving forward as a Bat Mitzvah, I feel it is important not only to look forward to the future but also to reflect on the past and the parts of our community that didn't have the chance to thrive.
Because of this, I have decided to twin my Bat Mitzvah with a girl who never got the chance to celebrate hers.
Esther Gobits was a 10 year old girl who lived with her 3 siblings and her parents, Leon and Rebecca, in Amsterdam before her life was cut short in Auschwitz in October 1942, just before her 11th birthday. Not only are we connected by the same religion but Esther and I share the same Hebrew name.
I will take the memory of Esther forward and perform as many kind deeds and mitzvot as possible for both of us.
I hope to be an example of what a Jewish Woman should be. I hope to learn from Rachel and Leah to be a better, more understanding sister, daughter and friend. I hope to support the people around me the way I have learnt from all my female role models including my nanni, my grandma, my aunties and most importantly my mother.
Thank you so much for making all of this possible. I hope I can make you and daddy proud.