by Freya Rose
Shabbat Shalom everyone. - Over the last few months, I have been preparing or my Dvar Torah by learning about the real meaning of the word Batmitzvah. Batmitzvah means 'Daughter of Commandment', and the time a girl becomes a woman.
Today is the start of my adulthood. Perhaps more realistically, it is the time for me to take on more responsibilities, so I’d like to say a few words about what that means to me. I would also like to share what I have learned about the portion Tetsaveh, from the book of Shemot.
In this sedra, Hashem tells Moshe to instruct the Israelites to collect pure olive oil in order to light the Menorah in the Mishkan. “Veyikchu aylecha shemen zayit zach” — “They shall take for you pure olive oil.”
Following on from this instruction, comes detailed descriptions about the special types of clothing that the Kohanim – the Priests, would have to wear. The emphasis was on how royal and regal they would look when performing their important duties. Meticulous details were also laid out about the clothing to be worn by the Kohen Gadol – the High Priest. ‘v-ayleh hab-gadim, asher ya’asoo, choshen v-ayfod oo-m-eel ooch-tonet, tashbayts meetsnefet v-avnayt, v-asoo vigday kodesh, l-aharon acheecha, oo-l-vanav l-cha-ha-noh-lee.’- ‘And these are the garments which they shall make, breastplate and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of chequered work and a mitre and a girdle’
After researching the details of this sedra, I found myself asking a few questions. What was the significance of using olive oil? Was there something particularly special about this type of oil? Why were the details of the clothing to be worn by the Priests so in depth, even down to the colours and the types of jewels?
Surely it is what is inside the person that is more important, not their appearance? Every Shul contains an everlasting light – a ner tamid. This light is extremely significant in Judaism, and represents our soul and everlasting faith in Hashem. Olive oil does not mix with any other liquid, but rather separates and rises to the top. Producing olive oil was not a simple process.
It required following many stages, including searching for specific olives and pressing them using a laborious and difficult method which required a lot of hard work. And as with everything in life, if you put in a lot of hard work to produce something, you appreciate its value more.
Rashi, explains that the first drop of oil pressed is the finest, and this was the oil that was used to light the menorah. The remaining oil of the olive (which was not as pure) was used for menachot (the meal offerings). So we can learn from the way things were done in the Mishkan, a lesson about true priorities. When performing a mitzvah, one should use the best and purest first and foremost.
The Priests who had reached a high position also had to work very hard and were devoted to Hashem, to their people and to their roles. The very fact that the Torah specifies in so much detail, the exquisite clothing that they should wear, shows how much they were honoured. Not only was the clothing worn used to honor them, but also behind each garment there was meaning.
Creating a garment made with gold thread, a jewelled breast plate made with the finest materials and colours, was not an easy feat for those who had to construct the outfits. Painstaking work was involved, not to mention locating the resources and making sure that the products were accurate and the fit was perfect.
Furthermore, each stone on the ephod was inscribed with the names of each of Yaakov’s sons so that Hashem would always remember them and their righteousness. And for the Kohen Gadol, having the stones placed on the garment on his shoulders symbolised the fact that he carried the responsibility of all the nations.
I cannot say I am a fashion guru, and I’m not one to fuss too much about my clothes and outfits - much. So whilst I could not particularly connect to all the ‘fashion’ accessories mentioned in this sedra, I realised that the text is not about making a fashion statement, but rather about the hard work involved in producing the final outfit and also about the honour given to those who are wearing the garments.
Coincidentally, every year - at my school, a ‘Fantasy Fashion Show’ is put together in memory of an ex pupil, Stephanie Lee. Stephanie sadly lost her life in a tragic motor bike accident whilst living in Burma during her gap year. She travelled to Burma in order to help the Burmese refugees who needed education and medical care. Stephanie loved art and fashion and so at my school, pupils take part in a Fashion competition. The theme for the Fashion show changes yearly, and students compete by creating their own clothing according to the theme. Stephanie’s parents set up this charity in her memory and continue to raise money for the Karenni refugees. This year the theme was ‘contrast’ and my group and I produced a dress with the theme of fire and ice.
Needless to say we did NOT win, or even come close, as I said, my fashion flare is not my strong point, however being involved in this charity made me appreciate how hard and skilful designing clothing is.
The Israelites must have been particularly proficient as they didn’t even have a John Lewis Haberdashery department to go and buy their materials from! How did they do it?
Winning was never going to be my main aspiration, but on the other hand, knowing that I was creating something for the memory of someone who would have loved to have been involved in producing and wearing these kind of outfits, meant more to me than the finished product.
Honoring a person’s memory is particularly significant to me as during the run up to my Batmitzvah I wanted to do an act of Tsedakah that would be meaningful.
I chose to twin my Batmitzvah with the memory of a girl named Sofia Weinstein who sadly perished during the Holocaust. Sofia, which happens to also be my middle name, died when she was six years old and of course never grew up to be able to have a Batmitzvah at all.
Yad Vashem’s Guardian of the Memory Charity, believe in remembering the past and therefore shaping the future. It is so important to appreciate that these were real people, with a family, a community, friends, dreams and aspirations just like you and me.
By twinning with Sofia, I learnt about her and her family and I’m grateful that I have the freedom to be standing here telling you a little bit about her life and thereby keeping her memory alive.
Sofia was born in Bihor, Romania in 1938 to Emil and Frida. Before the war, she lived in a town called Marghita, in Romania. She remained there during the war, but was sent to Aushwitz when she was only five years old.
She never returned to her home town or saw her parents again. She was only a child - and brutally murdered - at the age of six on the 6th May 1944. Her aunt, Kornelia Stern, a survivor of the Shoah submitted the little information that she had, to Yad Vashem in order that no one should ever forget that this little girl once existed.
To commemorate Sofia, I will light a candle every year on Yom Hashoah, and stop to think about her and her short tragic life less than a century ago.
I felt it was important to honour the memory of someone special, and I am pleased that I was able to do so by talking about both Stephanie Lee and Sofia Weinstein.
I have also learned a lot about the stories in this week’s portion Tsetsaveh, and the connection it has to my life.
I hope you have enjoyed listening to my Dvar Torah.