Rabbi Hackenbroch, friends and family,To mark the occasion of my Bat Mitzvah, I have prepared a short Dvar Torah which I hope you will all find interesting, Today we read Parashat Toldot, the story of Ya'akov and Eisav fighting over who should receive the firstborn's blessing from their father Yitzchak.
There are so many interesting lessons that can be learnt from this story; the importance of family life, respecting your parents and that mums very often know best!
In this respect, I couldn't ask for better role models as to how I should lead my Jewish life than my family, mum & dad, sister Katie and brother Zach. I am grateful to all of you for the advise and guidance you have given me and will, I know, continue to give me as I make the transition into a Jewish woman.
But I spotted one lesson in particular in the parsha which I thought was very relevant to my Bat Mitzvah, which I'd like to share with you today.
This morning we read that Yitzchak went searching for water and when he eventually found some, he built a well so that his family could have fresh drinking water. But the local men quarrelled with Yitzchak, accusing him of stealing the land and demanding that he return it to them.
Instead of staying to argue the point with the local men, Yitzchak simply left it to them and moved on. He then dug another well which he was able to use in peace and the area became known as 'Rechovot'.
The Rabbis ask, why does the Torah spend time telling us about Yitzchak's search for water?
We know that the Torah does not waste even one word and would not include this story if there was not an important reason for doing so.
There are many explanations given in answer to this question but the famous Jewish scholar, the Chofetz Chaim, explains that the Torah wants to draw our attention to Yitzchak's determination and refusal to give up when times became difficult.
At a time when fresh water was so hard to come by and could have meant the difference between life and death for Yitzchak's family, he never admitted defeat.
The Chofetz Chaim points out that this is a practical lesson for all areas of our lives, whether spiritual or practical. Be persistent when things don't work out the way you wanted them to. This is especially important when learning about Judaism and working on your character.
The great Jewish King Solomon once said "Ki Sheva Yipol Tzaddik Vekum, Uresha-im Yika-shalu Berah."
"A Righteous person falls many times but he gets up, wicked people stumble with evil, without arising."
On this day, I am accepting upon myself all the responsibilities of being a Jewish woman and I know that there will be many times whether at school or at home when it will be easier to give up than to keep going and to achieve my goals.
Here, the torah is teaching me never to take the easy route but to always persist until I can say I have achieved everything I am able to. I attend a non Jewish school, HABS, and I intend like my sister who is chairperson of j-soc to keep true to my Jewish root and maintain a Jewish I dentate.
When I learnt what the Chofetz Chaim had said about this week's parasha, I wanted to find out more about who this great Rabbi was and what he stood for. The Chofetz Chaim was born in Poland in 1838, were two of my grandma's were born and inspired everyone he met until he passed away in 1933. His real name was Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen Kagan but he was more commonly referred to by the name of his most famous book.
He was known both for his modesty and for his commentary on 'Shemirat Halashon' - guarding one's speech. Despite being one of the greatest rabbis of his generation, he insisted on living in a very simple home with very simple surroundings.
He used to say that earning money took up time which could be better spent serving Hashem. He is also thought of, as perhaps, the best example of how we should be careful not to speak about people behind their backs and that we should treat others just as we would like to be treated.
Becoming Bat Mitzva'd is not just about one Shabbat, it is about taking my responsibilities as a Jew seriously for the rest of my life and I have chosen to try and work on one mitzvah in particular - the prohibition against speaking Lashon Hara.
I know how easily a person can speak Lashon Hara when they get frustrated or angry but I hope to try and be as honest and thoughtful as I can to everyone around me and be the best possible friend, daughter and sister to the people that mean the most to me.
It will not be easy, and it will not happen overnight but if I can improve a little bit each year, I will have learned the Chofetz Chaim's most important lesson.
As he used to tell his students, "If you remain strong and refuse to speak Lashon Hara, there may be people who will consider you 'self righteous' - something that anyone would want to avoid. On the other hand, if you falter and speak Lashon Hara, you will have much more to deal with, for you will face embarrassment in the World of Truth, before the King of all Kings - Hashem."
Although we will not meet her until Parashat Vayeitzei next week, we know that Ya'akov will eventually go on to marry Rachel. Because Rachel is my Hebrew name, my bat mitzvah is a perfect opportunity to take inspiration from this important biblical figure. Rachel was perhaps best known for her kindness. When her father, Lavan had promised her hand in marriage to Ya'akov he famously went back on his word and insisted that he marry Rachel's sister Leah first. A situation which would tear apart any normal family, ends with an extraordinary act of kindness from one sister to another.
I was also interested to learn that just as Ya'akov displayed extraordinary determination, Rachel remains unfazed when she learns that she must wait years to marry the man that she is engaged to and many further painful years before she is able to have children. Sadly, Rachel passes away a young woman and by all accounts had quite a difficult life. Yet, she remains one of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people because of these unique character traits.
It is these characteristics which I feel a particular responsibility to aspire to now that I have reached the age of bat mitzvah. I would now like to conclude with a short prayer, to mark this important milestone in my life:
Father in Heaven, On this great and holy day in my life, I am standing in your presence and in the presence of this holy gathering to acknowledge that I am taking upon myself the yoke of the Torah and the mitzvot and to do all that is righteous in your eyes.
Please support me with your right hand of justice and grant me the understanding and knowledge of your ways so that I shall be able to walk in them all the days of my life.
Help me to always be a faithful daughter in Israel, to promote the welfare of my people and to increase our honour.
Grant me the strength to do your will with a perfect heart and to succeed in all my endeavours.
May it be your will that I shall walk in the path of the righteous and merit a good and long life; a life of good health and happiness together with all the members of my family.
Amen & thank you for listening