Shabbat Shalom everyone. - Over the past few months, I have been preparing for my Dvar Torah by looking in detail into this morning’s sedra Toldot, and also participating in a very special Tsedakah project which has made me think about what becoming BatMitzvah really means.
Today, as I stand here as BatMitzvah, it is the start of my adulthood and time for me to take on more responsibilities and be accountable for my actions. It is a time for me to not only follow the mitzvot of the Torah but understand their meaning in more depth.
I would like to begin by saying a few words about what I have learned about the portion – Toldot, from the Book of Beresheet.
Toldot is a well-known parasha, a complex story with many twists and surprises covering themes such as deception, favouritism, family feuds, fairness, leadership and future generations.
To set the scene, Yitschak and Rivka had been married for many years but sadly had no children.
Finally, Rivka fell pregnant and discovered that she was carrying twins; a difficult pregnancy where the twins appeared to be fighting within her - the beginning of the long endless struggle between them.
‘VaYomer Adonai la, shnay goyim bveet-naych, ooshnay l-oomim
me-may-eye-yich yiparedoo, oo-le-om milom, yeh-eh-mats v-rav yaavod tsa-eer’
“And Hashem said to her - Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will separate themselves from your innards, and one will be mightier than the other, and the elder will serve the younger.”
Esav was the first born, hairy and red-headed, followed by Yacov, who emerged holding Esav’s heel.
Esav and Yacov were very different; Esav was a hunter and had little interest in studying, and was favoured by his father Yitschak, while Yacov was a quiet, peaceful boy who enjoyed spending his time studying and was favoured by his mother Rivka.
The story then develops with this important episode. Esav arrived home one day with no luck from his hunt, he was ravenous and in an aggressive mood demanding food. Yacov, taking advantage of Esav’s hunger, offered him a bowl of lentil soup BUT on condition that Esav sells him his birthright, his one and only right to be the firstborn.
Yacov and Esav both understood what the privileges of a birth right meant - one of which was to dedicate himself completely to serve G-d. However, Esav did not behave like a person who would serve G-d in this way. His passion for hunting and killing implied that he did not have respect for life in the same way Yacov did, and Yacov knew it. Hence Yacov made a deal with Esav to sell him his birthright for the bowl of soup, and with no hesitation, Esav agreed.
’va-yomer esav, he-nay anochee holech lamoot, v-lama -zeh lee b-chorah’ –‘ And Esav said behold I am at the point to die and so what use shall be the birthright to me?’
I wondered how it was that Esav would sell his birthright, which was surely priceless, for a bowl of stew? He seemed to do so gladly and then justified it by saying he was one day going to die anyway.
The difficulty of wanting something right now rather than thinking about the future is a dilemma that many of us face -. We can only make the right decisions if we are aware of how the choices will have a direct impact on our lives.
When I was younger I used to spend my pocket money straight away on little things that I would forget about a few days later. Now I am older I save my money for things I REALLY want so in that way I have not only learnt the value of money, but also the fact that you should think about the decisions you make and their consequences, rather than doing things on impulse.
The truth is that we can only truly feel good when we sacrifice short-term pleasure by investing in our future and doing what's right. I guess that’s what my parents mean when they keep telling me that if I work hard now, it will ultimately help me in the future.
When Esav discovered that he had been ‘tricked’ he was furious and threatened to kill his brother. Instead of taking a life lesson from this event and self-reflecting, he played the victim, as it was easier to blame his brother so that he did not feel responsible.
The Torah teaches us no matter what our day has been like, or what mood we’re in, we must act like a mensch; we must speak in a refined and respectful manner. From Esav we learn what NOT to do, and how NOT to behave, while from our forefathers we can learn how to live our daily lives properly.
As mentioned earlier, this story is complex and with many themes. Why did Yakov deceive his brother into accepting the deal by tempting him with a bowl of stew?
Rashi says that it was ok for Yakov to deceive his brother. Yakov saw himself as more worthy of serving G-d and Esav did not deserve the right to this honour because he was a wicked man. Yakov may have behaved in what could be considered an immoral way, however, in doing so he believed that he would be stopping worse things happening in the furture.
Rambam looks at this situation in a more straightforward way and says that when people say Yakov ‘stole’ from Esav, they are misunderstanding the Parasha. He believes that Yakov paid a full and fair price for the birthright and that the stew was just a symbol of the full payment.
I would now like to go back to the title of this Parasha. The translation of the word Toldot is “generations”. The word ‘Generations’ firstly makes me think about my family - and my family are really important to me! I am especially lucky to have four wonderful grandparents who are always there for me and I love them very much.
At school I was asked to research my family and draw a family tree. This exercise made me think about my extended family history and where they had come from.
My great great grandparents all originated from Eastern Europe and my mum’s grandpa was born in Poland where he lived until the age of 11 in 1913. My mum tells me he remembered the pogroms and his family were forced to leave because of the persecution of the Jews at the time, and escaped to London.
Generations also makes me think about the Jewish people in general and our history. It’s amazing to think that certain things remain constant within Judaism regardless of time – family, religion and traditions.
Remembering the past is very important especially for us as Jews. This is why I decided to take part in Yad Vashem’s Batmitzvah Twinning program.
I am doing my Batmitzvah today in memory of Regine Siennicki – a young girl from Paris who was tragically murdered by the Nazis in Aushwitz at the age of 9.
Regine never reached Batmitzvah age and this is why it is so important that I can honour her today. I will continue to keep the memory of Regine alive by lighting a candle for her each year on Yom HaShoah. In this way I am playing my part as a Jew by remembering past generations now and in the future.
Linked to this I also decided to do a special Tsedakah project and raise money for The Holocaust Educational Trust. This charity educates young people across the UK about the Holocaust and explains how important it is today that people should be tolerant towards ALL faiths. To raise the money, I did a sponsored walk of the Northern Line which was 23 miles and took 9.5 hours walking from Morden to High Barnet.
Finally, I’d like to thank my bat mitzvah teacher Sharon Walters who helped me prepare for this Dvar Torah.
As I move into adulthood I hope to always make the right decisions and be kind and caring to everyone, especially to my brother Sam– unlike Esav and Yacov. I will try my best with everything I do and be respectful to everyone and take the lessons I have learnt from my Batmitzvah studies to think about my actions as I move into my future as an adult.
Thank you for listening and I wish you Shabbat shalom.