Through my studies I’ve come to think about different aspects to the meaning of being Batmitzvah. There are many varied elements but the three that I want to focus on today areresponsibility, giving and the role of women in the Torah.
In this week’s parsha, Toldot, Rebecca overhears a conversation between Isaac and Esau. Isaac asks Esau to hunt down some food and serve it to him in exchange for the blessings given to the firstborn. Knowing that Esau had already sold his firstborn rights to Jacob, Rebecca prepares the food herself. She gives it to Jacob and tells her son to go to Isaac and serve the food to him whilst pretending to be Esau. Jacob does this and, as a result, he received the blessings from his father. As one can imagine, when Esau returns home and realises what has happened, he is not very happy. In fact, he is so furious that he decides he is going to kill Jacob. If only he could find him. G-d intervenes and, thankfully, Jacob survived and we, his descendants, are here to tell the tale.
Let’s just look at this story for a moment from Rebecca’s point of view. She has deep respect for her husband, Isaac. She also has a son, Esau, whom, despite being wicked, is still her son and she, being a Jewish mother, still loves him. Mothers will do anything do keep peace in their family; the last thing a mother wants for her children is for them to fight, never mind kill each other. So, creating this dispute between her twin boys is against Rebecca’s basic nature as a mother. In addition, someone with deep respect for their husband would not normally go against his wishes behind his back.
So, what motivated Rebecca to behave in this way? She could have ignored the conversation and kept the peace in her family but instead she acted and caused mayhem. In order to answer this let’s look a little further back into Rebecca’s life.
We first meet Rebecca, in parsha Chaya Sara, by the well when Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, comes with his ten camels to find a wife for Isaac. She offers not only to give water to him but also to provide water for his 10 camels. As we know, camels store a lot of water and, having just traversed the desert, there’s probably a lot of filling up to be done at what was the equivalent of a modern day service station. So in order to give all ten camels water, Rebecca was committing herself to at least a couple of hours of lowering the bucket and bringing it back up again. With no expectation of reward. Why would she do this?
We see from very early on in her life that she was a selfless person who took responsibility for what was going on around her. Now, of course, nobody thinks of themselves as selfish yet if we take a moment to reflect on things that we do, how much of it is for us and how much do we genuinely do for others? It is human nature that even when we are doing things for others there are still selfish motivations at play. How often do we really put ourselves out for someone else or just do the right thing?
Rebecca’s reaction was unique. Her sense of responsibility towards others and, particularly, the Jewish people, overrode any other feelings that she may have had. So, yes she caused chaos in her immediate family and there is no question this must have caused her great pain – particularly, as Jacob had to run away and that was the last time she ever saw him. However, because she knew with such clarity that she was doing the right thing, she was able to take these impossibly hard decisions.
Isaac’s blessings were blessings of leadership to the Jewish people and Esau, the evil man, must be denied them at all costs. Rebecca realised that it had to be Jacob, the holy man, the wholesome one, who would found the Jewish nation and Rebecca ensured that this happened.
As a mother there were so many ways that she could have convinced herself not to encourage Jacob to take the blessings but she knew it was the right thing to do.
Equally, when she was at the well she knew the right thing to do and, despite the effort that this would involve her in, her own feelings were irrelevant once she saw the camels needed water.
As it happens, we do not hear that much about Rebecca in the Torah. However, it is clear that she had the strength of character to act decisively when others would not have had the courage of their convictions.
Some people think that the Torah undermines the women in it by barely talking about them whilst the men have story after story describing their accomplishments. I am going to use an analogy to explain how I see this differently.
There are 2 men who each give a Million pounds to a local children’s hospital. One of them ensures that he gets a huge plaque on the wall and the other decides to remain anonymous. When it really comes down to it, both these men performed the exact same mitzvah – the only difference is that one got a plaque and the other didn’t. But the plaque is just so irrelevant! Who needs publicity when they know that through their act of giving they are helping hundreds of children? What people think and say about you matters much less than the goodness of the deed itself.
I see men and women as equally important and valued in the Torah. It’s just that the men got a bigger “plaque” then the women. The men might be the ones basking in the limelight, but the women are the ones sitting and watching with a knowing smile.
Far from being undervalued or under-appreciated, Jewish women are looked upon as more reliable, more consistent and more committed to G-d.
For example, the women played no role in the building of the Golden Calf. In fact, on the contrary, they refused to give their jewellery and the men had to tear their earrings from their ears. The Rabbis tell us that when the Temple was built a few months later, the women ran with their jewellery to donate it in the service of G-d. When the spies returned from the land of Israel with a negative report, it was the women who said let’s trust in G-d and all will be fine.
And our work is not yet done. The Rabbis say that the final redemption will come about because of the actions of Jewish women, not of Jewish men.
I see our mother Rebecca as a role model. She always did the right thing; she took responsibility for others and was a real and genuine giver. These are qualities that I find truly admirable and I will strive to emulate. But like our Rebecca, I will try not to allow my behaviour towards other people to be tainted by my own self-interest or in the hope of maybe receiving a big plaque on the wall somewhere.
No, I want to be able to stand up for what’s right just for the sake of doing the right thing.
I feel lucky to have grown up in a house with my parents for guidance and as my role models who have given me, and continue to give me, a solid foundation. But, now that I am becoming Bat-Mitzvah, I hope to take this further and make my own choices with a sense of responsibility towards the Jewish People and attempt to give to others.
I would like to thank my parents for all they have given me and for their continued, unconditional support and love for me.
I am blessed with wonderful grandparents, Saba Ivan, Safta Marlene, grandma Ruth and grandpa David and close siblings Hannah, Jacob & Isaac.
I hope I can live up to all your expectations of me as I step out in the world as a Bat Mitzvah.