Rabbi Hackenbroch and Gila, Rabbi Wayland and Suzanne, family and friends. Shabbat Shalom!
The build up to my Bat Mitzvah has been an exciting one!
I had many unanswered questions inside of me, and throughout the journey they were slowly but surely answered. I discovered that they all had a theme, which was making me doubt the facts I had been taught throughout my Jewish education. The truth. Faith.
How do we know what to believe?
How do we know that the river Nile turned to blood?
How do we know that the sea split?
How do we know all these facts and figures are true?
And, if they are true, why don’t we witness similar miracles today?
In this week’s Parasha, seven of the ten plagues are introduced. Each plague seems to get bigger and better as we read about all the miracles to help the Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt. The Baal Shem Tov explains that the point of the plagues was not to destroy the Egyptians but their main purpose was to show the Egyptians AND the Jews that there is a g-d in the world.
The first two plagues, the blood and frogs, start at the lowest point on Earth, the water. They affect the ground, then the animal kingdom and the sky until the final plague of killing the firstborns, in next weeks parasha, goes beyond the physical world. The point of the plagues going from low down and getting higher was to show that Hashem is in control of everything. Pharoah made the whole of Egypt think he was a god but the plagues showed the world that there is nothing as powerful as Hashem.
Why does it say the plagues were also for the Jews to believe?
The Jews had been slaves for 210 years and had fallen to such a low level that they needed a boost in faith, in emunah. Through these open miracles, the Bnei Yisrael could see the light at the end of the tunnel of slavery. The Jewish people were able to know with certainty that Hashem existed. Even today, the plagues are such a symbol of being Jewish. Almost every Jew knows the story of the plagues and we retell it every year on seder night. We do this to strengthen our faith in Hashem, to remind ourselves of our powerful and loving g-d.
But my question of why we don’t see such big miracles today has not been answered yet!
If it was so great that Hashem made the 10 plagues, why do we not see things like that now?
Every generation since the beginning of time has a challenge to believe in g-d. You might think that after seeing the miracles of the plagues of Egypt, every Jew believed in Hashem and every non-Jew would convert. But this is not the case at all!
People saw the miracles and still didn’t believe! In fact, four fifths of the Jews chose to stay in Egypt than to leave with everyone else!
We still have miracles today but they are much more hidden. In order to see how many miracles there are, it is everyone’s jobs to strengthen their own Emunah. When you do this, it is possible to see how much Hashem does for us.
For example, you are walking down the street and you accidentally drop your wallet. Someone picks it up for you before you’ve realised you dropped it. You thank them thinking them a kind person. This is actually a hidden miracle, because maybe it is not the sea splitting, but if you wouldn’t have had it returned, it could have been tragic!
This is a small example from our every day lives. Hashem controls everything, the only thing he leaves to us is our level of faith, Emunah. This is why it says in the Gemara:
Hakol Biday Shamayim, Chutz Meyirat Shamayim – Everything is in the hands of heaven, except for the fear of heaven.
Faith is an inner belief and a trust in something or someone with higher powers than yourself. Becoming Bat Mitzvah is about opening your eyes to those hidden miracles and how Hashem is the cause of them.
During my Bat Mitzvah learning, I have learned lots of interesting and important stories that Rabbis have told.
Imagine a rollercoaster that twists and turns in every direction at the best theme park in the world! You realise that you have to wear a seatbelt to ride it and this frustrates you. You decide to go on it anyway and you have so much fun that you forget you’re even wearing it!
You’re probably thinking ‘how does this relate to my Bat Mitzvah’?
First, the twists and turns of the rollercoaster represent life’s ups and downs. Next, the seatbelt represents the Torah, which can sometimes feel like it is holding you back but in the end it allows you to enjoy life to the fullest!
There is a second story that I can really relate to. There was once a man who went searching for diamonds in his town. He made enough money to feed his family but it was a hard job to maintain. He heard about a man offering to take him on board his ship for free to an island where there were millions of diamonds everywhere. As soon as he arrived he saw that it was true, all he saw was diamonds! He started collecting them in his bucket. He suddenly realised that all the other men on the island were collecting fish and laughing at him!
One man called out ‘diamonds are worthless here! It’s the fish that make us money.’ He took their word for it.
A year later, he returned to his hometown with buckets and buckets of fish. His wife came running, expecting diamonds, but all she saw was fish! Her husband explained that fish were worth much more than diamonds, but she cried back ‘We can get fish anywhere, how could you waste a year collecting fish?!’
The diamonds are like the mitzvot in the Torah: we start by wanting to collect them, but we lose focus and this is what the fish are - the distractions. We can spend our whole lifetime collecting mitzvot, or in this case diamonds, but the day we lose focus and decide to collect fish, we lose direction.
Becoming Bat Mitzvah is about focusing on the diamonds of Torah. It’s about realising that life is no straight line and overcoming the ups and downs with the 613 mitzvot to guide you.
With these tools, I can start on my Jewish journey ahead of me.