Shabbat Shalom everyone – I’m Talia, and I hope you still have some energy left to hear what I have to say!
Being a twin, my life is full of duality – a concept that I understand as something being both similar and different at the same time. It is therefore convenient that this week, we have the double parsha of Vayakhel-Pekuday and Parah. When I was choosing what to speak about on this special occasion, I thought it would be a good opportunity to think about the doubleness that is part of my life as well as specific in this week’s parsha. I decided to concentrate on a few important dualities that exist within Jewish life and thought. Duality is a part of everyday life and is represented within Jewish Law, relationships and time.
I will be discussing the Parah Adumah, the red heifer (or cow), alongside the Egel Hazahav, the golden calf, as well as the unique relationship between 2 brothers, Yissachar and Zevulun who were the sons of Jacob, and lastly the duality of time. I hope to share with you all the messages and significances of each. Although these examples are very different from one other, they can each teach us a valuable lesson that is relevant today.
Earlier this morning, we read about the Parah Adumah, or the red heifer, in Parshat Parah. This cow has a double in Jewish history – the Egel Hazahav, or the golden calf. Both cows, despite being opposites in many ways, are crucial to our understanding of what it means to have faith, Emunah, in Hashem. The Golden Calf represented the Jewish people’s loss of faith in Hashem as their leader. Thinking that Moshe had abandoned them, they collected all the men’s jewelry and fashioned an idol – going against the second of the Ten Commandments, which reads: Lo Yi-he-yeh Lecha Elokim Acherim Al Panay – you shall have no other gods before me. This cow signified a failure of faith.
The other cow, the Red Heifer, demonstrated the way that faith could be regained. The laws of the red heifer are complex and not entirely clear – the cow is used in the process of purification where the Jewish Leader sacrifices the cow and burns it to ashes. The concept of the red heifer is a chok; a mitzvah that we have not been given the reasoning behind. Even King Solomon, the wisest man in Jewish history, could not understand the meaning behind the use of the Parah Adumah.
I would like to suggest that both cows, when learnt about together, come to represent a duality that is connected to faith.
The Egel Hazahav showed an abandonment of faith – but the act of sacrificing the Parah Adumah for reasons that we cannot fully grasp, is evidence that we have put our trust and faith back into Hashem.
The Egel Hazahav made everyone who touched it impure because it showed a willingness to forget about Hashem and the protection that He had always given them. The Parah Adumah, however, purified those who came into contact with its ashes. Although it is easy to lose faith and reflect the Egel Hazahav, our actions should mirror the faith that the Parah Adumah stands for.
Duality, however, is not only contained in objects and animals, but can be found in the relationships between people. Whilst learning for my Bat Mitzvah, I came across the extraordinary partnership between two of Jacob’s sons, Yissacher and Zevulun. Each son had a very different personality: whilst Yissachar was a scholar who spent his time studying the Torah, Zevulun was a businessman who traded at sea. The brothers formed an arrangement that exists today as a working model in the Jewish community - the brothers agreed that they would support one another; Yissacher would receive half of Zevulun’s earnings, and he, in turn, would merit from his brother’s Torah study.
What we see here is a duality between the physical and the spiritual that has significance not only for these brothers, but also for the way that we live our lives. This relationship teaches me that physicality and spirituality are two halves of one whole: as a Jewish nation in a physical world, one cannot be without the other.
I believe, however, that Yissachar and Zevulun’s partnership also speaks volumes about how important it is to acknowledge each individual’s talents and interests. Many of our mitzvot require physical objects; the commandment to give Tzedakah, charity, for example, requires us to have worked to earn money to give away. The mitzvah, therefore, has a dual character: it is a spiritual act that can only be fulfilled by physical means.
Katie and I have not yet decided who is the Physical and who is the Spiritual twin, however we can achieve more if we work together as long as we don’t argue too much. Last year we did a charity bake sale, inspired by the Great British Bake Off. We spent a few days in the kitchen baking our hearts out and managed to raise nearly £1000 for Jewish and non-Jewish charities.
I could not have raised even half that amount if I had worked alone, like Yissachar and Zevulun would not have achieved as much alone either. Duality, therefore, is not only a process by which we can act, but also a way that we succeed.
The last duality that I would like to share with you all today is the dual nature of time in Jewish thought. Time plays an important part in Judaism; the first thing Hashem called holy was a day: Shabbat, at the end of creation. In addition, the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation, after they left Egypt, was the command to make time holy by creating the Jewish calendar. Christianity uses a solar calendar and Islam uses a lunar one – Judaism uses both. As you can see, duality is very much connected to time. As I am becoming Bat Mitzvah today, telling people my age now has two important and distinct meanings:
On the one hand, I am twelve years old; an age that is calculated by solar ideas of how time works. But on the other, turning twelve in a Jewish sense is something quite different. No other age represents the spiritual milestone that becoming bat mitzvah does. I am now aware that I have a dual responsibility in life – not only to myself, but also to the wider Jewish community.
Of course, being twelve comes with new obligations – as of today, I need to fast on certain days, sit only with the ladies in shul and am accountable for my own mistakes.
The three topics that I have shared with you today: the Parah Adumah and the Egel HaZahav, the brothers Yissachar and Zevulun, and Jewish ideas of time, all contain concepts of duality. Whether faced with the choice to do good or bad, the decision to combine the physical and spiritual or to consider how to grow as a person, these examples of duality have shown me that there is always the chance to do the right thing.
As I stand here today on my Bat Mitzvah, I am determined to use the uniqueness of duality in Judaism to make myself, and my community, stronger. I hope that I have conveyed to you all the potential that is contained in every moment, and the opportunities that we all have to make a positive difference to our world.
Thank you very much for coming to shul today and celebrating our Batmitzvah.