My Bat Mitzvah speech:
“Va’yakhel Moshe et call adat b’nai Yisrael.”
This week’s Parshah begins with Va’yakhel, meaning, “and he assembled”. Moshe is assembling the kahal or congregation – (which is the shoresh; the root of this word).
And then, the Torah says, Adat B’nai Y’Israel–, which also means: the assembly coming together. The shoresh of Adat is Ed, meaning to witness or testimony. In this case, men, women, and children all assembled and shared in their efforts to build the Mishkan, a great testament to Hashem. (The Mishkan was the portable desert tabernacle where the holy of holies, or the Ark of the Covenant was kept.)
The Parshah begins with a brief review of the precepts of Shabbat. A’leh Ha’devarim – “these are the things” that Hashem commanded, which interestingly in gematria, the numerical equivalent, is the number 39, which happens to be the exact number of avadot, the types of labor that are forbidden on Shabbat – the avot melahot.
Shabbat is a holy day that we are commanded to remember, and observe in order to sanctify it, and not do these labors forbidden on Shabbat. Shabbat is an oneg, a delight, and it is a mitzvah to eat, drink, and rest. The soul or neshama, needs its food and delights, to support us during the week – recharge our spiritual life with time to reflect on, and reinforce our identity through prayer and study. It strengthens our communal bonds and sense of responsibility to others.
In the next pasuk, Moshe speaks about donations for the Mishkan. Ha’anoshim (the men) came al ha’nasheem (to the women). Rambam says that this means that the women were held in higher esteem than the men because they were the ones who gave freely of their precious possessions – their jewelry. And all the people brought wool, and skins, and acacia wood. “And the women worked – every wise-hearted woman spun (the wool) with her hands”, (I can only imagine that my Safta Sabina, zichrona levracha, would have been one of these women), – “all the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goat hair.” Rashi comments that the Melacha of Tofer in the Mishkan involved sewing together different sections of the woven tapestries to form two very large sections. However, there is a machlocket about the Tofer in the Mishkan.
The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that the curtains were continuous without a seam, and therefore did not require sewing. So it is held that the Tofer was not required for creating the curtains, but only for repairing tears in the woven tapestries, by pushing the needle through both pieces of the fabric.
There is a Chassidic metaphor of the needle representing our lives. A needle’s purpose is to sew together disconnected pieces of fabric. The tip of the needle is aggressive – nothing stands in its way – it teaches us to stick to our moral values and persevere in our goals. The other end of the needle is the eye where the connecting threads are held. The thread represents Torah, mitzvot, sanctity, spirituality, and the holiness we bring into our lives.
This metaphor teaches us humility, and where our real strength comes from. The purpose of our life is to sew together disconnected elements of our world.
Later in the Parshah, the making of the kiyor (or laver), for the Mishkan is presented. The kiyor was a great copper urn on a pedestal filled with water, in which the kohenim (the high priests) would wash their hands and feet every morning before serving in the Mishkan. The kiyor was the last item to be made, but the first item to be used in the Mishkan, and this vessel defined holiness.
While all the people contributed precious metals – gold, silver, copper, and other items – the only metal that really shined was from the copper mirrors that the women donated that would be melted down to fabricate the kiyor. Moshe was loath to accept them because they were used for vanity. But Hashem said to Moshe, “Take them, as they are the most precious of all donations.” Because it is through these copper mirrors, that the Jewish nation, during the darkest hours of slavery in Egypt, were able to survive and flourish.
The men were crushed; subjugated to slave labor, and in no position to want to have children and engage in family life. They did not see the point of bringing children into a life of slavery. So the women would beautify themselves in their mirrors, and go out to the fields to see their husbands, and encourage them to have children.
It is interesting to note that last week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa, which relays the story of the materials used to make the golden calf, seems completely opposite from this week’s. Aaron said to the men, “Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons and your daughters, and bring them to me.” But the women refused to give their jewels for the creation of an idol. The midrash notes that amm, “the people”, came to Aaron and asked him to make an idol. The verse does not say anything about “the people” getting the rings from their husbands, so we can then assume that “the people” were the men.
Then, the Parshah says that the ‘people’ were so enamored that they would get a new G-d, so ‘the people’ – the men, broke off the golden rings that were in their ears, and gave their own gold.
There is a Talmudic story about a poor man named Reb Gavriel Nosse-Chen, who had no money to give tzedukah. His wife Chana Rifka found out about the situation, and without telling her husband, sacrificed her personal jewels and gems. When Reb Gavriel realized what she had done, he was saddened. Chana Rifka replied, “Haven’t you told me many times that our Rebbe said, ‘One should always trust in Hashem and always be joyful?’”
Women did not despair in Egypt. Womens’ patience and enduring mentality for survival throughout our Jewish history show women picking up the pieces and starting again – emerging strengthened and improved. A few weeks ago we talked about Devorah leading the Jews into battle, Miriam saving baby Moshe, and finally dancing with tambourines as they crossed the red sea, and in a few weeks we will read about Esther saving her people – all strong women who persevered in times of trouble.
According to the Midrash, “not a single woman worshipped the golden calf”. As a reward for this, Hashem gave the women the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, a minor festival on the first day (or head of each month), on which the first sliver of the new moon appears. There is a custom that women do not work on Rosh Chodesh. The Rosh Chodeshim were originally intended to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Women seem to have the natural ability to comprehend life, live the truth that what is real is in the neshama, and that their ultimate communion is with Hashem.
The Torah recognizes the different natures of men and women especially in performing positive commandments. Ritual commandments, like praying three times a day, are highly structured in terms of time, place, and regularity. It is believed that this external structure is necessary for a man’s spiritual growth. It allows them to forget the materialistic world and remember who they are in the big picture.
Women are not obligated to pray three times a day. They are not bound by the external structure, but instead develop their spiritual gifts from their internal power, their insight, and their innate nurturing skills. As bearers of life, women have an ability to see life for what it is, nurturing it, their families, and their neshamas; deepening their connection to Hashem. Their deep spiritual potential will inspire the final redemption and the coming of Moshiach.
Our Sages say that redemption from Egypt came from the merit of women. But even before there was a Jewish people, in her own way, each of the four Imahot – the matriarchs of B’nai Yisrael – saved the Jewish lineage. Sarah saved her son Yitzhak’s right as sole heir; to become the second patriarch of the Jewish people. Rebekka substituted Yaacov to receive his father’s blessing instead of Esav, to insure Yaacov as the third patriarch of the Jewish people, and the father of the twelve tribes.
Leah reared the dynasty of the house of David from whose lineage Moshiach will come. And Rachel sacrificed being buried next to her husband to shorten the exile of the Jews in Babylonia.
One interesting fact that I came across in my preparation for today, was that all the Imahot were at one time barren. And I asked myself, “Why is this?” While this requires more in-depth study, one opinion was that Hashem wanted to remind everyone that the existence of the Jewish nation is a miracle, and is not dependent upon natural means. Hashem desired the prayers of the Imahot, and he did answer them.
The mark of a Jewish mother is to do what is necessary for the sake of her children. And because a mother gives life to a child, she passes down the Jewish heritage, and the child’s Jewish essence.
How will I aspire to be like these great Jewish women? How will I balance myself to remain tznius (modest) in the times we live in? Not making a show out of myself, but instead focusing on, and developing my inner hidden beauty. How will I follow my yeetzer tov, and stay on the derech eretz?
I will not lead a shallow materialistic life, and strut like a peacock, but try to develop my humility, my substance, and my appearance, and become ‘popular’ in the eyes of Hashem by bringing out my true inner beauty that Hashem has placed in me, so that I can bring that to the world the way the Imahot and the other women of my heritage did. I will remember my Jewish heritage, and those that have gone before me.
I will zochair and shomair – remember and keep the Shabbat. I will light Shabbat candles, keep a kosher home, establish a Shalom bayit filled with learning and wonder; give tzedukah, be kind to others, care for my community, be a good daughter, pursue my studies, a career, and eventually become a wife, and mother.
Speaking about coming of age, I came across this cute quote when I was researching my dvar Torah, and it is kind of appropriate. It talked about a bride about to get married, and it said, “Yesterday a peacock, today a feather duster!” But I would like to think of it as a feather duster that brings out the sparkle and light in her neshama. And the neshama of her family as well. For it is the woman who nurtures the Jewish family and builds her house for Hashem.
I wish to thank the kehilla for sustaining our beautiful shul, and thank Rabbi Jeremy Booty for always being there to answer my questions.
I would also like to thank some of my many mentors and teachers who have helped me in my journey to become a young Jewish woman. I would like to thank the Shluchim office, Rebbetzin Morah Yehudis Wolvovsky, Morah Nuchi Zirkind, Morah Mushka Baron, Rabbi Yosef Resnick, and especially Rebbetzin Morah Maryashi Sternberg.
Today is an extra special day, as we commemorate a mitzvah that pertains to the Holy Temple, or the Beit HaMikdash. This is a Hakhel Year, the beginning of a new seven-year cycle, after the schmitta. On the second day of the holiday of Sukkot, all gather in the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem, and the king reads from a Torah scroll that Moshe himself had written. Every individual can feel as if he is hearing these words from Hashem’s mouth; an event reminiscent of the historic moment when we stood at Mount Sinai, and were given the Torah.
This biblical mitzvah of Hakhel can only be performed when all the Jewish people reside in the Holy Land, the Temple rebuilt, and Moshiach reading from the Torah scroll. In the meantime, Jews should use this “Hakhel year” to assemble – men, women, children, and strangers (with women mentioned, as having a specific obligation to attend) – AND to promote Jewish unity; encouraging each other to increase in Torah observance and study.
I am happy to say that today – beshert, as fate would have it, we came together on my Bat Mitzvah and Shabbat, not simply to Va’yakhel, to assemble, but for a common purpose: to increase awareness of the light of Hashem, and merit the coming of Moshiach.
I am dedicated to tzedakah, and have established a Charitable Fund in honor of my Bat Mitzvah. I contributed my own money to establish the fund, and received some matching funds. Whenever I have tzedakah to give, I will put it into my Fund. At the end of every year, I will decide what charity I would like to contribute to, and the Jewish Foundation in New Haven, CT will fund that group.
I am also doing a catalog of donated books to our synagogue, and plan to add them to the collection, or sell them and donate the proceeds back to the synagogue.
I will also try, in the next month or so, to do a monthly “Shabbat meals on wheels” for people unable to leave their homes. I plan on baking challah and delivering chicken soup with matza balls.