On Sunday, June 5, we celebrated our daughter becoming a bat mitzvah. She is our oldest, so other than two brit milahs, this was our family’s first simcha.
Over the years my husband and I have transitioned through the spectrum of religious observance. Though our Jewish education as children was minimal, during our marriage we have studied and learned with rabbis and religious families from Miami Beach to Brooklyn, Lakewood to Atlanta, implementing new mitzvahs and making Judaism and Torah part of the essence of our lives.
So planning our daughter’s bat mitzvah — a name sometimes given to the event rather than the person it celebrates — got me thinking about the paradox of religious expression.
For my bat mitzvah class, as for many other Jewish children, that milestone marked the beginning and the end of our Jewish education and connection.
Our daughter, on the other hand, attends a Jewish school and has spent the past nine years, several hours a day, studying Torah, the prophets, Jewish history and Hebrew and learning the daily prayers, along with science, math, language arts and other secular subjects.
Now that she has officially become a bat mitzvah, a daughter of the Torah, all the laws she has learned are officially part of her.
It is interesting that the root of the Hebrew word halachah means “to go forward.” I had often considered the laws as something that held us back in some way. But it is just the opposite.
Our daughter’s bat mitzvah date was not just a day on the calendar devoted to a portion of the Torah, though that part did hold special significance. Now the entire Torah is hers, as it has been ours for thousands of years and generations of Jewish women. The Torah goes forward with her.
In her bat mitzvah portion, Bamidbar, we begin the fourth of the five books of the Torah. This book is also known as Numbers, for G-d commanded that a census of the Jewish people be taken. Through this counting, G-d reminds us of how precious we are to Him, that we are all part of His master plan, and because of that, we all count.
G-d gives each of us unique gifts, talents and missions. Each of us is endowed with a special purpose that only we can fulfill. Just as no two people look exactly alike, no two souls are exactly alike. Each individual is custom-made and has a purpose that only he or she can fulfill.
As parents, our role is to help our children recognize and develop these strengths. I am busy with life and don’t often take the time to tell my children about the virtues I see in the them. During my speech to my daughter, I shared those virtues with her, as well as with her friends and family.
The bat mitzvah celebration was a chance for us to come together after her years of study and immersion in Jewish rituals and laws — not just at school, but also, more important, at home. It was a special day that denotes her opportunity to embark on a life that, I hope and pray, is filled with meaning and connection to her heritage, her Torah and G-d.
Hasidic thought explains that the census, or counting, recorded in the parshah was a profound event that touched on the core of the Jewish spirit. When a group is counted, everybody is equal. No person is counted twice, however important he or she is.
What then are we actually counting? It is not our personalities, our unique talents, our wealth, our knowledge or our esteem. Rather, we are counting our very identities. When the Jewish people are counted, the core of our Jewishness, possessed by all Jews equally, is stimulated and brought to the surface.
This spark is responsible for the remarkable phenomenon among countless Jewish people who, throughout history, were threatened with death if they refused to renounce their Judaism.
History has shown that Jews from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, including the nonobservant, gave up their lives rather than denounce their religion.
Why? Because the Jewish core is always alive. And when the G-dly spark comes to the surface, any Jew will naturally feel that his Jewish identity is so important that he is not willing to compromise it even for a moment.
Once we are unified in our service to G-d, regardless of our backgrounds or affiliations, as we were at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah, then our uniqueness can shine, and our mission in the world can come to fruition — as individuals and as a nation.
Whether we have recently become a bar or bat mitzvah or it has been decades, may we all merit to know who we are and to feel good about ourselves as unique individuals and as part of the Jewish people as a whole — from generation to generation, together as part of His master plan.
Sources: “Torah for Your Table,” Rabbi Yisroel and Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis, compiled by Rebbetzin Ester Jungreis. The Gutnick Edition Chumash, Sefer Bamidbar.