I delivered the below speech on the occasion of my eldest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. The formatting/pacing is designed for my delivery, not for reading – so I offer my apologies in advance.
It is so wonderful to have so many smachot (joyous occasions) that we had to bring the Torah readings into extra innings today.
This Shabbat my eldest child, Nava Margalit, is celebrating her Bat Mitzvah.
This is probably my last chance to give her advice she might actually listen to…
So, I’m going to subject you all of you to my last-ditch attempts at parental guidance.
At the end of last week’s Parsha (Torah reading), Moshe heard a voice from between the two Keruvim (Cherubs).
The last time Keruvim were actors in Chumash (Five Books of Moses) was when they were positioned to guard the entrance to Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden).
In a way, Moshe was hearing Gan Eden itself.
And then, in the middle of this week’s Parsha, the Aron travels ahead of the people, seeking a place of Menucha – a place of comfort.
It seems that the people are on the cusp of Gan Eden.
Everything is taken care of.
Everything seems perfect.
And then, everything all falls apart.
First, they speak evil in the ears of Hashem (G-d).
And then they are overcome by a desire called תַּאֲוָה (Ta’ava)
Chava (Eve) was the first person to experience this desire.
Everything was perfect and then she was struck with a desire for the forbidden fruit – with Ta’ava.
Later, Ta’ava is used to refer to the desires
• to eat meat
• to drink alcohol
• and for a national neighbor’s possessions.
As I understand it, Ta’ava refers to a desire to weaken or destroy – even oneself– for the sake of immediate pleasure.
Why should this matter to you, today?
Because when the people complain, Moshe compares them to children.
When children are bored, they destroy for the sake of immediate pleasure.
And then they pull tantrums when their desires are not met.
That is the path of children.
But you are no longer a child.
And so you must choose another path.
You can choose to redirect Ta’ava to the service of Hashem or, you can choose to invert it entirely.
It is Chava who shows us the way.
When Chava was expelled from the garden, the Chumash does not say she was cursed.
Instead, she was transformed.
She would knowingly take on the pain of a husband and the dangers of childbirth in order to create the future.
Instead of destroying for the sake of immediate pleasure – she would take on immediate pain for the sake of creation.
Nava, in my biased opinion, you have brains, looks, material comfort and even a good heart.
Everything is taken care of.
But because everything is taken care of, you must not allow yourself to be consumed by Ta’ava.
Instead, like Chava, you must use your blessings to create the future – to connect to the timeless – even if it costs you in the here and now.
This is the path of holiness.
Remarkably, there is another definition of child-like behavior in this Parsha.
When Miriam speaks ill of her brother Moshe, Hashem seems to compare her to a disrespectful daughter.
But what drove Miriam to do what she did?
I believe it was simple: she was comparing herself against Moshe.
Nava, as you grow older you will find others who are smarter and better looking than you – as hard as it might be for this parent to imagine.
You will find those who are stronger, or wealthier.
And you will find those who are, at least in as much as we can measure it, more successful than you.
All you need to do is open your eyes and you will realize that every person around you has something you do not.
Nava, if you measure yourself against them, you will inevitably be tempted to raise yourself up by bringing them down.
Even Miriam, the great Naviah (prophetess), made this mistake.
But Moshe did not.
When Eldad and Meidad experienced Nevuah (prophecy), Moshe encouraged them.
Because Moshe was not in competition with others, he could encourage their success.
And because Moshe was not in competition with others, he could be open to the incomparable presence of Hashem Himself.
Because Moshe was the most humble of men, he alone could speak פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה (mouth to mouth) with Ha Kadosh Baruchu Hu (the Holy one, Blessed be He).
Nava, raise up those around you
and they will raise you up.
Raise up those around you
and open yourself to the presence of G-d.
Of course, it isn’t enough just to celebrate the achievements of others.
Something more is needed.
And once again, this Parsha shows us the road.
When the people are led to the cusp of Gan Eden…
…their movements are choreographed by notes blown into a pair of hammered silver trumpets.
In Bereshit we read:
ז וַיִּיצֶר יְקוָק אֱלֹקים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים…
Hashem formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed a living soul into him.
The word Yeitzer means ‘to form’.
But it also refers to ‘desire’.
All Hashem required to bring life to the physical; to bring a living soul to the dust of the earth…
But we are physical creatures – and so we express our deepest desires through physical effort.
The trumpets are hammered, מִקְשָׁה.
The shoresh is Kashe, which means hard or difficult.
The trumpets are silver because they represent our spirituality.
But they are hammered because it takes us real-world effort to bring the spiritual to the physical.
They are hammered so that when they are blown, they can carry our echo of the voice of Hashem.
Nava, we all have the spark of the divine within us.
The Machazit Hashekel, the silver half-shekel, tells us that.
But we can have more than a spark.
We can echo the voice of Hashem.
Nava, you are incredibly diligent.
Apply yourself to bringing the divine into our world.
Apply yourself and, like these trumpets, you will be able to echo the voice of Hashem
Nava, I have one last piece of advice for you – but this one isn’t from this Parsha.
This advice comes from the life of my mother, your Nana Chana.
For those who don’t know, my mother passed away just over three months ago.
Nava, Nana Chana always saw the negative consequences of choices.
When faced with uncertainty, when faced with a lack of control, she resisted making a choice.
She was just like you, and just like me.
But the fact is, Nana Chana did make choices.
She made incredibly brave choices, from Boss Man to Idaho and from the Arctic to her writing.
Often, Boss Man drove her to action – perhaps too much action.
But she acted nonetheless.
There is a similar dynamic with your own parents.
I fear choices – and so your mother makes them for me.
(some of you think I’m joking)
But even just listening to those who are braver than ourselves is not so easy.
We need help.
Nana Chana found her help in a simple phrase:
Be strong and of good courage.
Nana Chana knew fear, she lost her eldest child,
But once she decided to act – she didn’t let her fear stop her.
Nava, don’t be frozen by that which you cannot control.
Instead, be strong and of good courage.
Nava – taken all together – this is my advice to you, to Kira Friedman on her Bat Mitzvah and to the Tzofia who was born just this morning. It is even my advice to myself:
• create even when you are blessed
• raise up those around you
• work to bring the divine to our world
• and be strong and of good courage.
There is just one more thing.
As Nana Chana grew older, that phrase, Chazak V’ematz became even more important to her.
It became more important because it was used by Moshe when he passed the mantle of leadership on to Yohoshua.
That phrase represents the passing of one generation, and the arrival of another.
Nava, as my mother was dying, I blessed her.
Your uncle and I blessed her.
As she lay in her bed, at the end of her life, we blessed her with the words of Birkat Kohanim.
Today, at the beginning of your adult life, as you sit here, so full of promise yet to come, I’d like to bless you with those same words.
As I do, I hope to pass some part of my mother’s mantle on to you.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְקוָק, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְקוָק פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְקוָק פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
May Hashem bless you, and keep you;
May Hashem make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you;
And May Hashem lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.