I recently spent some time visiting my family, and while there went through some old boxes. In one of them was my “Bat Mitzvah Binder” – the beloved 3-ring binder with the handpainted cover by my tutor’s wife (who happens to actually be an award winning artist) and still filled with copies of the service, torah/haftorah readings, and most importantly – my speeches!
I re-read them and was amazed at how much of what I said ~17 years ago still rings true. While my practice of Judaism has changed a lot over the past decade (the changes didn’t start so early), the mentality behind it is still the exact same. Though I now wear a tichel and not a talit, its still the same girl underneath the fabric.
I’m pretty proud of my 12 year old self for this speech, and my 29 year old self for still knowing who she is and where she comes from.
Bat Mitzvah – Shabbat Morning Speech (with original grammar and emphasis)
Coach, family friends, and congregants:
The portion for this week is Pinchas. It refers to five different matters.
First, is the story of Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, who by his special actions was rewarded with high priesthood.
Second was taking of a second census of the Israelites. Almost forty years had passed since the people had been counted after the Exodus from Egypt.
Third, the women’s rights of inheritance was affirmed.
Fourth, Moses appointed Joshua as his successor, after he goes to Mount Abarim to get a good view of the Promised Land since he was not permitted to cross over into it.
And the portion ends with a description of a variety of sacrifices to be brought to the tabernacle for daily festival worship.
The central theme I would like to discuss today is the third matter, that of women’s right of inheritance. I chose this topic because I feel all people should be treated equally. Upon the death of Zelophad, who was a descendant of Joseph, his five daughters asked for their fathers possessions. They stood before Moses to state their case. Now, you may think that this was no big deal, but it as. They had to be very persistent. Earlier Moses had appointed other people to act as territorial consultants and judges to listen to, and solve the lesser problems and conflicts that arose among the people. The daughters were not satisfied with the first decisions, that they as women, could not inherit their fathers estate, so they kept questioning the decisions, until they got equal rights to inherit. One thing should be noted here. that is, that the five daughters stood at the doorway of the tent with the others of the camp. They were not forced to stand someplace else because they were women. The daughters told Moses and the other elders, that their father died in the wilderness of natural causes, and that he was a strong believer, and a follower of G-d. They asked why their fathers right should be done away with just because he had daughters and no sons. The daughters felt that they should be able to inherit their fathers possessions and to carry on his name. Moses however, did not know what to do, so he consulted with G-d. G-d said first, before anythign else, that what the daughters said was right, and that their fathers possessions would be given to the five daughters. This is the only place in the Tprah where G-d said “Cane dourot” or “you speak right,” and this one act, changed the future for all Jewish women. This started the women’s rights movement in history. Sons still had the first right to animals, property, etc., but daughters came next preceding the remainder of the father’s family.
This is all very important to me. At this time, equal rights were a strong concept and in a way, a law. Without these laws or Mitzvot, I know that I would probably not be on the bimah today. I hoever, wish that this tradition would have been used ever since biblical times. Unfortunately, many traditions were lost during the Middle Ages and until very recently, traditions and Mitzvot women were not required to do BECAME things women could not do. I am aware of the fact that many of you were not able to wear a tallit and have a Bat Mitzvah because you are women. Some people may still think that my being up here today is very wrong or surprising, and I respect that, but I wish to fulfill the mitzvot in the Torah to the best of my ability. That is why I wished to receive a tallit and have a Bat Mitzvah. Not to make a statement, but to fulfill the mitzvot that they represent.
I chose this portion, Pinchas, for my Bat Mitzvah specifically because of the story of Zelophad’s daughters and its call for women’s rights. By my being up here today, I am setting an example with the women of my generation. W are doing this in the hope that this tradition will not be lost again.
I would like to thank a few people at this time. Thanks to all of my friends and relatives who came in from out of town to be here today. Thanks to my friends for coming even though they have no clue what it’s all about, except that it took away from my phone and socializing time. And a special thank you to Coach because without you I could not have done any of this today. My family and I would like to thank you all for coming and invite you to join us for the kiddush next door after the service. But please, don’t eat or drink anything until the blessings have been said.
Happy occasions when shared with family and friends become cherished memories. Thank you for being a part of that memory, and sharing in our joy as I become a Bat Mitzvah.