I recently had the privilege of attending a very special young ladies Bat Mitzvah, Ava Barnett. For those of you who are not familiar with the significance of a Bat or Bar Mitzvah’s, let me explain a little. In the Jewish faith, when a boy or a girl turns thirteen, he/she is eligible to become a son/daughter of the Commandments, or a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It’s a beautiful right of passage involving extensive study, responsibility and community.
I have known Ava and her family intimately since she was a baby. What an honor it has been to watch her grow into such a intelligent, kind and bright light. She was so poised on the stage in front all of of her friends and family. As she chanted from the Torah, I was truly enamored by her grace and strength.
When it came time for Ava to teach about her Torah portion, I was blown away by her grace, confidence and passion when speaking to the congregation. She was a graceful force.
With Ava’s permission, she has allowed me to share her teaching that moved me, spoke to me, and gave me goosebumps all at the same time. Below are the words of Ava, who turned 13 on the day she read this. Young people like this reinvigorate my hope.
This week’s Torah portion is Va-Yerah and it is full of interesting stories…including Abraham and Sarah having a child,(even though she was like 110 years old), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the binding of Isaac.
What I want to focus on is Abraham challenging God in the pursuit of justice. In this section of my parsha, we learn about God making a plan to destroy two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. God had wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because the people insisted on preserving their indulgent and excessive quality of living. For Example, they would not allow the needy to come into their upper class community and would commit sins against their environment by not taking care of their fertile land. In addition, they lived in immoral and excessive ways. They were pretty horrible. As soon as Abraham heard about the choice that God was making to destroy these cities, he became upset. This is where he challenged God. Abraham asked god, “Will you sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” “What if there are fifty good people in the cities, will you still destroy them?” and God replied, “If I find fifty good people, I will not destroy the cities.” Abraham went on, “What is there were 45? Or 40? Or 30? All the way to 10 good people that could be living in Sodom and Gomorrah. And God said to Abraham, “I will not destroy them for the sake of 10.” What led me to focus on this section was how bold Abraham was to challenge God and Abraham’s awareness of how unfair it would be to destroy and end up killing all of the innocent people that lived in Sodom and Gomorrah. He would be punishing the good for the the crimes of the bad. I can’t help but relate this to what’s happening in our world today. How all too often we judge people unfairly based on nationality, religion, race or economic status. For example, should all Palestinian people suffer because of the wrongdoings of terrorists among them? Should all Muslims be banned from the US because of radical jihadists? Should all North Koreans be bombed because of the immorality of their leader?
As Abraham stood up to God to defend the innocent and righteous among the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we too need to stand up for good people and not pre-judge or label people just because of the color of their skin, their race, their sexual orientation or political orientation. I recognize that it is important for me to keep an open mind, and form my own beliefs based on my experiences. And to challenge what may be ‘popular opinion.’ And when I don’t fully understand something, that I should become more informed, do the research and learn what’s happening. Too often we can make false assumptions about people and circumstances and we should do our best to make informed decisions not just react and judge based on emotion and perceptions.
I think we can all learn from Abraham and choose to be good, fair, and moral people. To challenge authority in the pursuit of justice. To stand up for those who may not be able to defend themselves. And try to better understand the complex world around us before making judgments that could harm others.
My bat mitzvah is more than just this event today. It is also an awakening for me to start to understand who I really am as a human being, and a time for me to make a stand in what is right for our world. I’m still young and I have my whole life ahead of me, but realizing how to be a righteous and strong person that stands up for what I believe in is a big part in becoming a woman. And I’m determined to do the best I can.