The Meaning of Bat Mitzvah

by Brian on October 31, 2005

in A Parent in Israel


Our twelve-year-old daughter Merav became bat mitzvah this weekend. It
was an amazing event for the whole family. She read the entire Torah
portion of Bereshit plus the haftorah, and she gave a stellar drash to boot.
Jody and I were shepping nachas big time.

I wanted to share with you the talk Merav gave in synagogue on
Shabbat and at her party the next night. If you’d like to say mazal tov
to Merav, post a comment on the blog or drop me a line at brian@ThisNormalLife.com and I’ll make sure she gets it.

(The picture you see here, by the way, was taken during Merav’s practice session before Shabbat.)

———————————————–

“My parsha, Parshat Bereshit has some of the most interesting – yet
confusing – stories in the entire Torah. Those stories include the six
days of creation, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and a talking and
walking snake that gives bad advice.

“What am I, a 12-year old bat
mitzvah girl, supposed to make of all that?
 
“As I studied Bereshit for my bat mitzvah, the same questions kept
coming up for me and I was determined to find the answers. They’re not
easy questions.

“How do we know these stories are true? We weren’t there
after all. Did things really happen exactly the way it says in
Bereshit? If not, what do these stories mean? How can we really know?
Should we read Bereshit as a literal history or as something more like
a poem or a good story? What should we do when the Torah and science
disagree?
 
“I started by doing a short research project. I asked my parents and my
siblings, friends young and old my questions. The results that I found
were that many of the younger children said of course it really
happened, that’s what it says in the Torah. Most of my friends in
school said the same.
 
“My counselors in Scouts were not so sure. One said yes I believe in
everything that the Torah says. But another said she only believes part
of the things that seem most real to her.
 
“As I went on to asking older people, most of them said no, and that
wasn’t the point, the Torah comes to teach us more than just history.
 
“At
this point, I was getting pretty confused. Was there an answer or not?
I decided to see what some great thinkers had to say.
 
“The Lubavitcher Rebbe gives the least flexible opinion. When asked
about fossils that are millions of years old, he says that if there’s disagreement between Torah and science, Torah
is always right.
 
“The Rambam takes the opposite view. If there is a conflict between
Torah and science, science is always right. He writes in Hakdama
L’Mishna
that Torah should not be read literally. He says:


 
“‘The Torah speaks in the language of man.’
 
and


 
“’It isn’t possible to teach the many without using riddles and stories.’
 
“He gives the example of the sun and the earth. How would you know that
the sun is actually bigger than the earth unless you studied handasah
that is, math? He concludes that man needs to study science in order to
fully understand the Torah.
 
“Professor Shmuel Hugo Bergman, who won the Israel Prize in 1954, says
that science and Torah are both right and are not in conflict because
they speak two different languages. He writes:
 

“’There is no conflict between science and discovering more and more
about the rules and reasons that act on man, and between the personal
feelings of man.’
 
“He also uses an example about the sun. We expect the sun to rise every
morning and science can teach us about how this happens scientifically.
But as Rabbi Akiva says in Pirkei Avot:


 
“We have the privilege to relate to the sunrise however we want, as an everyday action or as a miracle from the Torah.
 
“Professor Bergman’s answer really spoke to me. But I still wasn’t sure.
As I was thinking about it, I had a conversation with a friend of my
Dad’s. What he said was that it doesn’t matter what everyone else
thinks. What matters is what I think and how I understand it and how it
can make me a better person.
 
“I am grateful for all the ideas I got. But in the end I have to figure
it for myself and decide what makes it meaningful for me. I think
that’s what being a bat mitzvah is all about.
 
“This fits with what Rav Kook says in Igrot HaRe’ayah.
 


 
“’The Torah doesn’t come to teach us history but rather how to behave in the world.’

“He goes on and says:
 

“‘For every opinion that comes to disagree with something in the Torah,
we need to start not with disagreeing but with building a palace of
Torah
on top.’
 
“What I think he means by building a palace of Torah is that we should
use disagreement to rise higher and higher up the ladder of becoming a
better person.
 
“I want to thank my father for helping me with this drash and my mother
for taking me shopping for everything I needed for this day, and to
both of them for being here with all the love and support I needed.

“I
want to thank my little brother Aviv for being cute…most of the time.
And my big brother Amir for not being annoying…most of the time.
 
“I want to thank my grandparents and my uncle Dave and Jen who came all
the way from California to be here with me, and my cousins Dori and
Richard who came all the way from Toronto. I want to thank Amirit Rosen
for teaching me the trope and the haftorah, helping me with the sources
for this drash, and guiding me through this process.
 
“And last I want to thank all my friends and people from out of town who came to celebrate here with me and my family.
 
“Now, you’ve probably been wondering: what was my conclusion? What do I
think about the big questions I raised? What was it that I decided made
all this meaningful and will make me a better person?
 
“But it doesn’t matter what I think, does it? What matters is what you think.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous November 1, 2005 at 5:10 am

Yashar Kochech on a beautiful d'rash…and mazel tov on what I'm sure was a beautiful bat mitzvah!

2 Anonymous November 1, 2005 at 2:26 pm

Mazal tov to Merav, and may her parents have lots of nahat from her and her brothers.

3 Anonymous November 8, 2005 at 10:49 pm

A quick note on Brian's weekly story.
First, Mazel Tov for the Bat Mitsvah Merav! I would like to write you something but I have not any time now. But who knows later on. In the meantime, read “Science and Judaism Jewish FAQs” at http://www.simpletoremember.com/faqs/Science_and_Judaism.htm
Explore also the different articles of “Judaism Facts, Jewish Articles, Information, Insights and Philosophy (Judaism 101)” at http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/index.htm You might find others than the first one I mentioned at the beginning. Some of the articles are maybe a little bit high level for your current knowledge but with further reading, you will slowly have an idea of the answers that are currently proposed. Remember, no one has any answers to your questions, only guesses (another word for theories!)
In short, as I am really in a hurry. If I would have to tell you in short a summary of the truth according to me, the humble Michael from London, another of the anonymous guy who reads with joy Brian's kind articles. That is what I would say:
1) the Tanach, is it perfect? No. Is it divinely inspired? Yes. Are ALL the stories of the Tanach true? Probably not but most of them I believe are true. Can one prove the stories to be true or false? For most of them, NO! Why? After several millennia, even the human beings of the generation of the spacecrafts are incapable of such a feat of knowing ACCURATELY AND RELIABLY the past.
2) G.od, does He exist? Yes. Can I prove it? NO! Only indirectly will you see G.od around you in nature, when you see the birth of a child, you will understand that we are more than a group of molecules that would be intelligent in such a way as to create of these marvelous things so intelligently. When you read a book on astronomy, you will understand that this tiny planet earth is unique among and infinite number of planets of this Universe. You will know that there is something special about us, human beings. You will also understand that all these human beings cannot have been created on their own without a divine intervention.
3) Merav, the Tanach is the story of the Jewish people. It does not matter that a few stories of the Tanach are not true (or are to be understood not literally) and a few mistakes are present. After several millennia, it is surely expected to see mistakes, added false stories and more unreliable sections of the Tanach. What matters is the general ideas of G.od existence in this Universe, of the values that you learn through the stories of the Tanach that are so important to remember even today, and especially the story of the Jewish people on earth, and more. Cherish the Tanach, Merav. Do not be discouraged by its complexity and the questions it forces you to ask. Inspire yourself from it and it will strengthen your spirit and your soul.
In Israel today, the Tanach is presented as more or less an unreliable set of stories. It is presented this way for very good reasons: to prevent the Jews from claiming their legitimate rights on the ENTIRE land of Israel. Do not fall into this trap, Merav.
Already many facts stated in the Tanach have been proven true through archaeology, history and the studies of ancient texts of other nations (Babylonia, Assyrian and other nations' texts).
The challenge for you and for any Jew is to choose what you strongly believe to be true in the Tanach and to base your own life on these parts of the Tanach that you believe to be true.
But remember that, at Mount Sinai, we told to G.od that we will follow his teachings and only then will we try to understand. This does not mean that you have to accept the current version of the Tanach blindly. But study it thoroughly and entirely every year. Divide the remaining writings that are not part of the Parashah reading and spread their reading over one single Jewish year. Then read four sides a day of leaves and this way, you will be able to read the entire Tanach every single Jewish year. Once you have done that a few years, you will have a good grasp of the Tanach. You will have chosen what you believe in and what you do not believe in. But be humble and do not be afraid to say: “I do not know”. Even today, when you read an English version of the Tanach, you see several words stated as being unknown for their meaning in Hebrew. What we do not know does not mean that it is not true.
4) Has the planet earth being created the way Genesis describes it? No one knows today if such a story is true or false. There are several current theories proposed and, for each of them, there are several valid, good arguments in favour and against of each of these different theories!!! That tells you how much ignorant we are, we the so-intelligent and so-scientific people of the 21st century. Yes, there is surely one Being who must laugh at our expenses today. We brag that we are so intelligent and we nevertheless cannot answer the questions that you yourself have asked very intelligently and very legitimately. Merav, not a single person on earth has the answers to your questions FOR SURE! Same for the existence of G.od! Not a single person can prove or disprove G.od's existence! But we are so arrogant that we nevertheless create theories to find possible answers. By definition, a theory is only a guess, an assumption that cannot be proven for sure. On the creation of the first man and of the planet earth, there are several theories and not one we are sure or nearly sure! Just bets, guesses.
Put your trust in G.od and your faith in G.od but, at the same time, always be rational and scientific. We can be lovers of the Tanach and of G.od and, at the same time, scientific and rational. Like Maimonides was for instance.
Time you to leave you, Merav.
G.od bless you Merav, Brian and your entire family.
Thanks for Brian's story this week, to share it with others. I enjoyed it once again.
G.od bless you all.
And yes, Merav, the Temple of Yerushalayim will raise again one day in Yerushalayim, soon. No, it will not fall from the sky, as the State of Israel did not fall from the sky. The Jewish people built the State of Israel and the Temple will also have to be built too. Once again, the Jewish people will become sovereign over the ENTIRE LAND OF YISRAEL. Again, the Jewish people will accomplish that too. Yes, once again, our enemies the Arabs will be defeated fully and conspicuously. Trust in the Tanach and in G.od despite the Tanach's imperfections and inaccuracies sometimes.
There are many books on your questions Merav. Again, these books give only theories! For one theory, you will find at Amazon.com books FOR this theory and AGAINST this theory. Who is right? No one because only G.od knows FOR SURE what is right and what is wrong in these theories (if any of these theories is right!!) and it is surely not the current very imperfect theories that are right and that we are asked to believe in the name of science or else!
One book I could quote is the following one. Genesis and the Big Bang Theory : The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible by Gerald Schroeder Some of it might be hard for you to understand at your current level of knowledge but you can get the general feel of it. In the set of articles on “Judaism Facts, Jewish Articles, Information, Insights and Philosophy (Judaism 101)” at http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/index.htm there are several articles on Gerald Schroeder and his thoughts. Check Does God Exists Proof Evidence for God Is there a Creator God in the World at http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/creatorofworld.htm Check also Gerald Schroeders web site typing his name in http://www.Google.com
But, with all due respect to Schroeder, no one on earth knows the truth of the creation of this planet called earth and of the first human being on earth. No one Merav. Only one knows and His name is the G.od of Avraham, Yitsraq and Yaaqov. Merav, anyone who tells you for sure the answers to your good and legitimate questions is an arrogant ignorant or someone with such a faith that he is blind to acknowledge that even he does not know anything!!
Michael, London, UK.

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