A Bar Mitzvah Message for Judah,
In the Jewish tradition, Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the time of coming of age, when an individual is considered big enough to be responsible for their own actions. Until this age, a child is taught by their parents to abide by the laws of the Torah on the basis of the parent’s obligation to educate their children. From this point on, the individual is accountable for his or her own deeds.
To mark this transition from childhood into the world of adult responsibilities, it is customary for the young man to be called to read from the weekly Torah portion during Shabbat morning prayers. In this week’s Torah reading, we will learn of two righteous gentiles – both of whom were of great assistance to Moses. Their help was instrumental in the path of the future leader of the Jewish people. Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh, saved Moses’ life by taking him out of the waters of the Nile and raising him as her own. Although growing up in the royal palace, Moses would not forget the suffering of his people. Forced to flee to the desert after taking matters into his own hands, Moses again encounters a stranger named Yitro, who will not only become Moses’ father-in-law, but also a friend of Israel.
Both cases are seen as phenomenal; how much more so during the period of great oppression of the people of Israel by the superpower of the time – Pharaoh of Egypt. Based on a long historical narrative of oppression, the Jewish people have become accustomed to gentiles not liking us, to say the least, and not appreciating our laws and customs. So, understand that for the Jewish reader, these events seem out of the norm and even extraordinary. A “goy” came to the rescue – while Pharaoh had instructed all Egyptians to throw our children in the river, one Egyptian woman reached out and saved a Jewish baby. While Moses was on the run from the authorities for acts of vigilance for the Jews, a gentile priest gave him refuge and married him to his daughter.
When you read this Torah portion, consider the special challenges that each of these Biblical figures went through and how they each made the right decision to fulfill G-d’s will – even in very difficult situations. Choosing to do the right thing is not a given, but rather our ongoing challenge in this world. Your family has made extraordinary choices by deciding to align themselves with the people and G-d of Israel. Like the righteous gentiles we read about in Parashat Shemot, they could have taken the easy path and been just like everyone else. But instead, they choose to dig deeper and work harder for the real thing.
I have great appreciation for your family, their values and their true dedication to Israel. You are gifted to have a solid foundation. Now it is for you to take this foundation to use as a guide to take you through adulthood. I am sure that you will be a fine example for your younger siblings and a source of pride to your parents.
My blessings to you and best wishes of “Mazel Tov!”