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Sermon June 9th 2018

Shabbat Sh’lach Lecha
26th of Sivan, 5778
9 June 2018
Ruby White’s Batmitzvah

The book of Numbers has some of the most wonderful stories in the Torah. Korach and his rebellion next week – when we learn about what can happen when leaders are challenged. Basically, you get zapped – let that be a warning. Or Balak and his talking donkey, in a few weeks’ time – which inspired the writers of Shrek, or my own Barmitzvah portion, Naso, with the priestly blessing which is forever in our memory thanks to Mr Spock. So, when Ruby was given Sh’lach L’cha, I was a little concerned that there would not be enough material for a really great d’var Torah. Well, wow was I wrong. As we have heard this morning.
Ruby explained to us the basis of the story, where the 12 spies go into the land. She clearly identified Yehoshuah ben Nun (Joshua before his building shattering, trumpet blowing days – something I can also relate to) and the other rebellious spy, Calev ben Yephuneh. As we learned, they challenged the mob and as a result became leaders in their own right, Joshua eventually succeeding Moshe on his death. They used their faith, but also their conviction of what was right. Ruby gave us another example of this with the story of her school sports day to show that this going against the mob can bring reward too. In Joshua’s case he became a leader. But with that goes a huge responsibility. And I would like to suggest to Ruby that this is a metaphor for a batmitzvah too. Ruby knew when she took on the study needed to read from the Torah for the first time in public to mark becoming batmitzvah, that this would not be easy. She had a great teacher - as all leaders do. But she had to do most of this herself. We have seen that she was determined not to simply go through the motions and run away from the challenge like the 10 spies who were punished. She has found true meaning in her Torah portion as a result.
I would like to pick up on one part of that. Linking her final few verses to Tallit, and being one of the few girls to do this here at Sinai, she is showing genuine leadership. Yes, I agree, that it’s a tactile reminder – and is both kinaesthetic and visual. However, I suggest that it is much more than that. We are taught that women are not required to perform the time bound mitzvot, due to their other responsibilities. But they are not banned from them. Tzitzit is a time bound mitzvah. And we live in age when time both men and women are bound increasingly by time – as I found myself when my flight from Taipei was delayed on Thursday and I was worried about not getting here on time.
But back to Ruby’s parasha. She has showed us that it is entirely natural for women to enjoy the mitzvah of wearing a tallit. I have heard all kinds of nonsense about this – including that it is “cross dressing”. It isn’t. In fact the original tallit was a female garment and only became a “male” one when the tzitzit were added. So by wearing her tallit today, and performing the commandment she read so wonderfully in her parasha, Ruby is setting an example on leadership in the same way as Yehoshuah and Calev – and as she did at sports day. I really hope that all girls at Sinai will take on this mitzvah and wear a tallit – not just on the batmitzah day, but at all Shabbat and festival services. It really should not be seen as unusual in a modern Reform Synagogue – and in fact it is not in most our communities. I would add, that in America where the “classical reformers” rejected many traditions, including tallit, and in many cases, kippah, the revival over the last 10-15 years in wearing a tallit has been led by women, and very often you can attend a services, where there are more women wearing tallit than men. So my challenge to Ruby is two-fold. From now on, I urge you to wear your tallit to every Shabbat and Festival Service. And secondly, to encourage other girls to do the same. And Max, I don’t expect you to copy the Americans on your barmitzvah either. We need you wearing one too!

And at this point we made the batmitzvah presentations of certificate, Shelosh Regalim Machzor, RSY-Netzer tour vouchers and “Jew Specs”.

Jonathan Lewis

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