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Bar and bat mitzvah experiences

Growing up with my daughter

for The Brooklyn Paper

I have a hard time accepting that I am a grownup. I still look at “real” grownups and wonder when I will enter that “real” stage myself.

I remember when we bought our first automobile. After years of living in Israel and not needing one (or maybe needing one, but not having one), we moved back to the States and purchased a minivan. And for a split second there, as I glanced at my four kids in the car, I actually felt like a “real” grownup.

So, being that I struggle with grownup-hood in general, you can imagine my apoplexy at the fact that our oldest daughter, Nava, is becoming bat mitzvah this week. Yup, according to Jewish law, my baby is about to become a woman. Which, I guess, means I better start seeing myself as one, too.

I’m not sure when it happened, but my daughter is now almost my height and we share the same shoes. And I pray for the day when I can actually fit into her clothes — just as she prays that she’ll never fit into mine!

Nava’s bat mitzvah is the week of parshat beshalach — the week when we read of the spliting sea miraculously rescuing enslaved Jews as they fled Egypt. We also read of Miriam — the sister of Moshe — who led the Jewish women out of Egypt in song and dance, tambourines in hand.

Miriam was a powerhouse well before she was credited as one of the key-players in the Egyptian exodus. We first learn of Miriam when the Pharaoh decrees that all Jewish baby boys are to be killed. The horrible pronouncement caused many Hebrew couples to separate — even divorce — so they could avoid the risk of bringing a baby boy into the world. Miriam’s parents were such a couple and she begged them to remarry and continue to have children because by not doing so, they were not only killing the boys, they were killing baby girls as well. Here was a small child who stood by her convictions and stood up to her parents with a message of truth, even though it must have been a risky and scary thing for a young kid to do.

The Sages teach us that “words from the heart enter the heart,” and clearly, Miriam’s words were coming from the right place, for they made the right impact. Her parents heeded her advice and from their union they gave birth to Moshe, the leader of the Jewish people.

Later, when Miriam’s mother, Yocheved, is forced to abandon infant Moshe by placing him in a cradle and floating him down the Nile River, we hear of the young hero again. The devoted sister followed her brother and witnessed Batya (the daughter of Pharaoh) extract Moshe from the water. Due to her innate insight, courage, and focus, Miriam approached Batya and convinced the royal that the orphaned baby was in need of a wet-nurse — and that she knew the perfect one — Yocheved, the baby’s very own mother.

It should come as no surprise that as an adult, Miriam was continuing to live as a passionate, committed, dedicated, and focused individual. As the Jews scrambled to prepare and leave Egypt, which had become home to them for so many years, Miriam had the foresight to take tambourines with her. Not only did she know with absolute certainty that they would be redeemed from the Egyptians and escape to their freedom, she knew that such a miraculous redemption needed celebration, and therefore, ensured that the women would have the musical instruments needed to truly celebrate the occasion.

I can’t think of a more appropriate Torah portion on which to fall my daughter’s 12th birthday. She becomes a bat mitzvah as we read about an amazing role model for her as a Jewish woman. And now she will have to struggle with what it means to be a grownup, at least in certain contexts!

I guess the reason I never related to or liked the idea of being a grownup is that it seemed like once you hit that stage, it was all over. “Grown” is in the past tense. I like the idea of “growing up” much better. In truth, we are always growing and we should always be improving, developing, and reaching higher. And not just growing, but growing UP!

Even though becoming a bat mitzvah means that my daughter is now an adult according to Jewish law, this is just the beginning of the process. She is far from grown up; she is just starting the process of really growing up.

We have many lessons that we can learn from Miriam in terms of the type of person we should strive to be. But as a mother of a bat mitzvah girl, I want to focus more on the lesson I can learn from her mother, Yocheved. Miriam would not have the values, ideals, and goals she displayed if not for her mother. Yocheved and Miriam were midwives together. Miriam grew up watching her mother. Yocheved was a role model who taught her daughter what a Jewish woman is capable of — someone who can’t help but save the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual lives of others.

Miriam confronted her parents, approached Pharaoh’s own daughter, and led the women out of Egypt because she was raised to be a proud Jewish woman who knew she could change the world.

As I prepare for Nava’s bat mitzvah and make sure that every detail is the way it should be, I still don’t feel like a grownup. But I do feel like I have done some growing in the process. And more than anything, I feel empowered when I watch my beautiful, intelligent, focused, determined, and passionate daughter as she begins the lifelong process of discovering who she is.

I hope to be a source of strength, inspiration, and never-ending encouragement and love for her. I look forward to standing beside her as we embark on our journey of growing up together.

Sara Esther Crispe, is a writer, inspirational speaker, mother of four, and the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and writes the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Crispe for a speaking engagement, please click here. Article reprinted from the Judaism website Chabad.org. To learn more about bar mitzvah visit www.chabad.org/BarMitzvah and www.chabad.org/BatMitzvah

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