A Letter to My Daughter on Becoming a Bas Mitzvah

Dear Ayelet

It’s hard to imagine that you are already a Bas Mitzvah. Twelve years seems both impossibly long and impossibly short. It goes without saying that Mommy and I are so proud of you. You have grown into a thoughtful, kind, modest, mature and capable young lady. We have seen you struggle and succeed; developing self awareness and empathy, and we are constantly amazed by your imagination and creativity.

One of the greatest joys of my life is learning with you and from you. You are insightful, curious and unwilling to accept anything at face value. But it dawned on me in the weeks leading up to this milestone, that almost all of our conversations focus on details.

This is not your fault. As parents, we spend most of our time trying to get the little things right.

From the time a child is born, we are worrying about the little things. Diapers and bottles, brushing teeth and eating nutritious food. As a child grows, we turn our attention to education. Letters become words, words become sentences. Numbers are added and subtracted.

In our pursuit to ensure that you and your siblings are prepared for the world, we spend countless hours working on getting habits right. Do your homework. Clean your room. Share your toys. Be kind to your siblings. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep.

Of course, in the realm of Torah and mitzvos, we progress similarly: Did you wash Netilas Yadaim? That’s muktzah! Don’t touch it... Did you make a Bracha? No, not that bracha; this one is mezonos... I’m so sorry, you ate meat for lunch and the ice cream is milchik. You’ll have to wait a little while longer...

As you have grown closer to becoming a Bas Mitzvah, we have expected more from you. Did you bench? Please remember to set the table for Shabbos. Did you get your baby brother to bed? We have guests for lunch, please remember to make extra chicken...

Ayelet, you and I both know that these reminders are important. But as important as they are, if I’m being honest, I also know that they are annoying.

You are a fiercely independent and strong willed young lady and I know that these reminders feel childish sometimes. That’s a good thing. It means that you are ready for the next piece of the puzzle.

It’s time to talk about the bigger picture.

A Story of Two Stories

One of your greatest loves is your love of reading. It’s a love that Mommy and I know well.

Do you remember learning how to read? I remember sitting with you just a few years ago sounding out letters; practicing words. You learned quickly. But then you discovered that once you mastered the skill of reading there is far more that a page can offer.

Reading offers the possibility of escape from the little things of this world; a chance to explore fantastic worlds. It’s allows us to meet and learn from people beyond our own space and time. In the simple act of reading words on a page, our hearts and minds can be filled with emotion and imagination. We can travel millions of miles and thousands of years.

In the deepest way, when you open up a book, there are two stories taking place. On the outside, we can observe the quiet act of scanning letters with our eyes. It doesn’t look exciting or meaningful. But as you know, the far greater story is taking place inside.

The same is true with your life and with the entire world.

There is a story of your life that describes the little things: waking up, going to school, doing mitzvos, spending time with friends and family, learning, reading, exercising and listening to music. Your days are sometimes filled with annoying things and sometimes with wonderful and important things: Davening, chessed, benching, making brachos.

But this is all on the outside. These actions themselves are still the little things; they are like the words on the page. Within them, however, there are worlds upon worlds of Godliness, of growth and connection. It is the meaning that you discover which makes those same actions great. (For the adults seeשל”ה הקדוש תו”א, בית חכמה יב)

Making food for Shabbos might be a simple act of cooking, or it could be an opportunity to share the magic of Shabbos with a new guest or friend. Davening might be a bunch of words, or a heated negotiation with the King of the world to bring the hostages home. Giving tzedaka could be putting money in a box. Or it could be providing another Jew with love, food and hope.

The same is true of the entire world, and all of Jewish history. On the outside, there is a story of a group of people – our people – who have journeyed through millennia of trials, tribulations and triumphs. But the deeper story of the Jewish nation, they story of what it all means, can only be understood by the people who can see more than the words the on pages of history.

From Reading to Writing

Our story is the greatest story ever told. It’s a tale of mystery, magic, miracles and ancient heroes. From Avraham and Sarah to Moshe, Aharon and Miriam; there have been countless great men and women who braved their fears and built our nation.

These people are not simply our ancestors. Their story is ours; their strength, their power and connection to Hashem and His Torah runs deep in our veins as well.

But the story if not over. Every moment of every day it is being written. It is being written by our brave Chayalim fighting for the State of Israel. It is being written by their mothers, wives, sons and daughters. It is being written by the Talmidei Chachamim, who are dedicating their lives to learn and teach Torah. It’s being written by the great Baalei Chessed who dedicate their lives to looking after other Jews.

As you become a Bas Mitzvah, it will be written by you as well. You are no longer just a reader. Hashem is handing you your own pen, inviting you to join Him in the writing the next chapter of Jewish history.

This Shabbos, the Torah teaches us about the building of the Mishkan, and the work of its chief architect, Betzalel.

Chazal (ברכות נה א) tell us that when Betzalel built the Mishkan, he was not simply constructing a tent to serve Hashem:

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר רַב: יוֹדֵעַ הָיָה בְּצַלְאֵל לְצָרֵף אוֹתִיּוֹת שֶׁנִּבְרְאוּ בָּהֶן שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Bezalel knew how to join the letters with which heaven and earth were created.

Betzalel knew that hidden in the threads and beams, the silver and gold, were stories as great as the Creation of Heaven and Earth. With every stitch of his needle and every blow of his hammer he was writing the next chapter in the story of the Jewish people.

With every fibre of our being, the greatest dream of the Jewish people is to escape the words on the page. We don’t want to live as letters and words. We want to transform the story of our nation into our living reality; to build a world that is filled with goodness and kindness. A reality where the world knows that Hashem is as real as water we drink and the air that we breath. The great lesson of the Mishkan is that from wood and rocks we can build a home for Hashem.

Your Chapter

Ayelet, I do not know which chapter Hashem has sent your Neshama into this world to write. But I do know that only you can write it. I don’t know what part of the Mishkan you need to build, only that you’re the only one who can build it.

The Rebbe Rashab wrote to his granddaughter on the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah: You are becoming “עצמאית בחיים הרוחניים שלך” – “independent in your spiritual life.” In other words: You now have the capability to discover a universe of meaning in every action you do, great or small. And because of that, you have the responsibility to do so, to write your chapter in the story of Am Yisrael.

In the world around us, people often get nervous when they hear the word “responsibility”. It’s something they run away from. But you already know that being given a responsibility is a privilege. It’s not as scary as it sounds. Simply put, it means that Hashem believes in you. That’s pretty cool.

The greatest secret to success is to feel Simcha – joy in knowing that Hashem has sent you here to fix His world. He has hired you to do a job that no else can do; which means that waking up every day is a reason to celebrate; to try again, to keep at it.

As Rebbe Nachman explains (ליקוטי מוהר”ן פ״ט:א): When we realize that the King of the Universe, Hashem Himself, has charged us with our mission, there is no greater joy, no greater honor.

Ayelet, Mommy and I are so proud, so excited, so grateful to Hashem for trusting us with the gift of raising you. Twelve years ago we committed ourselves to raise you and your siblings with Ahavas Hashem, Yiras Shamyaim and Ahavas Yisrael, and you have surpassed our greatest dreams.

May Hashem give you the simcha, the courage and the tenacity to overcome all the challenges that lie ahead, to use your God given talents to bring Hashem into the world, and build a life of Torah, Mitzvos and Chessed.

And in the mean time, we’ll keep annoying you 😊

We love you so much. Mazal Tov.