Chaya’s Bat Mitzvah Speech

August 29, 2014

This past Shabbat we had an adult Bat Mitzvah at congregation Shuvah Yisrael. What made this so unique is that the Bat Mitzvah, Chaya Levy had converted to Judaism decades ago. In her drash Chaya shares from her Torah, Haftarah and besorah portions the theme of covenant faithfulness and what that has meant on her journey in Messianic Judaism. Enjoy! Rabbi Paul

Chaya LevyThe major theme of the three portions that we read this morning is the holiness of Israel. In our Torah portion, we find Israel camped on the east bank of the Jordan River. In the past, the people had spent 400 years in Egypt, metamorphosing from a wealthy, nomadic family into a large slave nation. More recently, Israel has spent 40 years in the wilderness being reprogrammed by HaShem to be His holy people. Now, as they prepare to go into the Promised Land, Moses delivers a series of sermons, to remind the people of their covenant obligations and of the lessons learned in the wilderness.

In the bulk of this portion, Moses is reiterating and giving new details about how the people are to live as the Chosen people in the Promised Land. The Land, it turns out, is a Holy Land. It belongs to G-d and He has, in turn, given it to Israel as her inheritance; but there is a hitch. Israel, the nation, can only remain in possession of their inheritance, the Land, when they are living in covenant obedience. G-d is not some tribal deity who has been, or can be, bought off by the right sacrifices or incantations. Nor is He driving out the previous inhabitants of the Land because of nationalistic or ethnic favoritism, but because He has given those nations four hundred years to repent and their sin has reached epic proportions. G-d is holy. He has chosen Israel to be the instrument of His long-term plan to bless all of the nations and people of the world, but to be that instrument, they too must be holy.

Again, in our Haftarah portion, the theme is Israel’s holiness, further broken down into two subtopics:
G-d’s judgement on Israel, and his salvation of Israel and through Israel, the world. While both themes
run all through the book of Isaiah, the emphasis in the first 39 chapters is on G-d’s calling Israel to
account for her disobedience, and in the last 26 is on G-d’s everlasting love and mercy toward Israel.
People often try to put G-d in a tiny little box with only one characteristic or the other but, as the model
of all good fathers, G-d’s very nature includes and demands both correction and mercy. Because G-d
made mankind to live in fellowship with Him and because, in order to mean anything, fellowship must
be entered into freely, G-d must do whatever is necessary to make us capable of that fellowship. G-d
chose Israel as the representative of, and the first fruits of, what He is doing with all of mankind. As we
saw in Deuteronomy, however, with the privilege of closeness to G-d goes the responsibility of holiness
and covenant fidelity.

In Isaiah 54, Isaiah writes a beautiful, lyrical message of comfort to Israel. Earlier in the book, Isaiah
has made it clear that, because of sin, Israel would suffer the curse of exile promised in Deuteronomy.
Now G-d promises to restore Israel to Himself and to the Land, and to protect and bless her there
forever. In the first part of chapter 55, G-d promises abundance of soul, as well as physical food and
drink, to those who turn to Him. Although, as grafted in members of the Commonwealth of Israel,
Christians may lay claim to this promise, in context this is a promise to the returning exiles. Finally,
beginning in verse 3, we find a passage that I believe can be interpreted on three levels. In speaking of
an eternal covenant of love, G-d is promising, in a general way, His faithfulness to all who seek Him,
not in any way they choose, but on His terms. Secondly, the context makes this a concrete promise to
Israel, contingent upon their seeking Him. Most importantly, the promise is made to the Greater Son of
David, who has been made a faithful witness to the peoples, enabling all of the nations to come to G-d.

Our Besorah portion this morning is from the Book of Lukas. Some say that Mattai is the most Jewish
of the four Gospels, but all of them are very Jewish. They were just written from different perspectives
for different purposes. For instance, both Mattai and Lukas stressed the human lineage of Yeshua,
because they wanted to show that He was the promised Son of David. Yochanan, on the other hand,
wanted to explain in a very deep way, who Yeshua was and is, and what G-d was doing in and through
His life. Yochanan wrote about how the Divine Nature, stripped of its powers and hidden deep within a
human soul, revealed itself through Yeshua’s human life, death and resurrection.

Today, in our portion in Lukas, we read about how, after His resurrection, Yeshua explained to the
Talmidim that His death and resurrection were the fulfillment of the Torah, the Prophets and the
Writings. Then He told them to wait in Jerusalem for what HaShem had promised. Before His death, in
chapter 15 of the Book of Yochanan, Yeshua had presented Himself as the True Vine of Israel, in whom
His Talmidim remain, if they obey His commands. He said that, after He returned to the Father, He
would send the promised Ruach, God’s Holy Spirit, who would enable them to be the holy and faithful
covenant partners G-d had called them to be.

In choosing the date for my Bat Mitzvah, I didn’t look at the portions, and I have to say that what we
have read today has compelled me to grapple quite publicly with issues that I might rather consider
privately. While my answers might be different than yours, however, that grappling is part of what we
are called to do as a community. Proverbs 24:12 makes it clear that withdrawing from life and saying,
“I didn’t know” is morally reprehensible. The scriptures are meant to be applied to real life.
What strikes me about my Haftarah portion is that, unlike many people, I don’t see the geo-political
State of Israel of today as being a complete fulfillment of all of the promises made to the people of
Israel in Isaiah. Do we have perfect peace and security and abundance? No. Why? G-d promised that to
a holy, covenant-faithful people, and we aren’t there yet. Don’t get me wrong. Looking at groups like
ISIS, I know that there is real evil in this world. After WWII, the geo-political State of Israel was a
moral imperative, and Jews had every right to establish a country that we could defend, on land that we
had purchased legally, often from absentee landlords, in a place where we had had a presence for
thousands of years. There was also a moral imperative, however, to recognize the rights of the other
people already living in that land. Our covenant G-d has always demanded that we do justice, even
when it costs us.

I’ve heard well-meaning supporters of Israel say that Israel has a divine right to the Land and that the
Palestinians should be driven out like the nations in Israel’s early history. It seems dangerous to me to
assume that, because G-d did something a particular way in the past, we are free to interpret that as a
mandate for all time. Lukas relates the story of a Samaritan village that refused hospitality to Yeshua,
because He was on His way to Jerusalem. When the Talmidim wanted to call down fire from heaven on
the village, Yeshua said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did
not come to destroy lives but to save them.” Clearly, a different belief system and acrimony toward
Jews, even within the Land of Israel, do not qualify people for destruction. Furthermore, the clear
teaching of scripture is that Israel’s tenure in the Land is very much tied to how we treat the poor and
the alien among us, as well as how we relate to G-d.

On the other hand, Gandhi’s wonderful advice to European Jews before WWII, to melt German hearts
with love and non-violence, even unto death, was rightfully met with pain and incredulity. Do we have
the right to defend our children against terrorists? Of course. We have and we will. Do we have some
culpability for the hatred we face? Only some, because that antagonism has to do with more than our
actions. There are those who would destroy Israel at any cost to their own people, no matter how much
good Israel does. Our actions, however, are what G-d holds us accountable for. While it may not seem
fair, we Jews must hold ourselves to the highest standard, because G-d does. Now, I know that this
could be seen as easier for me, sitting comfortably in America, than for my friend Talya, who has raised
her children in Israel, and is now watching them put their lives on the line, and lose friends. I do have a
responsibility, however, to be intentional about how I contribute to the conversation, and how I engage
with the people in my sphere of influence. I just don’t think that the truly horrible rhetoric I have heard
and read, coming from every side, helps anyone or honors G-d.

As a Messianic Jew, I believe that our Master Yeshua requires that we live out His love toward the
innocents on both sides who are caught in this conflict, even as we affirm Israel’s right to defend herself
against those who would destroy her. We remain in Him only if we obey Him, but if we obey Him, He
will empower us to do what human nature cannot. I look forward to the day when G-d will call all of
the nations to Himself through the Son of David, the True Vine, and finally empower all of us to obey
Him and love one another. I don’t believe that we will be doing that as a bunch of homogenized,
westernized Christians or Jews, because G-d created and loves diversity. In that day, the Nation of
Israel and all of the nations, each with its own identity, while related to G-d through the greater
Commonwealth of Israel, will finally enter into G-d’s promise of peace, security and abundance.
Life is often called a journey and I believe that G-d meant it to be a journey toward Himself. I don’t
believe that there is a little prayer you can say and you’re good to go. Nor do I believe that you need
some precise theological teaching under your belt, to avoid hell. We are each called to a life of seeking
G-d continually, and faithfully living out the light He gives us. Thirty-seven years ago, G-d shed His
light on me and I began my journey in a Messianic Jewish context, as the wife of a Messianic Jew. For
numerous reasons, even though I certainly didn’t need to nor was I pressured to, I chose at that time to
join my life to that of the Jewish people through conversion.

While Bat Mitzvahs were becoming the norm at that time, adult Bat Mitzvahs were rare, but I’m
actually glad that I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah then. What is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah but a celebration of
the fact, with or without the celebration, of a Jew reaching the age of accountability before G-d? I had
taken on that accountability by entering into G-d’s covenant, even as a gentile follower of the Jewish
Messiah, and had affirmed, through conversion, that I chose to live out that accountability as a Jew. It
takes a very long time, however, for a gentile, even one married to a Jew, loving and living among
Jewish people, and doing Jewish studies, to really develop a Jewish neshamah, a Jewish soul, and a
deeply Jewish perspective. So in a way, I feel that my Bat Mitzvah celebrates the end of a very long
process of coming to fully appreciate the choice that I made all those years ago.

Today I accept, with mature understanding, my place within the community of Israel, knowing that I
have more learning and growing to do. I very humbly recognize that I cannot begin to live up to the
responsibilities of that calling, except with the help of that community, and especially the help of the
Greatest Son of that community, Yeshua, our Messiah, in whom we are empowered to be holy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *