We are pleased to share Ariella Banta’s Dvar Torah on Parashat Va’era from her recent bat mitzvah at Congregation Bonai Shalom.
by Ariella Banta
Who were you before you were here? If you don’t know, then how do you think your identity is chosen? You knowing your name? By what clothes you wear or how your grades are or how you speak? I honestly don’t think it’s any of those. That’s what other people think of you. Your identity is what YOU make yourself to be. If you think you are an independent spirit, then that is your identity, because you found it yourself. You did not wait for others to tell you.
I actually chose my own identification. I found my Hebrew name on my own. Nobody told me what it was, or what it should be, but it felt like G-d had guided me to the name, and I think he meant for me to find that name. Ariella. It means Lioness of G-d. When I found that name on a website for Jewish names, I knew right then and there I didn’t need to look anymore. It practically just jumped off the page. It’s hard to describe, but I know it was like how the burning bush came to Moses. When I looked into my name more, it turned out I had a tie to that name. My grandmother’s maiden name was Loewe, which translates to lion in German and to Lavi in Hebrew which also means lion. So, in a way, it was like I uncovered some of my history and didn’t even know it then.
Another reason the name stuck out for me was when I was younger and even now, I have always loved lions. I felt like I could relate to them. They are strong fast, intelligent and graceful creatures, which I have heard I have some of those traits. Lions also like to know who they are in their pride, just as I like people to know who I am. In sixth grade, I wrote a story in English about how the lion got its roar. I didn’t even think about how it related to my Hebrew name back then, but I didn’t have to consider other options about what I wanted to do, it just stuck, like my name. It just spontaneously came without another thought needed to decide.
The first reading of this parsha is how G-d is telling Moses who he is and what he has to do. It’s G-d guiding Moses to whom he was to become, he guided him to whom he was, kind of like what he did for me. G-d guided me to the name, then I just went from there with a little help from Him on the way.
Some of the commentaries say that G-d is not something that is perfect every time and that the way God is now is set in stone. Quite the contrary, some believe that he is always changing and evolving, always wanting to be better or more than was or already is. Rabbi Nahum Sarna believes that the many names for G-d in the Torah give God “character and nature”, or the “makeup of the whole personality.” Some say that G-d has many names. We already knew that, but they say that each name is from another line in the Torah where a new side is shown from the stories written. They also say that the names for G-d are just many parts one one supernatural being. Rabbi Abba ben Mammel, from the third century Tiberias, has some ideas about the many names of G-d. “He claimed that G-d is called Elohim when making judgements about people and nations; Tzevaot, ‘Hosts,’ when making war against evildoers; El Shaddai, ‘G-d Almighty, when forgiving human beings for harming themselves and others; and Adonai when increasing compassion and love in the world. G-d’s names reveal G-d’s deeds.” Just as we give people nicknames for their traits, we do the same to G-d. The names give him the traits of a compassionate loving, kind being. That’s why we use the plural Elohim. It means many, standing for the many names that G-d has been given for all the miracles of which he has bestowed upon us.
In my opinion, and and some of the commentators think, “ no matter how many names we give G-d, or no matter how they say what he does, or how beautiful they are, no name can ever really describe G-d and everything that has done for us. It’s kind of the same for humans. We humans are a lot more complicated than we seem, so even though we have a name, and it was given to us when we were born, it really cannot describe who we are in one word. That’s like saying sum up a five hour play in one word; you can’t do it. No matter how pretty your name is, or what it means, it cannot sum up your whole existence, just like how these names cannot sum up G-d.
In the Torah, there are many characters that end up finding their identity. In parsha Vayishlach, Yakov had a struggle with a being at night and it waged all night. The being, instead of blessing him, gave him the name Yisrael, meaning “One who wrestle with G-d,” then he went from being the “heel,” to being a leader of our great nation. He found who he was through G-d’s help. He did not try to find it, it found him. Moshe, the heroin this parsha, also found who he was. He had a lot of trouble finding himself too. He was an orphaned child, found in a basket in the river, and was a prince of Egypt. Then Miriam told him that he was her and Aharon’s brother. He ran away after murdering a man. He had a lot of identities, prince, Jew, nomad, shepherd, a lot of things. It was only when Hashem came to Moses through the burning bush that he realized who he was.
There is a song called “Wake Me Up,” written by a contemporary artist, Avicii, and a line from his song is, “So wake me up when it’s all over, when I’m wiser and I’m older,” Which means when we are young, we are kind of naive and don’t really pay attention, like we are asleep, hence the when it’s all over, when those childhood years are over, when we are bar and bat mitzvah age, we are wiser and older, ready to handle being a Jewish adult and help carry on the tradition of Judaism. Another line is, “All this time I was finding myself, And I didn’t know I was lost,” which kind of means we are subconsciously finding who we really are, even though we may not know that we were looking for anything or that we may have found it until something memorable happens.
This parsha means a lot to me. Part of it comes from the Woodwards, who have the best passover seders ever which is where we tell this story, well until the parting of the Red Sea, and it was and is one of my favorite holidays because of the meaning and the connections we can make from it to our own daily lives sometimes. That’s why I was so excited to be doing this parsha, I know the story, maybe not as detailed as the Torah makes it, but I know the outline and some of the details like the back of my hand. I love how it encompasses finding identity, struggle, stubbornness, the mystical and powerful, with courage in the same parsha. These are all elements that come from everyday human life. Even the part about finding who you are. When something happens that makes you change your life or remember it differently, you are right then discovering who you are.
My tutor, David Greenberg, who first I want to thank for getting me ready for this day, told me that on your bar or bat mitzvah, you feel a special connection that only you feel with G-d that day. It’s like this cups you have and you connect the two with a string. Well, it’s like you have one and G-d had the other, it’s kind of like that. This is the day where G-d gives you a little special attention. This is your day where he grants those little wishes you want, and where he will make those happen. This day, this special day, that only happens once at this age, and is for you and you only. Cherish it, after all, you are only thirteen once.
I’m not doing this bat- mitzvah for anyone. I love you dad, but I didn’t do this for you. I made this choice, I chose to finish my conversion. Coming up here, to read the Torah, and give this D’var, just affirms the fact that I chose this and that I want to be Jewish. Being a bat-mitzvah, I wanted this, I chose this, and I was certain about it. I was excited that I was doing this. This was my choice.
Now, I’ll ask you this question again. Who were you before you were here? If you still don’t know, don’t try hard to find IT, let it find YOU.
Yasher koach, Ariella! Boulder Jewish News encourages Bar and Bat Mitzvah students to submit their d’var torah for publication, so that the community may learn from our young adults. Information about Mitzvah/Tikkun Olam projects is also welcome. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.