Simone Hotter’s bat mitzvah address

Simone Hotter at her bat mitzvah at United Hebrew Congregation on Jan. 7, 2017. 

By Simone Hotter

Shabbat Shalom. This week’s parasha, Vayigash, tells of Jacob and his brothers while he is in Egypt.

The brothers have come to Egypt in search of food, due to famine in Canaan. Joseph asks for the youngest brother, Benjamin, to be brought to him in exchange for food, so the brothers return to Canaan. When they get back and try to bargain by saying that their father will die if Benjamin remains in Egypt, Joseph reveals his identity, and says he forgives them. The brothers go back again and tell Jacob that Joseph is still alive and he rejoices. Jacob vows to once again see Joseph before he dies. 

Every Torah portion contains a valuable lesson. It is up to us to decipher and translate that meaning to be an asset in navigating one’s life. Although quite transparent, this particular portion portrays a man, Joseph, in his highest, as far as success may go, but at his lowest, concerning the treatment of his family.

Joseph possesses negative features throughout his familial relations in the Torah. He is openly happy about the fact that his father treats him better than other siblings. He is not remorseful. Thus, when he is sold to slavery in Egypt, one somehow does not feel pity.

Upon Joseph’s successful economic rise to power and his ability to utilize his gifts for the better of the people of Egypt, it is as if Joseph absolves himself of his earlier negative actions. So, when the brothers are brought before him, begging for their welfare, Joseph’s bargaining chip brings back the egocentric character seen earlier in the Torah and reinstates him as a negative persona.

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Joseph’s obvious indifference to the fact that losing another child by Jacob may be a misfortune points to Joseph’s inability to relate on a personal level to fellow family members. That trait is alarming. Putting one’s own needs before those of loved ones goes against the basic foundation of humanity: to care for your brethren.

More than simply a story about family and the impact of one’s actions on loved ones, the story of Jacob and his sons has a strong correlation to today’s turmoil in our country’s political divide.

It is easy to pinpoint the traits of Joseph in many politicians. His obvious charm, popularity, ability to please the masses and inability to see the mundane are a staple of many leaders/public personas that drive the economic and social future of our land.

We value those traits as a mandate to lead. We strive to see them and relish in them to solidify our own faulty ideals of what the future will hold. It is a dangerous and unstable route to grow our young democracy.

Society that is based upon perceived traits may not evolve to actual standards. Perception is not enough of a foundation to base your plans on. It is a front that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Much like Joseph deceiving his brothers, our leaders at times do so, with charm and charisma veiling the truth in our reality. It is a not a path of mitzvah, but a path of human fault. 

While today is only a step towards my becoming an adult and an active member of the Jewish community, here and around the world, it is also a moment when I take the teachings that have been collected and preserved by our many ancestors to heart. I take them with caution. I revel in their simplicity and innate purity. But, I also realize their potential strength in aiding the creation of character and maturity in a bat/bar mitzvah child, opening the conversation of a fundamental question: “What is right & what is wrong?” It is the basic foundation of any teaching, whether religious or secular. And, to me, it is a stepping-stone of understanding basic moral truths that I will carry forward, including the paramount importance of securing one’s righteous path, without breaking others’ trust.

I leave you with this:  “Let others see you as you are, for any other self would be a false beacon.”