Ethan Goldberg’s Drash

Mazel tov to Ethan Goldberg, who became a Bar Mitzvah last Shabbat!
We asked if he would allow us to publish his drash, and he graciously agreed.
His Torah portion was Naso.

Shabbat Shalom,

In my Torah portion, Naso, we learn about a ritual called sotah. This part of the Torah is not exactly PG-13. The sotah is literally a woman who is accused of adultery. The word sotah in Hebrew, comes either from the meaning to go astray or the word shtoot, which is a silly error or mistake. The woman who is accused of being unfaithful must drink bitter waters. It involves a kind of magic where if the woman is guilty her hips will sag and her belly will become distended, basically her reproductive system will explode. If she is innocent she would become pregnant. This was a painful and humiliating ordeal, a test of innocence that has nothing to do with finding the objective truth. When I first thought of “bitter waters,” I thought of it like a Harry potter potion: Avadakadavra!

A major issue with this ordeal, this test of innocence, is that it only works for the jealous husband–the wife has no way to test the loyalty of her husband if she thinks he was unfaithful.  To me, this feels very unequal and sexist.  I also wonder if this kind of ordeal which seems like punishment really fits the “crime” or situation.  It also seems like something crazy from the distant past.  I think Torah must have something to teach us right here and now.  So, how do we deal with difficult torah teachings that feel both old and wrong?  Or, if it doesn’t make sense morally?  First off, it’s good to know that we don’t have any proof that our ancestors ever put women through this ritual ordeal.  And we also know that, over 2,000 years ago, the Sage, Yochanan ben Zakai, abolished this ritual altogether.  Another way to understand this passage is to interpret it in its time and place.  So, maybe at a time when most women were considered property, this ritual was not so bad.  I don’t buy this.  Maybe all we can do is think about and feel the pain that this kind of ritual may have caused.  And, maybe we can create a new ritual. What is written in torah will always stay the same, but how we understand it and how we use that wisdom always changes, and I hope the change is for the better.

Maybe instead of the sotah ritual we could have a new ritual where there is equality?  Where one person doesn’t have power over the other, that the power in the couple is shared.  So what could the sotah look like today?  I told you at the beginning that the sotah is the Hebrew word for mistake. What do we do today when someone makes a mistake?  We take responsibility and we apologize.  I think communication, apology, and forgiveness would be a much more constructive pathway to resolution. One that helps restore trust. Today, we are learning about gender and sexuality in new ways, that are liberating and allowing people to be who they truly are.  I think this is an example of us evolving.

When we take new understandings from science and use it to better understand morality and God, I think we are creating new Torah.     I think Torah is evolving. I know that I am now a bar mitzvah and can add my own understanding to Torah and I hope Torah will be one of the things that guides me in my life.

I think only when the Torah really is evolving, and has other kinds of wisdom, that then the Torah can really guide me.  A big thank you to Samuel Simons for helping me learn Hebrew.  He was incredibly encouraging and amazing.  For any kid that doesn’t have a tutor, I really hope you get Samuel.  Samuel, you will always be a legend to the B’nei Mitzvah.    I also wanted to thank Rabbi Harry for helping me write my speech and learn Hebrew over the years.    A couple other people I want to thank is Coen for being the best brother I could ever ask for (besides when we fight)

    Also thank you so much, Sandy Hershcovis, for helping me edit my speech.  Thank you so much to all the people that have traveled from out of town.   And also thank you Mom and Dad for always making time for me whenever I need it. Thank you guys for being so proud of me.  It means a lot to me.  And, also one last thank you for every time I was in a bad mood and you guys would always cheer me up.  Also, thank-you, Mom, for working your butt off 24/7 to make this special day.  I want to acknowledge my grandma, Shirley Ann Goldberg who passed away a few months ago.  I know she really wanted to be here for this day.  And thank-you everyone who could be here today.  I also wanted to mention that I am very happy my grandpa, Dean Hardy, could be here today after his very recent surgery.  And I’m so thankful that my grandma, Bernice McLaren, is here too.

Shabbat Shalom,
Ethan Goldberg
Bar Mitzvah 11 June 2022