The True Meaning of Growing Up by Gevura Davis (Intro by Lori)


Dear JWRP Sisters,

The Palatniks did something this week that we rarely do – we went on vacation! And it was so good for us! We went south, chilled and enjoyed just being.

We stayed by the beach, and we were told not to turn on the outside lights because it confuses the sea turtles. Signs on the beach said the same thing.

Apparently, the mother sea turtle lays her eggs on the beach, and when the baby turtles emerge, they follow the light of the moon and end up in the sea. But if they see outdoor artificial light, they get confused and mistakenly head towards it, away from the sea, and do not survive.

I realized that we are baby turtles, always looking for the true and ultimate light – wisdom, truth and meaning. But unfortunately, there is a lot of tempting, artificial light out there, and we can easily get confused, head in the wrong direction and lose our way. 

We are now back home navigating icy rain but not forgetting the life lessons from the beach.

Looking forward to the light of Shabbat.

Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom,

The True Meaning of Growing Up

I have two very clear memories of taking the school bus as a child – one I am extremely ashamed of and one I am very proud of.

The first was in first grade. There was a neighborhood boy who was mentally handicapped, and he would pretend to strum a guitar while loudly singing, “Oh My Darling, Clementine.” Innocent and unaware, he just sat there everyday enjoying the music he created.

One day, either because I was mean or trying to be funny or felt uncomfortable because of something I didn’t understand, I decided to stand at the front of the bus and imitate him. Everyone started laughing at my impersonation of him. However, my success was short-lived. I turned around and saw that, unbeknownst to me, the boy’s first cousin, a super popular girl, was standing right behind me. She had seen the whole thing.

I was shocked and mortified, but most of all, caught. Too embarrassed to apologize or make eye contact, I slunk back to my seat and avoided talking to her for many weeks. At the time, I didn’t feel bad about the pain I may have caused the boy or have the consciousness that perhaps I wasn’t being nice. I only cared that she had seen me. 

In my second memory, I was in seventh grade. By then, I was already the popular girl on the bus and didn’t need to impress anyone. There was a boy who lived behind us who was always bullied. No matter what he did or wore or said, this boy was teased.

I’m not sure what inspired me or caused me to finally snap, having listened to the taunts everyday, but one day, I turned around and said to all of the teasers, “Why don’t you just shut up?! Leave him alone. He’s a nice kid and just wants to mind his own business and ride home in peace.” 

Stunned, the main teaser turned to me and said, “Fine, let’s talk about how many things there are to make fun of you about, braces face!” To my absolute shock, the boy who had been teased, joined in taunting me. I just sat there quietly for the rest of the bus ride, lamenting the injustice of the situation. After all, I was only trying to help, and in the end, it was I who suffered.

What changed in me between these two bus interactions? I got older. I started to understand the difference between right and wrong. I started looking outside of myself, noticing others, considering their feelings, and being aware of my own responsibility toward them. In short, I grew up a little. 

In this week’s incredible Torah portion, Shemot (Exodus), we shift gears from the dramatic stories of our forefathers and meet the new leader of the Jewish people, Moses, our great teacher and the greatest prophet to ever live. We learn very little about Moses and his early days, the only information coming in a mere 10 sentences. The rest of the Torah portion deals with his adult life. 

The Torah transitions this by saying that Moses grew up (2:11). The next three events in Moses's adult life follow. In the first, Moses observed a slave being savagely beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster. Seeing that no one was able or willing to help, Moses stepped in and saved the innocent slave. Next, he saw two Jews arguing and fighting with one another and he tried to intervene to make peace. And finally, right after Moses fled Egypt, he came upon a group of bandits trying to take advantage of and steal from some young women. Moses saw what was happening, stopped the bandits and helped the girls get water for themselves and their sheep. 

In each of these scenes, Moses steps in to try to help others. He risks his own safety to do what is right. Shortly after, we learn that Moses merits to be the great leader of the Jewish people who helps them escape bitter slavery. 

One could deduce that perhaps this is precisely the definition of “growing up” I mentioned earlier, the skill of learning to look outside of oneself and care about others. Moses looked beyond himself and started noticing injustices around him and realized that he could not remain silent. It was incumbent upon him to take his place in the world and be the change that was needed. It would have been so much easier for him to focus on himself, mind his own business and not be concerned about the pain or plight of others. However, that is not how one grows into a leader. To be a leader, one has to look around at the world beyond, see what needs repair and take action. 

This week, I read that Dr. Martin Luther King famously said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"

I think it’s important at this time of year, as we read this Torah portion and as we see world events unfolding, to ask ourselves these fundamental questions. Have I grown up? Do I care what is happening to others around me? How can I help? How can I be a catalyst for change? How can I look outside myself and change my family, my community and my world? 

The amazing thing about life is that we each have so many incredible opportunities. We can create more peace in our families. Volunteer in our synagogues. Send a friend on a Momentum Trip next year. The possibilities are endless! 

Blessing each one of us, dear sisters, with the opportunity to realize the incredible power we have to look outside of ourselves and truly repair the world, each in our own unique way. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Gevura Davis is Director of Women's Programming for Etz Chaim Philadelphia where she enjoys meeting and connecting to Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds.

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