Twelve lessons for my daughter on her bat mitzvah

Netanya, as you embark on the next stage of your journey, here is what I hope I can pack in your luggage.

MAZAL TOV, Netanya!  (photo credit: Courtesy)
MAZAL TOV, Netanya!
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When a boy becomes a bar mitzvah, he wraps tefillin, learns to lead the prayers and reads from the Torah. Becoming an Orthodox woman is a less obvious milestone. But I want to use today to give my daughter, whose bat mitzvah was Saturday, 12 lessons.
Netanya, as you embark on the next stage of your journey, here is what I hope I can pack in your luggage.
1: Being a woman is a gift
Unfortunately, no matter how much progress we’ve made since the 1920s, you will sometimes be treated differently or even unheard simply because of your gender. In an interview with National Geographic, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg described how when she entered the workforce in 1991, there were just as many women as men going into entry-level jobs.
“I looked to the side of me, and it was equal,” she told the magazine. “But I looked above me, and it was almost entirely men… We have not made progress in getting a greater share of the top jobs, in any industry, in the past decade.”
Women can do everything men can do. But women are not men. And we don’t need to be men. We need to be strong women.
One study showed that companies with the highest level of gender and ethnic diversity are as much as 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry average. Other studies found that female CEOs are more effective at developing innovative mentoring programs, building bridges, inspiring leadership and motivating employees.
Being a woman is a gift. Use your gift to effect change.
2: Smile
Sometimes you will wake up on the wrong side of the bed. It doesn’t really matter how old you are, there will always be a reason to frown.
It’s OK to scream a little.
But then, put on your favorite shoes and a smile. It may seem dishonest to “fake a smile.” But if you can force yourself to do it, eventually that smile will be genuine.
3: There is no better path than your own
Some people compete with others. Learn to compete against yourself. I am confident you will go places. Follow your dreams and take advice only from those who want what’s best for you.
It’s OK to look in other people’s yards to get ideas. But don’t let the shiny objects you see over there divert you from your path. The cliché is that the grass is always greener on the other side. My advice to you is to make sure you have watered your grass enough before you abandon it.
4: Say yes
Because you are talented, people will want you to do things for them. Say yes more than you say no. The more experiences you have and the more people you meet, the more you’ll learn, the more you’ll live, the better person you’ll become. Talk to all kinds of people. Don’t judge people; we are all doing our best.
5: Put love over hate
Hate is easy. Love takes courage.
The English author H.G. Wells wrote, “Let your love be stronger than your hate or anger. Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break.”
When you are young, hate seems very important. But when you get older and you have lived a little more, you’ll realize that hate hurts you more than anyone else. Don’t hate.
And when you love, love all the way.
6: Make up
I encourage you to fight. But fight l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven) – to achieve a higher goal. If you believe in something, make your voice be heard. But in the end, win or lose, always make up and move on. And if you do lose, act with grace – don’t worry, there will be another battle you can win.
7: Be smart
Torah study is a value in and of itself. Open your books, read and learn. Some people think that the bar or bat mitzvah is the conclusion of one’s Jewish learning. Rather, it is just the beginning.
8: But smarts will only get you so far
There will always be smart people, especially today when knowledge is accessible if you just say, “Hey, Siri.” Knowledge is worth a lot less today. Dedication and drive are differentiators. I always look down at the scar on my hand whenever I think I might not be able to accomplish something – the scar I got when I was in high school and a taller runner sliced my hand with her cross country spike as we took off at the starting line. I ran the whole 5K bleeding and placed in the top 10. You’ll get scars, too. I hope you use them well.
As the late Ari Fuld taught his daughter, “If life is easy, you’re living it wrong.”
9: Beauty is an emotion
Beauty starts on the inside. It’s how you treat your family and friends. We learn in Proverbs 11:22, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout, is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” In other words, have a beautiful heart and your face will follow.
10: But it does not hurt to look good, too
Yet, I encourage you to make yourself look good on the outside, too.
Many studies show that how you dress can affect your mental and physical performance. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science journal in 2015 found that wearing formal business attire enhanced abstract cognitive processing, an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing.
And sometimes, you just need to feel pretty.
On tough days, wear bright colors to make the world more fun.
On days you need to make decisions, put on a blazer.
And if you are feeling small, buy a new pair of heels.
11: Faith
Today, the mitzvot become yours. Today, I am no longer an intermediary between you and God. Build a strong relationship with Him. Trust Him. Everything happens for a reason.
Torah is known as Torah haim, instructions for living. Sometimes God’s commandments make more sense and sometimes less. But know that starting today, you are part of a chain of tradition carried out by our ancestors for generations. That leap of faith, of observing even when we don’t understand or don’t want to, is a sign of adulthood.
Faith is humbling. We are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.
12: Never stop running
And now my final message: I wish that I could protect you from sadness, sickness and failure. But in the end, the best gift that I can give you is the ability to keep going even when you are faced with all these things.
You’re my best friend, so you know that there are days that I just want to pull the covers back over my head and go back to sleep.
But every day, even on those hard days, I get out of bed and go running.
Sometimes I run slower. Sometimes I run like I am screaming. And other times, there is a spring in my step.
It does not matter.
The band Rascal Flats song “When the sand runs out” says:
“I’m gonna stop lookin’ back and start movin’ on
And learn how to face my fears
Love with all of my heart, make my mark
I want to leave something here
Go out on a ledge, without any net
That’s what I’m gonna be about
Yeah, I want to be runnin’
When the sand runs out.”
That’s how I hope we live.
Even when you think you can’t, put one foot in front of the other and hit the ground running. Eventually, you must cross the finish line.