Maya’s D’Var or Words | Maya's Gifts

Maya’s D’Var or Words

Each week, a different passage of the Torah is chanted.  At age 14, when Maya became a Bat Mitzvah on November 10, 2014, her passage (parsha) was Toldot.  As part of the ceremony, one becoming a b’nai mitvah is to share their reflections.  It is called the “D’Var Torah”, or “Words from the Torah”.  This was Maya’s chance to teach us something she learned from her passage.  I have copied and pasted Maya’s words for you, as this year, “Toldot” was read yesterday.


In my parsha, Toldot, there’s a series of events leading up to the climax of the story. The story begins with Rebecca, who is married to Isaac, and having trouble conceiving. She finally conceives, but has a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; God tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder. Her first born is Esau, and grasping his heel is the second child, Jacob. Esau grows to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”, while Jacob becomes “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning.  Isaac favors his son Esau, but Rebecca loves Jacob more. One day, Esau returns home from a long hunt, and harshly demands red meat from Jacob. Jacob, being the clever man he is, bribes Esau, saying the only way that he will get food is if he gives Jacob his birthright, which are his rights as the first-born. Being that he is starving and weak, Esau readily agrees and devours his meal. Isaac and Rebecca then settle in Gerar, within Philistine, where Isaac fears that someone will kill him out of yearning for his beautiful wife. Isaac decides to prevent this from happening; he will present Rebecca as his sister, as somebody wouldn’t kill a man for his sister. Eventually, Abimelech, the ruler of the land of the Philistines, notices Isaac and Rebecca as husband and wife, and addresses Isaac. Isaac confesses to lying about Rebecca being his sister, as she was, in fact, his wife. Abimelech commanded all the townspeople, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.” At this point, Isaac has grown quite old, and blind, and summons Esau to his side, saying it is time for him to receive the firstborn blessing. Esau sets out to hunt the best meal for his father. Meanwhile, Rebecca overheard what Isaac had told Esau, and she, in turn, informs Jacob. She tells Jacob to do as she says, and helps him to disguise himself as his older brother. Rebecca prepares a meal for Isaac, and sends Jacob in to receive Esau’s blessing. Isaac is skeptical, but is eventually convinced in his blind state that the man before him is Esau, his firstborn. So, he gives Jacob the blessing, thinking he is giving it to his firstborn. As soon as Isaac finishes blessing Jacob, Esau, the real firstborn, marches in. Unaware of what had just taken place, Esau says to his father “Let my father arise and eat of the game of his son, so that your soul will bless me.” Naturally, Isaac is confused, but Esau isn’t slow to figure out that Jacob had tricked them. Esau, frustrated, pleads for a blessing from his father. The least Isaac can do is give a secondhand blessing, and that is what he does. The furious Esau mutters to himself that he will surely kill his brother, for this time, Jacob had gone too far.

Opinion Paragraph

When reading Toldot, I saw a recurring theme. Well, it’s the Torah, so I guess that was expected. So this theme; it was whether an act was one of selfishness, or selflessness. Now, you may think “They’re opposite meanings, how could they be confused with each other?” Let me give you an example: When Jacob bribes Esau to acquire his birthright, is that him just wanting the power it bestows for himself, or does he, perhaps, know that it’s for the greater good, and that it would be better for others for him to have it? So selfishness or selflessness? This happens again when Isaac lies about Rebecca being his wife. Is that Isaac being selfish and wanting his wife for himself, or not wanting to be killed? Maybe. Or is that Isaac being selfless and concerned for Rebecca, not wanting her to be left a widow, or wed to a man who doesn’t treat her well. Could he be thinking of his sons as well? For, if he were killed they would be left fatherless and Esau wouldn’t receive his blessing. Maybe. Could it be an act of both? The same question arose for me when Jacob once again tricks Esau and steals the first born blessing. Thinking of the greater good, even Esau, or just himself? I know, lots of questions. I concluded that I will never know for sure, but I might as well create my own answers, or opinions. First, when the birthright is stolen, I believe it was both an egocentric and altruistic act. Same goes for Isaac’s lie. And same goes for Jacob’s final trick. I mean, why does it have to be one or the other? I don’t believe it does. I think that they genuinely had both intentions.

The characters in the Bible are held up as heroes and role models.  In fact, it shows humans that we all have fallibility, or imperfections. I had trouble viewing someone like Jacob as a role model, as he continuously deceived Esau and his own father as well. Also, I’m not sure Rebecca and Isaac were the best parents. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, favoring your children isn’t exactly the best parenting. Rebecca was the one who encouraged Jacob to steal his brother’s blessing. This was not only Rebecca pitting her sons against each other, but also going behind her husband’s back. Well, they’re in the Torah, so they must have done something right.

When you hear the word, “selfish”, you probably think about it in a negative way; selfish is bad. I’d furthermore assume that “selfless” is good, right? In my life, I feel as though I feel as though I often don’t think very much about whether what I’m doing is selfless or not.  In reflecting on my actions, I came to a realization.  Which was: When I am being selfless, I am also being selfish.  The reason being; when I am able to bring joy to others, it makes me happy.  Now that may sound cheesy, but it is true.  Like if, I volunteer at a soup kitchen, seeing hungry people eating, and getting what they need…that gives me a really great feeling.  So being selfless can be selfish.  Another thought that arose for me in thinking of myself with relation to Toldot was selfishness for the sake of others.  An example of this could be perhaps, when I take space from people.  If, say, I’m sick, and want to stay home from school.  Sure, it is because I don’t want to go to school.  Or because I want to feel better. But think, what if I did go to school in this negative state of mind and body?  I’m not so sure those around me would enjoy my company.  Then if I wanted to make it even more complicated, I could say: By being selfish and not going to school, but being selfless and leaving others unaffected, I am also being selfish because I wouldn’t want for a person to have unpleasant feelings towards me.  Does that make sense?  Being selfish can be selfless which can be selfish.  Now that’s something to think about.  So is selfish really always bad?  Is selfless always good?

Thank you

They say that one does not find the Torah passage; it finds you.  This rings true for Maya’s, for sure.  There is much to say here but I’ll leave you with a two thoughts as I reflect on this anniversary:

  • When Maya first shared her D’Var Torah with me, it was missing the last paragraph. I really did not want to weigh in, but I thought it was important for her to give an example from her own life, so as to help the story come alive in a meaningful way.  Maya then wrote the last paragraph and shared it with me.  I was a little disappointed, as I knew her well, and felt the example that she shared was very, “light”.  She responded to me that she did not want to share of another example of a time she was selfless, as she did not want others to feel badly.
  • Some believe that suicide is a selfish act. I can imagine that people who have contemplated taking their life for a long time must be engulfed in so much pain, that they see ending their life as their only way out.  They may even believe that their life is a burden to others.  I know that Maya, in her right mind, did not choose to take her life.  She was under the influence of mind-altering drugs.  Her altered state drove her to the fatal decision.  Knowing Maya, this was not a selfish act.  I wish that Maya were here to share her insights. 

All photos were from the day of Maya’s Bat Mitzvah.  Bonnie Meadow, our amazing Hebrew tutor, is shining with Maya in that middle photo. 


  • I remember Maya’s bat mitzvah well, and how proud Bonnie was of her. And how Maya was a little shy talking in front of so many people. She was beautiful and modest, and more mature than her peers. And how she preceded you, Elise, in becoming bat mitzvah just a few weeks ahead of you. She crossed that threshold first. And she did it all of her own free will.

    The point Maya chose to explore in her dvar is very interesting and insightful. She left us with real food for thought, especially coming from such a young person. Dear, dear, blessed bittersweet memories. Thank you for sharing Maya’s dvar Torah, and for what you wrote in italics at the end.

    • Dear Yael,
      I love knowing that you witnessed this part of Maya’s journey. Her dvar, was indeed a true expression of her essence (including the little jokes).
      Funny, as I’m writing this, the beautiful image of Jacob and Esau that you painted is a few feet away from me in this year’s Jewish Eye Calendar.
      You and I have chosen wisely to be a part of such an incredible congregation at Woodstock! I am glad that our paths cross there, and on the dance floor!

  • I enjoyed Reading Maya’s analysis and perception on her Parsha. I have been thinking about this selfish/selfless concept. Reading this was another level for me to think about. Blessings of gratitude and BIG love!

  • Mmm, what delicious words of wisdom to savor, Elise. What jumps out at me from her speech, is how very much her message is a message for you. This is exactly how you’ve handled losing her physical bright light in your life. You are a most selfless warrior mama in sharing so much of your baby with us all. You could have easily retreated into the dark cave of grief, and selfishly kept these precious stories all to yourself, yet you did not. What a selfless act it is to share, and in a most wonderful new definition of selfishness via Maya Gold, by doing so, you get to receive all the love and caring you need through those who are so touched by Maya’s life. Sweet Elise, enjoy the pairs of opposites, Selflessness and Selfishness. I am with you, always. Love you, Mercedes

    • Mercedes,
      Hmm is right! I did not consider all of that with regards to Maya’s words. I did not think so much about it in terms of me; writing this blog and publicly sharing our stories.
      What a circle all of this is. Giving and receiving. Sharing, being open, exposing vulnerability and being held and filled with love and caring. Selfishness and selflessness. Thank you and love you.

  • I did not have the pleasure of knowing Maya but can see through her words that she was a very special human being who, if she had lived, would have contributed much joy to all who had the good fortune to be a part of her too short life. My heart goes out to you and I share in your grief. May her memory be for a blessing.

    • Thank you Adele! Yes, you are so very right. Thank you for sharing in my/ our grief. It helps to be in this with others.

  • Dear Elise,
    I am grateful to read Maya’s D’var Torah again as Parshat Toldot rolls back around. She is right, any so called selfless act is filled with “selfish” rewards for the giver. Maya’s memory is a blessing. Love always to you and your family-

    • Dear Rabbi Jonathan,

      What a critical role you played in giving us both the lens, when it came to reading and learning from the Torah! I look forward to hearing one of your D’Var’s on Toldot. Perhaps I will read it in a book, someday!

      And love always, back to you, for your infinite well of support!

      • Dear Elise,
        I was just checking the old blog posts now, and want to respond – my d’var Torah on Toldot this year was about Rebecca, and how, even though she knew exactly what was going on and what needed to happen next, she had to convince Isaac that it was his idea, in the classic and skillful manner of women everywhere who, due to sexism and patriarchy, cannot express their power overtly. As the tidal wave of women speaking out continues to surge forward, I asked us to imagine a time in which the Rebecca’s of the world no longer have to dissemble and walk on eggshells just to get the job done. May it be soon!

        • I appreciate hearing of your insights about Rebecca in this part of the story.
          Trust me, when the tidal wave keeps on hitting us, I often wonder how Maya would be reacting and responding, if she were with us. What would our dinner conversations be like?
          Regarding the time of change and dismantling of the social patriarchy, yes! Let it be soon!

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