One-on-One: Basketball, BeHalotecha, and My Son’s Bar Mitzvah

Here is a D’var Torah I gave before Maariv this past Friday Night as part of our celebrating Yishama becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

At the end of Behalotcha, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Miriam and Aaron trash talking Moshe. In response God literally calls them out. There we read:

And God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to that person in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moshe; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. ( Numbers 12:6-8 )

On the simple level God is explaining how God reveals God’s Self to Mosche as compared to how God will reveal God’s self to the subsequent prophets. Clearly with Mosche it is much more direct and intimate. But what might it mean for God and Mosche to speak פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה mouth to mouth?

In preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, Yishama and I worked on his Bar Mitzvah Bucket List. As part of that effort we started a number of different learning projects. None of them panned out, until we started to learn Perkei Avot. And even that was slow at the start, until we had the “Coach Carter” Breakthrough. Perkei Avot went from being irrelevant and meh, to a compelling and interesting  source of wisdom when we started to add a Basketball Coach’s Perush to our analysis.

Image result for coach carter

With that in mind, I ask how might Coach Carter explain the meaning of פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה –mouth to mouth? To answer that I think about the words of another basketball coach, Craig Robinson the  coach of the Oregon State men’s basketball team. In 2008 at the DNC Craig Robinson gave a speech in which he talked about the first time he met his sister Michelle’s boyfriend Barack Obama. There he said:

My sister had grown up hearing my father and me talk about how to judge a person’s character  by what type of sportsman they are, so she asked me to take Barack to play basketball. If you’re looking for a political analysis based on his playing, here it is:  he’s confident but not cocky, he’ll take the shot if he’s open, he’s a team player who improves the people around him, and he won’t back down from any challenge.

If you want to know who someone is you need to play them  פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה,  mouth-to-mouth, head-to head, or one-on-one.

So who is Yishama Frydman Orlow?

    • He is confident but not cocky. I cherish our nightly humble-brag ritual. He shares his successful with me so there is not trash talking on the court like Miriam and Aaron.
    • Yishama is an inspired and inspiring player. He is always trying to improve himself and others around him. On many occasions I have seen him seek out advice from coaches, competitors, and even referees. He is always looking to grind out some areas of improvement. There is no doubt that he was the one to inspire me to get my shoulder surgery. He is also one of my biggest cheerleaders helping me get into shape. I know that I am not there yet, but thanks to Yishama I am working on it.
    • Yishama won’t back down from any challenge. Despite or even because of the size difference he is a formidable competitor. He uses his strength to his advantage. He is not taller, but faster and smarter and this kid developed a left.
    • Yishama leaves it all on the court. Schwerer Arbeiter, win or lose he gets joy out of working hard.
    • Yishama is always a mensch on the court. There have been a number of parents who have come up to me to tell me how impressed they are with his work ethic or the positive influence he has had on their child, helping them learn to be a better baller.

Facing someone one-on-one you get to see their real character. As we see in Proverbs: “As water [reflecting] the face is to the face, so a man’s heart is to [his fellow] man.” (Proverbs 27:19) It is there when he shows up and is vulnerable. It reminds me to also show up and be vulnerable. This last year was hard for me with the passing of my father. In so many ways I still see my father when I look at myself in the mirror, but alas while my father appears to me in images he is still very much a mystery to me. Similarly,  Yishama when I look at you, it is impossible for me not to see some of myself in you. The difference is that with you I feel that we are getting closer to know each other פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה. We might butt heads, but there is no mystery there. I feel that in a profound way, in getting to know you, I get to learn something deep about myself.

My blessing for you Yishama is that you never trade your authenticity for approval. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” 

My Blessing for the rest of you is that you get the chance to connect with him one-on-one. 

This past weekend was such a thrill. Thank you for sharing in this time together.


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