Remember the Name: My Talk to Yishama on Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

It is rare that we take moments to ponder who we are and who we are becoming. It feels like a moment ago we were standing in Bais Abraham in St. Louis at Yishama’s bris explaining the meaning of his name. Notably this will be a different speech then the one given at your bris. I remember vividly,walking back from your Bris when Oma asked me,” Are there any Boys with this name?” I answered her telling her about the prophecy of Jeremiah yadda yadda yadda “He Shall Be Heard”. And my mother lovingly cut me off,”No, are there any boys with this name?”

So, beyond the the comment from my dear friend Aryeh Bernstein who emailed post bris saying“ Mad Props on the Nifal”, what is the meaning of your name?

  • On your Bar Mitzvah, I wanted to share some more reflections on why we gave you such a unique name?
  • Even from the start we had a sense that you would be a unique child.  Check!
  • We hoped that you that you would be a middle child. Check! Check! Thank you Emunah and Libi.
  • We wanted to ensure you would be heard. Your siblings look up to you. Check!
  • And somewhere in there your Mami and I thought that the world needed to hear your voice as well.

As we read in Jeremiah:

Thus said the Lord: עוֹד֮ יִשָּׁמַ֣ע- Again there shall be heard in this place, which you say is ruined, without man or beast—in the towns of Yehudah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man, without inhabitants, without beast—the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride, the voice of those who cry, “Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is good, for God’s kindness is everlasting!” (Jeremiah 33:10-11)

Although the world might have been desolate, destroyed and ruined, Jeremiah had a vision for a future in which the voice of happiness will be heard. Thus we will hear the multivocality of ק֣וֹל שָׂשׂ֞וֹן וְק֣וֹל שִׂמְחָ֗ה. Yes, that makes me cry at every wedding. That will be the next installment of this talk. The vision of Jeremiah is meting out happiness middah k’neged middah– measure for measure our happiness filling the void of sadness, When we named you we had no idea how broken the world would become. We also had no idea of your immense capacity to fill that void

You are our little philosopher. Your capacity to reflect and commitment to improve is unrivaled. You are all about the grind on and off the court. There is no doubt to anyone who knows you that you will do great things in this world. You are profoundly committed to get the most out of every moment. You are mature way beyond your years. From an early age you knew that life was really about the experiences you would have along the path. You never want to waste a moment.

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the Talmud. We learn in Berachot:

It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Yosei said: I was once walking along the road when I entered the ruins of an old, abandoned building among the ruins of Jerusalem in order to pray. I noticed that Elijah, of blessed memory, came and guarded the entrance for me and waited at the entrance until I finished my prayer. When I finished praying and exited the ruin, Elijah said to me: Greetings to you, my Rabbi. I answered him: Greetings to you, my Rabbi, my teacher. And Elijah said to me: My son, why did you enter this ruin? I said to him: In order to pray. And Elijah said to me: You should have prayed on the road. And I said to him: I was unable to pray along the road, because I was afraid that I might be interrupted by travelers and would be unable to focus. Elijah said to me: You should have recited the abbreviated prayer instituted for just such circumstances. Rabbi Yosei concluded: At that time, from that brief exchange,I learned from him, three things: I learned that one may not enter a ruin; and I learned that one need not enter a building to pray, but he may pray along the road; and I learned that one who prays along the road recites an abbreviated prayer so that he may maintain his focus. (Berachot 3a)

Yishama, your commitment to stay on the path and learn everything from every moment is inspirational. You make we want to be a better person. And the story in Berachot continues, “And after this introduction, Elijah said to me: What voice did you hear in that ruin? I responded: I heard a Heavenly voice, cooing like a dove” (Berachot 3a)  The dove was saying ” And this is why we cannot have nice things” ( this translation/interpretation is my own).

Image result for dove ruins jerusalem

Like Rabbi Yosei, when we allow ourselves to stop along life’s path to reflect we realize that the diversion itself was the journey.
The tangent was the actual lesson. We also realize that beyond the lesson is another deeper lesson. If we allow time to have sacred moments, we can even hear the voice of hope and happiness in a place that would otherwise seem ruined. Like Rabbi Yosei, we can and must learn from everything along the way.

With the meaning of your name in my heart and the image of Rabbi Yosei on the journey in my mind I wanted to share part of C. P. Cavafy’s Poem, Ithaka, as a blessing for you:

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Yishama, along your journey, I hope that you stop in many places. If you are open to it, even in places of desolation you will hear the voice of the dove bringing peace and the voices of joy filling the void of sadness. Echoing your Dvar Torah, which you shared so beautifully, our blessing to you is not just that you be open to hearing those voices, but also to step into your role of being that voice. We feel so blessed to have you in our lives. Your striving to live an inspired life is itself inspirational. Speak truth to power, bring joy to those who need it, and keep on inspiring people. In doing so, Yishama- you will be heard.

We are excited for the journey ahead. We give thanks at this moment to hearing your emergent voice and are confident that you will fulfill the vision of your name. Your voice will bring joy to our broken world. Yishama, in thinking about the person you are and your name, its seems only fitting to close by quoting, Fort Minor.

This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name

Mazel Tov Yishama Frydman Orlow, Yishama ben HaRav Avram v HaHazan Adina Devorah. Remember the name.

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