Posts Tagged 'Bar Mitzvah'

All in One Place: All of Our Speeches on the Occasion of Yishama Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

We had a great time this past weekend celebrating Yishama becoming a Bar Mitzvah. There were lots of words shared. Here are all of our speeches in one place:


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.

Being A Helper: Shabbat BeHa’alotecha, Pesach Sheni, and Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

Yishama Frydman Orlow’s Speech on Becoming a Bar Mitzvah June 22, 2019:

Mr Rogers is often quoted saying:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.When things look grim, there are always people helping and they deserve our attention.

In this week’s Parsha we learn about the case of men who are deemed impure and are on the verge of getting cut off from the people. They could not participate in giving the Korban Pesach with the rest of Bnei Yisrael and are going to be punished with Karet. The Torah describes them as:

אֲנָשִׁ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר הָי֤וּ טְמֵאִים֙ לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֔ם וְלֹא־יָכְל֥וּ לַעֲשֹׂת־הַפֶּ֖סַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא

… men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day( Numbers 9:6)

These men went to Moshe and Aharon saying :

לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע לְבִלְתִּ֨י הַקְרִ֜ב אֶת־קָרְבַּ֤ן יְהוָה֙ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

Why must we be held back from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites? (Numbers 9:7)

In response to this line of questioning, we get the only do-over in the Torah. A month after Pesach they are told to offer the Korban Pesach celebrating Pesach Sheni and avoid getting Karet, getting cut off from the nation.

This parsha of Pesach Sheni raises a few questions for me:

    1. Why does this case deserve a do-over?
    2. Why are they so disturbed about being left out and getting Karet?
    3. And who exactly are these people?

In Masechet Sukkah in a discussion about the halakhic principle that “one who is engaged in a mitzvah is exempt from performing another mitzvah” the Rabbis explore various identities of the men in question (Sukkah 25a-b). The one that most intrigued me was taught by Rabbi Yossi HaGalili and Rabbi Yitzhak. They reasoned that at the time of giving the Korban Pesach the men in question in our Parasha were impure because they had carried Yosef’s bones out of Egypt.

What is the significance of this? While these men were nameless, their act was not a random one. There at the end of the book of Bereshit we read:

So Yosef made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” (Genesis 50:25)

These people were clearly not doing a random act of chesed. They were fulfilling a commitment of their ancestors to bring Yosef’s bones home. Despite having sold their brother into slavery, when they showed up in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, Yosef helped them. These men who could not give the korban pesach were fulfilling a long standing commitment to help the helper.

But who was Yosef? Looking at his life we come to a deeper understanding of our parsha. Yosef was sold by his brothers into slavery. He spent his life cut off from his family and even spent years unjustly incarcerated being cut off from society. In many ways his life is the paradigm of Karet, being cut off from the nation. In a symbolic way, these men are trying to repair Yosef’s life of Karet. This goes a long way to explain why these men would be indignant that for the reason of helping the helper. In 1940 Rabbi Jacob Kohn of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles wrote:

Our faith is kept alive by the knowledge, founded on long experience, that the arc of history is long and bends toward justice.

It took generations, but of course these men deserve a do-over, that is justice for the helpers. We can learn a valuable lesson about our jobs as human beings from the helpers carrying Yosef’s bones who got a second chance so that they would not cut off the nation. Indeed, we need to look out for the helpers who were looking out for the helper, Yosef.

In a critique of what he sees as the misuse of the “Look for the helpers”quote Ian Bogost wrote in the Atlantic:

We must stop fetishizing Rogers’s advice to “look for the helpers” as if it had ever been meant for us, the people in charge—even in moments when so many of us feel powerless. As an adult, it feels good to remember how Mr. Rogers made you feel good as a child. But celebrating that feeling as adults takes away the wrong lesson. A selfish one. We were entrusted with these insights to make children’s lives better, not to comfort ourselves for having failed to fashion the adult world in which they must live. (Atlantic October, 2018)

On the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah, my becoming an adult, I ponder what it means to join the group of people who have power. We cannot just look for the helpers, we have the responsibility to be the helpers so that generations to come live better lives. As Rav Nachman teaches, “If you believe you can break, believe you can fix.”

Thank you to everyone here for helping keep me accountable for stepping up and being a helper and I hope together we can fix the problems in our world.

I am so proud of the person that Yishama is and the helper that he is becoming.

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.

Essential Wisdom of Yishama Frydman Orlow: Adina’s Speech for Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah

Adina’s speech to Yishama on becoming a Bar Mitzvah:

Yishama, these are some words that capture your essence sprinkled in with sayings from Pirke Avot, because I know how much you love a good inspirational quote.

Perseverance and Grit
I need only say one word, basketball, and I think everyone in this room knows what I mean. What they don’t know is that in addition to the hours you spend on the court, you wake up most days at 6:30am to do your workout routine, spend your lunch and recess hours doing drills, and even your down time is watching players you admire and studying their best moves on you tube. I love that after games you seek out the referees to ask if there is anything you can improve, and they look as stunned as you do right now. Whether you are headed to the NBA or to become a renowned physicist, this virtue of perseverance will take you all the way! , לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא: Ben He He said: According to the labor is the reward.

Shama, you are someone who deeply cares and emotes in ways that people many years your senior cannot match. As you grow up to be a young man, embrace this superpower and do not shy away from expressing your feelings. Remember that real men cry. It is this empathy and ability to be vulnerable that will make your relationships real and deep.

Friday nights in our house, aside from the usual bewitching that takes place at Shabbat dinner because everyone is exhausted from the week, Mami and Aba wanting it to be the perfect family dinner, and the four of you being as goofy as possible. These are some of my favorite family memories. Whether it is you and your brother doing some impression of a famous singer, actor, or made up character, or you simply chasing Libi under the table screaming, catch me if you can! Or doing your belly and but-cheeks high five, you keep me laughing. Never lose that ability to keep things light – a trait you no doubt learned from your father, not me.

Every night one of us puts you to bed, because at an early age you realized that these few minutes were time for you to have our undivided attention. And every night you ask me “so, how was your day mom” followed by “what did you do today” I can never get away with fine or “had a few meetings” because I know that your follow up question will be “but what did you DO today” because you are one of these rare creatures who understands and values the preciousness of life and the great responsibility we have to seize every moment. You make me a better person.

But it isn’t only that, Shama, there have been numerous occasions where you literally took my breath away with the deep reflections you shared. Like the time I was 9 months pregnant and driving your 3-4 year old self to school and and you asked me, “Do mommy’s ever die when they have babies?” or on our weekly walks to shul, when you share “Deep thoughts by Shama Orlow” And say things like, “You know, he is a really nice kid. He has matured a lot over the years.” Or “you mean we are paying double for our education? Once through our taxes and another through our tuition”  You have always been our wise old man in a little boys body (with a scrabble dictionary vocabulary to boot).

Shama, you always stand up for what you believe in. Whether in school, on the court or at home your character takes the front seat. It is not lost on us that you wear your kippah on the court with unbridled pride, no matter who is playing . וּבְמָקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.
You make us so incredibly proud – not only today but every day in all the small moments when your true character shines through. Anyone who knows you knows that you are destined for greatness but more importantly that you will inspire others to greatness.

As we spend many a nightly conversation pondering the state of our country, world and humankind I am lifted up thinking that you and your brother and sisters will be agents of change in fixing all that is broken and healing all who are suffering.

As you know, Mami and Aba have devoted themselves to serving the Jewish community professionally and to being involved in our local community through the shul and the Hevra Kadisha. So, when we are home late from a meeting, or travelling for days at a time and missing tucking you in at night, know that we are doing our small part in fixing this broken world so that we leave it a little better than we found it.

Whether you choose to work in the for profit sector and make a lot of money to become a baal tzedakah or your choose work in the nonprofit sector giving back through your daily work, remember that the day is short and the work great. הַיּוֹם קָצָר וְהַמְּלָאכָה מְרֻבָּה and that It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it; לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה: And one final saying as I leave you with some parting wisdom,  הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי: He [also] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?
Shama, be intentional every minute about the person you want to be, surround yourself with people to care for and that care for you, and continue to live each day to the fullest, seizing every moment as if it were the last.

Yadid, Emunah, and Libi

We love you so much and too much and we hope that looking around you see all of the people that are here who love you and together with Mami and Aba have helped us raise 4 metsches. Remember always that no matter what, you have one another and you have to be there for each other. You are each a unique creation that was put on this earth for a reason and one of those is to take care of each other and of your parents in their old age (but not for many years to come – you hear that honey!)


Thank you for being my bar plugta, my soul mate, for ever challenging me to be the best version of myself and being my co-pilot on this life journey. Together we strive to be the best parents we can be – each in our own unique ways. As you often say to me, “we have some pretty awesome kids” as if to say, “we didn’t mess them up too badly”. Don’t worry there is still time.
“Honey, I love you so much”

Oma, Abuelo and Abuela

Thank you for schepping naches with us and for giving us all of the tools we needed to get to this moment. I know that PJ is here with us to smiling with his cockeye grin from ear to ear as are your great grandparents who could not physically be here today.

To our family and friends
We feel so blessed to be a part of this community. We could not have dreamed of a better place to be raising our children together with you. From the first time we came 11 years ago to “Check out the community” and moved in with Rabbi Chaim and Suzie and their seven kids for a week, we knew this was the place for us. Today, Yishama and his squad wander the streets of White Plains and dominate the Highlands court and couldn’t be happier. To so many loving friends who came today representing different parts of our lives we love you all and look forward to continuing to share many simchas together in the coming years.

Adina, I am so honored to call you my Bar Plugta, accountability buddy, and the love of my life. Much love.

Image may contain: Avi Orlow and Adina Frydman, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

Our Deepest Fear: Emunah’s Speech for Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah

Emunah’s Speech that she read for her Yishama’s Bar Mitvah:

Shabbat Shalom. Yishama , I wanted to share with you a poem by Marianne Williamson:

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Yishama, while I might not have needed your help to feel brilliant, gorgeous, talented, or fabulous, sometimes I do feel inadequate. Like my Aba I have some challenges with reading. Seeing you play basketball or run cross country with people much bigger than you, I see that you never shrink, slow down, or play small. You always give it your all. It was amazing seeing you take down Jordan Tucker– Who was literally twice your size.

Seeing your work ethic inspires me to do the same. Be that reading or running, you are a role model of rigor and the benefits of having a regiment. Mazel Tov on becoming a Bar Mitzvah today. I am so proud of having you as my brother, what you have done, who you are, and the impact you will have on the world. Thank you for always being there to encourage me. You inspire me to be better. You give all of us permission to shine. Thank you.

I am so proud of my children.

Shama Llama: Yadid’s Poem for Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah

Yadid’s Poem that he delivered on the occasion of Yishama’s Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

Shama Llama
First the OG, then the Remix
You were born in 2006
Next to the arch, Saint Louis
Suddenly, New York, a city of bricks

once you were a fetus
Now you are a genius
Sleepless that’s your weakness
Allergic to tree nuts

Sudden, you grew up
Sprouting like a tulip
Your hair blew up
Tying your shoe up
Sure not to screw up
Shots you threw up
Next one queued up
Fancy moves brewed up
Opponents you chewed up
Rising, bro you up
Being a proud Jew, yup
Deaf to hate spewed up
Never feeling used up
Cause when you shoot up
Haters know they screwed up
Bro you still goof up
But when you cued up
You ready to swoop up
Never a crude shlump
Never stop, bro speed up

Not a preteen
now thirteen
A living meme
To fast, unseen
You use gasoline?
Handles supreme

I aspire to be you, Shama
Never causing drama
A leader, like Obama
Handles a diorama
A creator, like Brahma
Wild hair, like a llama
Acting like your in nirvana
I’m a panda, your an iguana

I am so proud of my children.

Yadid’s Speech for Yishama’s Bar Mitzvah

Yadid’s Speech to his brother on the occasion of Yishama becoming a Bar Mitzvah:

Hi everyone, thanks for joining my family in the celebration of my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. Many, if not most of the people in this room are aware that my brother is a baller, but he wasn’t always that way. In fact, he used to be trash at ball. But, as time progressed, he realized that basketball was his passion. This realization hit him over the Winter, so he was unable to work on his shooting outside. Though he hit this roadblock, he wouldn’t let it get in his way. So every day for around half a year he took take a basketball to the basement and practiced and expanded his dribbling skills. After this phase he proceeded to go to Highlands, the public basketball courts near our house in order to play basketball with other people, working on his skills. He still goes to those court to this day, from when he gets home to sundown in order to get better.

The great sage of Ancient China, Master Shifu once said  “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be more than you are.” This seemed to be the concept my brother was following. Shama, I know that as the older brother I’m supposed to set an example for you, but for me the tables are turned. I strive to have the same persistence and passion that you have, to be as dedicated as you have been. Because of your passion, our squad now goes to play basketball almost every week, abba fixed his shoulder up and exercises almost every day now,  you put your mind to something, and it changed everyone around you.

I am so proud of my children.

A Matter of Perspective

Yesterday we celebrated Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah. For the occasion he prepared a Shiur. He allowed me to post he class here. It was a true pleasure celebrating the extraordinary person he is becoming. So here is what he said:

To quote from a book that my family enjoyed reading together “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

In preparation for today I wanted ( or at least my Abba wanted me to) do a siyum. Over the last year I have learned Masechet Megillah as part of my Bar Mitzvah Bucket list. I wanted to share a short shiur– lesson as a completion of what my father and I learned.  

My favorite sugya in the Gemara was Megillah 16a which tells a crazy story:

When Haman goes to get Mordechai to dress him in the king’s clothes and parade him around town,  he finds Mordechai himself giving a shiur to the  Sages on the halakhot – laws of kamitzah. What you say is the kamitzah?

Image result for ‫קמיצה‬‎

Good question self. Well the kamitzah was the three finger measurement of fine flour used in the meal offering in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Mordechai sees Haman he tells the Sages to leave so they don’t get burned by his coals.

Which is interesting in that part of the meal offering itself, but back to the story in the Gemara.

Mordechai bravely stands alone before Haman, puts on his tallis and starts davening. We are left with a bizarre image of Haman patiently waiting for his mortal enemy to finish his prayers while Mordechai thinks he is about to be killed. After Mordechai finishes, Haman tells him that the king has commanded him to clothe Mordechai in the king’s clothes and parade him around town on the king’s horse. Mordechai says that he can’t do that because he is dirty and needs a haircut.

Why is he dirty and need a haircut? Excellent question self.

Seeing that his fortune has changed from nearly being killed to being paraded around town by his enemy – Mordechai leaves his state of mourning  and starts to toy with his adversary.

While that occurs Esther closes all the barbershops and bathhouses. She is mean that Esther.

In order to obey the king’s decree Haman had no choice but to cut Mordechai’s hair and bathe him. Haman then dresses him in the king’s clothes and bends down so that Mordechai can climb onto the king’s horse. As Mordechai is climbing on to the horse he kicks Haman. Haman responds quoting Proverbs (24:17) and says “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.”

While doing so Haman’s daughter, lets call her Antikke is standing on a roof and sees Haman walking and Mordechai on the horse. Antikke thinks that the person being lead around in the King’s clothes is Haman her father and the person leading him around is Mordechai. Thinking it is Mordechai from that distance she throws a chamber pot full of poop onto her father’s head.

When I think about this story in the context of the entirety of Megillat Esther I think we can learn some important lessons but I will let you be the judge of that:

1) There are many perspectives in this story that are alternating between comedy and tragedy. In the beginning of the story Mordechai’s perspective is that he is about to be killed. Antikke’s perspective is that she thinks she will punish her father’s enemy but instead punishes her father. Throughout the Megillah it seems that  G-d isn’t actually present, especially in this story we, with the reader’s perspective  see a majestic plan unfolding.


2) I as a reader find it problematical that the so called victims of the story are mistreating people. For example Esther’s effort to close the barber shops and showers just seems cruel in that it is engineered to shame Haman. Similarly when Mordechai kicks Haman. He didn’t just kick him, he responds to a Torah quoting Haman by  dismissing him outright, being mean spirited and being dismissive of non- Jews. This is resonant with what we see at the end of the eighth perek when the Megillah. There we read “Moreover many from among the people of the land declared themselves Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.”( Esther 8: 17)  I appreciate that they were feeling oppressed, but why do they need to make others feel oppressed?  

This is especially troubling because of current events where groups are being persecuted as in the Megillah. I hope that we come together as a nation to end persecution of anyone. The root of hatred is fear, we cannot fight it with more hatred, only with more love. This can only happen when we don’t tolerate bad behavior but also don’t behave badly ourselves. We have to strive to keep the highest standard of conduct.

I wanted to summarize what I have learned in light of my becoming a Bar Mitzvah.  There seems to be two main ideas here:

1) In this sugya as in life the line between comedy and tragedy is perspective. As Abraham Lincoln said- We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. In becoming a Bar Mitzvah I think about this quote whenever something goes wrong or someone does something wrong. I remind myself to regain the right perspective so that I can bring my best self. I try to do this because, lets say if, not that this ever happens, but imagine that Shama and Emi are fighting, and no one was around. They both tell my mom what happened individually and no matter how hard they try, they will tell the story slanted towards themselves. So in order to hear what really happened you have to see the situation from both perspectives. In any conflict there are always three perspectives: his side, her side and the truth.  I think this is why my family liked Wonder so much, because every chapter was told was a different perspective.

2) The other big idea is that we have to be just in our ends and our means. As we saw in this sugya even Mordechai himself might confuse the blessed Mordechai with cursed Haman in being unnecessarily cruel to his adversary. It is a hard lesson to learn for myself or even for our people but I realize that being the victim is never an excuse for behaving poorly.

Thank you friends and family for helping me get through this journey of sorts. Thank you all who came from out of town, from Canada to Argentina. Thank you Abba for learning Masechet Megillah with me and helping me with this speech, thank you Mami for teaching me troupe and the Mincha service, thank you both of you for helping me navigate through this strange world and thank you Shama, Emi and Libi for cheering me up when I was down, and making me feel proud of who I was, from any perspective.

Knowing Heart: Ki Tavo and Intuition

Recently I was talking with a friend about Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion. She was helping her daughter write a Dvar Torah for her Bat Mitzvah. Her daughter was focusing on the idea at the end of the portion. There we read:

And Moshe called to all Israel, and said to them: You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;  the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and those great wonders; but the Lord has not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.( Deuteronomy 29:1-3)

It is interesting in that the Torah is challenging the idea of intuition. What does it mean for the heart to know? On this Rashi says that it means “to recognize the kind acts of the Holy One, Blessed is God, and therefore to cleave to God”. What does it mean to cleave to God? In an age of fundamentalism I am very afraid of people doing acts of terrorism because of what they think they know in their hearts. I had not thought about it until looking more closely at this line, but what is the juxtaposition in this portion of the Torah. What does that mean for the heart to know as compared to the what the eyes see or what the ears hears?

This reminds me of the final chapter of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Blink. There he writes about how orchestras hold “blind” auditions where musicians literally play behind a screen. So-called expert judges are able to hear with “just their ears” rather than look first and, in that blink of an eye, make instant (often unfair) assumptions based on what they see. A tiny woman, for example, could never be a great French Horn player because she couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung capacity. Gladwell writes,“Until they listened to her with just their ears … they had no idea she was so good.”

It seems that good intuition is based on determining what is the right thing to focus in on and what is the right thing to ignore. The scary thing is how much people ignore of the world so that they can maintain their claim on what they know in their hearts. Coming of age at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is really the beginning of a process of defining your own lens for how you will start to see and hear the world and determine how you will know things in your adult life.

-link to another piece on blink Blind Taste Test



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