Bar Mitzvah Speech
Delivered by Akiva Miller on the occasion of the Seudas Bar Mitzvah of his son Eliezer Shlomo, at the Jewish Educational Center, Elizabeth NJ, on February 5, 1996
The Gemara teaches us, "Poschin bichvod achsanya" -- start off by thanking and honoring the host.
The very first of these hosts, of course, is HaShem Himself, shehechiyanu vkiymanu, vhigiyanu lizman hazeh. Words cannot express my gratitude that He has allowed me the privilege of seeing my Elly reach halachic maturity and begin to do real mitzvos of his own.
Among humans, the real hostess here is Ilene. A lot of work went into preparing this whole shindig, and I promised you that I would carry my half of the load. But somehow, you kept on doing more and more, and the beauty of this weekend is testimony to your efforts. But if we are celebrating Elly's entrance to the mitzvos, then I must also thank you for making our home into a place where doing mitzvos comes naturally. Ever since Elly was born, you have worked with him, as well as with Avi and Ariella, helping them with their mitzvos, helping them with their homework, helping them grow up in general. I could give examples on and on, but the posuk says "Viyhal'luha bashaarim maaseha" - Your work speaks for itself. And I thank you.
Many people have helped us tremendously behind the scenes. So many of our friends have not only helped us, but even taken over various aspects of preparing for this seuda. Between buying the food and paper goods, cooking, baking, and preparing, setting up the Oneg and this beautiful room, and organizing the kitchen and waiter staff, those who opened their homes for our sleep-over guests, and of course, our army of cereal eaters and Pringle munchers who provided the materials for the beautiful centerpieces.
This been one of the most beautiful weekends of my life. And it could not have been so if not for our friends who have helped us in so many ways. There were many who helped us in their business, by helping us get food, or dishes, or entertainment. There were many who gave of their spare time, although I use that term loosely -- Can you call it spare time when night after night after night is spent in the JEC kitchen, baking for this occasion? Can you call it spare time when over a dozen people were in this room last night for several hours setting it up? And you certainly cannot call it spare time when three or four people actually took this past Friday off from work as a vacation day, so that they could help us in uncountable ways.
I wish I knew what it was that we've done for you all, that you have given us so much in return. If I knew what it was, then I would promise you that we'd continue doing it. But instead, I am forced to say that just like you have bent over backwards for us without any reason, we will have to redouble our efforts to do for our friends and neighbors, even without any reason. Friends and family are so important, especially to Ilene and myself. Despite the weather, you have come here today to honor us, and to honor Elly, from as far away as Hillside and Westfield, Connecticut and Florida, California and Eretz Yisrael. It sounds corny, but there really are too many people to thank, and I really am afraid of missing someone. I am humbled by my having such friends, and I thank you all very much.
Two people who I will thank by name, however, are Avi and Ariella. The two of you have always been cheerful throughout this whole mess. You both put up with a lot over the past few months. And Ima and I know that there were many many times when you wanted something, something which you wanted and deserved, and which we would have given you in a different year. But we kept telling you "I'm sorry, we have to get ready for the Bar Mitzvah." You smiled and you didn't complain. Other brothers and sisters would have been jealous at their brother, the big shot bar mitzvah boy. But Avi and Ariella, you have been happy and proud, as if this Bar Mitzvah were yours.
Which brings me to Eliezer Shlomo. Elly, you delivered a stirring drasha before, and an unbelievable laining and davening yesterday. Ima and I are incredibly proud of you. So proud that you won't even begin to understand it, until you have children of your own, bli ayin hara.
Many people have commented on what a nice Bar Mitzvah this is. But Elly, more than anyone in this room, you understand that a Bar Mitzvah is not measured by how beautiful these tables are, because this meal is not your Bar Mitzvah. And a Bar Mitzvah is not measured by how well you lained and davened yesterday in shul, because that was not your Bar Mitzvah either. And even when you read the Torah this past Monday morning, your actual 13th birthday -- even that was not your Bar Mitzvah.
And you understand these things, Elly, because you know that really, there is no such thing as "your Bar Mitzvah". A Bar Mitzvah is not something you have, it is what you are. You are a Bar Mitzvah. You are now someone who can do mitzvos, not merely practice them. And I know that you will do them.
I have an apology to make to most of you. I lied. Over the past few months, whenever someone would ask who is teaching Elly the Torah reading, who is teaching Elly the Haftara, we would usually answer that I was teaching it to him. But that was far from being the whole truth.
The real truth is that over 15 years ago, when I was still at Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim, I attended a short mini-course in how to read the Torah with the proper trup notes. I later asked the teacher to make a tape of those notes, and a few years ago Elly and I listened to that tape. I still remembered most of the common notes, and with help from some of the baalei kriah here in town, Elly was able to learn the full set of both Torah and Haftara trup notes. That is how much I taught him. From that point on he took off on his own. He sat down with his chumash, looked at the letters, vowels, and notes for each word, put them together, and lained. My role was pretty much confined to testing him and checking for mistakes.
Elly, it's not a coincidence that your Bar Mitzvah was on Shabbos Shira, the Shabbos of the Song. Music is not just important to you, Elly, but is an important part of you. I taught you the sounds of each trup note, but then you put them together and made the music of the parsha. I guided you and steered you, but the truth is that you taught most of the parsha to yourself. You are often able to sing the Torah at a glance. When you practice the reading and make a mistake, you often show me how I was the one who was wrong.
Yesterday afternoon, I arrived a few seconds late to mincha, and I looked up at the bima to see who was leading the davening. It seemed to be some short guy with a hat on, and a second later I realized it was my son. I smiled, and got all warm inside, and I had planned to ask you, "Elly, when did you practice mincha? Who taught you the tune? How long were you planning this surprise for me?" Imagine how surprised I was when you told me, "They needed someone to lead the davening, so they asked me and I said ok. The tune is pretty easy, just keep repeating 'Atah echad, v'shimcha echad', da-da-da-da-da."
How many people are 13 years old -- or 30 years old -- and have not been able to copy that tune. da-da-da-da-da. But you have a wonderful ear for music, Elly, a wonderful ear for Shira, for song. But never forget the other place where the Torah talks about shira, about song. Mitzva number 613: Kisvu lachem es hashira hazos. Write yourself a copy of this song, this Torah. The entire Torah is a song, Elly. Use your talent well, and never stop learning that song.
Successful people, both in the business world, and in the Torah world, often give this advice to youngsters who are starting out. "Find something important which most people don't want to bother with. Become an expert in that, and the world will come to you for what they need." Elly has done this. I am proud to announce that Torah reading is not something which Elly is doing just for his Bar Mitzvah and then never again. But just 2 weeks from now, Elly will be sharing the Torah reading with several other young men at the teen minyan here in Elizabeth. He already has plans to read the Torah occasionally at the Monday and Thursday minyan at school. And I hope that he will do us the honor of reading for us in the main shul here or at Beis Yitzchak, on a Shabbos morning someday soon.
Mikol mlamdai hiscalti. I have learned from all my teachers, and that includes Elly. It is traditional that if someone is able to, he reads the Haftara in shul on the Shabbos of his parent's yahrzeit. I have tried to avoid this for that past few years, since I really felt that I did not know the trup notes well enough. But last week, eight days ago, on the day of my father's 19th yahrzeit, alav hashalom, I was able to honor him in shul by reading the haftara. But it might be more accurate to say that Elly honored him, by teaching me those haftara notes which I had forgotten over the years, and giving me the ability to read it. It was a beautiful sight a few weeks ago, Elly and I sitting at the dining room table. I was practicing my haftara, and Elly was correcting me. Any of you who might remember how poorly I read the haftara in previous years, will know that I am not exaggerating when I say, "Elly, thank you for teaching me my haftara." My hope now, is that for next year, you can teach me the right tune for musaf.
Grandma Rita is here with us today, and you know how very proud she is of you. Unfortunately, Grandma Elaine, Grandpa Al, and Grandpa Sandy, alehem hashalom, are not here with us. I hope they were able to see and hear what a beautiful job you have done, and what a fine young man you are turning into. As you explained a few minutes ago, when you wear your tefillin you will be plugged in to them, and the mitzvos which you do will certainly go on their account as well.
Hamaschil bmitzvah omrim lo "gmor". One who starts a mitzvah must see it through to its completion. I raised a question at Eliezer's Shalom Zachar and I gave an answer at his Seudas Bris Milah. Today, birshus Rabbi Blau and Rabbi Teitz, birshus Rabbi Pindrus, my teacher who came here from Yerushalayim, birshus the many rabbis here who have given me the privelege of calling them "my friend", I need to continue, and improve upon that answer.
Thirteen years ago, I asked the traditional question, namely "Why is a bris on the eighth day?" If a boy is born on Sunday, for example, his bris is on the following Sunday, which is the eighth day of his life. The answer commonly given is to insure that the baby has enjoyed a Shabbos prior to his bris.
But according to that answer, the seventh day would be enough. A baby born on Sunday shouldn't have to wait until Sunday; his bris could be sometime during his first Shabbos. And if a boy is born on Shabbos, why should he have to wait at all?
And if you say that a full Shabbos is needed, well, we don't have that even now! Elly, you were born on Shabbos afternoon. Under the present system, a boy born Shabbos afternoon could get his bris the following Shabbos morning, with much less than 24 hours of Shabbos having gone by. A ninth day should be required!
So I concluded that the eighth-day requirement is to insure that every boy experience an Erev Shabbos, a Friday evening. The experience of going from an ordinary weekday into the holy Shabbos is something which every boy should have before his bris. This is what the eighth-day requirement insures.
In a nutshell, that's what I spoke about at Elly's bris. But I was wrong. A few days later, a good friend showed me that the same speech could lead to an entirely different conclusion. The reason for the eight days could be to make sure that every baby boy experiences a Saturday night before his bris, that every baby must experience how Shabbos leaves.
I immediately realized that my friend was correct. And then I realized that even he did not go far enough. No matter when a boy is born, if he has his bris on the eighth day, then he will have experienced exactly one Friday evening, one Saturday evening, one Sunday evening, and so on.
When we say that the mitzvah of bris milah is docheh Shabbos, we usually mean that a bris is allowed on Shabbos, even though elective surgery is forbidden. But actually it means more than that. It is docheh Shabbos - it pushes Shabbos away. To the mitzva of bris milah, Shabbos is just another day of the week.
So the mitzva of a bris has nothing to do with Shabbos! But it has everything to do with the experience of watching one day end and another begin. Time goes on, Elly. One day ends, and the next begins. You can't stop the cycle. When one day is over, it is gone forever. And then another appears, fresh and new, and ready for whatever you are going to do on that day.
Elly, you know the song. Over the past few months, I think it has become your favorite. Words written centuries ago, by the Maharal.
"Adam doeg al damav, v'aino doeg al yamav" - People worry about their money, but they don't worry about their days.
"Damav ainam ozrim, yamav ainam chozrim" - Money doesn't help, and days do not come back.
"Adam doeg al ibud damav, v'aino doeg al ibud yamav" - People cry when they waste money, but not when they waste time.
You've heard me mention many times how someone suggested to Rav Noach Weinberg that wasting time was an example of a minor sin. But he said No! It's a major sin! Wasting time? It's a kind of suicide!
Sunday becomes Monday. Monday becomes Tuesday. Tuesday becomes Wednesday. And so on. Eliezer, You have become a man. An "ish". Alef, yud, shin, the gematria is 311. Add the seven days of the week. The seven days of doing mitzvos. The seven days of being an active member of the Jewish people. But make sure to add all seven, without wasting a single minute, and the 311 will become 318, which is the gematria of Eliezer. The real Eliezer. The Eliezer inside, who is now able to do real mitzvos like any Jewish adult.
And with each of those mitzvos which you now begin to do, you will add yet another brick to the third Beis Hamikdash.
May you be zocheh
to live a good life,
long in years,
with days fully used for mitzvos,
and have the privilege of seeing that Bayis Shlishi with your own eyes,
Mazel tov, Elly. I love you.