I am truly humbled by the overwhelming response to my daughters’ bnot mitzvah. We had over 2 dozen family and friends who came out for the service.
Firstly, a public apology for the length: 3 hours, a whole hour longer than a normal service— I knew it was going to go longer than our usual service, but I truly didn’t know that long. I don’t know how we could have estimated that badly. And it wasn’t any single thing on the agenda, either. It was just lots of little things: too many people all trying to cram into that tiny VW Beetle. We went an hour over, five minutes at a time.
However, I was truly impressed with what my daughters accomplished and how well they performed. All their practicing clearly paid off. Now, I helped them practice their Hebrew, and I know what they did, but I couldn’t have gotten up there and done it, because I’m just not that good. And they delivered their speeches with power, confidence, and a bit of panache. I told them—and not just as a proud father—that it was one of the best bnai mitzvah I had ever attended.
But all the work I put into my speech over the past two weeks also paid off.
I’ve been somewhat-a-little-more-than-casually studying public-speaking technique, with the thought that I gotta find another outlet to tell the story I want to tell, and this is the first big opportunity I had to put these techniques into practice. I managed to edit through eight drafts of the speech in the week and a half since I first wrote it. I got a number of laughs—including one I completely didn’t expect, at the line about the Mythbusters—and enthusiastic, encouraging comments afterward. Makes me feel like I accomplished almost as much as my daughters did.
For your entertainment, here is the text of the six-minute speech I delivered at my daughters’ bnot mitzvah, November 3, 2012. Unfortunately, you won’t get the full effect just reading the text: you had to be there. But you might be able to get close. Just imagine an animated me delivering the following message to my two daughters, seated in the front row, and to about 100 others. The speech begins as look over the crowd and ruminate…
This is the first time I’ve been on the giving end of a bat mitzvah— And it may be the last, too. So I tried to take it all in, learn as much as I could from the experience. There are three things that strike me.
Firstly, a central aspect of the bat mitzvah is work.
You, Carrie and Abbie: you now know this.
There’s work in learning Torah, work in reading from the Torah, work in rehearsing the tropes, work in preparing a drash…
And that work is all simply wonderful to do, isn’t it?
I know, because I saw what you gave up to get it done.
Or as Paul Harvey once put it, “You can always tell when you’re on the road to success; it’s uphill all the way.”
My girls started Hebrew lessons in 2006, with Morah Hilda. So, years of work, learning Torah.
See, we all grow up automatically. But growth, you have to be intentional about that. And I’m not talking about learning a little Torah; I’m talking about something that is way harder. I’m talking about growing in here, where it counts.
Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, who was one of the great figures of the 19th-century Musar movement, he noted, “It’s easier to learn the entire Talmud”— Now, I’m taking the “Intro to Talmud” course, you may have heard of, at MJTI, and I’d like try to describe to you what an overwhelming idea this is, to learn the entire Talmud… but we’d probably be here all week. Still, Rabbi Salanter says, “It’s easier to learn the entire Talmud – than to change even one character trait.”
See, that kind of growth only comes after years of learning, and trying, and failing sometimes, and finally you get there. Never stop growing, never “get there,” continually expand your knowledge, and pursue wisdom. And then act on that wisdom. Because no one who has accomplished anything ever did it without effort.
After you’re a bar mitzvah, some kids say, you don’t have to go to synagogue anymore. You can finally escape.
But let me tell you, if all you’re trying to do is to escape—away from anything—you probably won’t get anywhere very fast. Because you have to be heading toward something, if you want to eventually get there.
When you started learning Hebrew, it was so could someday come up and read the Torah, today. So, now—truth—when you realized, last week, that this day was coming up real fast now, didn’t that kind of make you focus on it? A little bit?
The book of Proverbs tells us: “Let your eyes look forward, Your gaze be straight ahead. Survey the course you take, And all your ways will prosper.”
Did you know that you can’t walk a straight line if you can’t see?
The TV show “Mythbusters” did that experiment. They went into an open field and targeted a landmark on the horizon and then put on a blindfold and tried to walk straight toward that landmark. But what happened was, no matter what they tried, they ended up just walking around in circles. Because they couldn’t see where they were trying to get to.
So in whatever paths you choose, if you want to live as G‑d would have you live, keep your purpose, and remember who you want to be.
Yeshua taught and lived these values, and you’ve already obliquely alluded to them.
Rav Shaul in Philippians chapter 2, he talks about how Yeshua emptied himself in order to serve the world—as Carrie talked about. He sought to make the world a better place, and obeyed G‑d even though it meant his own unjust execution—which echoes Abbie’s drash.
And as we’ll quote in the Alenu a little later, Shaul says: “Therefore G‑d also highly exalted Messiah and gave him the Name that is above every name, so that at the name belonging to Yeshua every knee should bend, in the heavens and on earth and under the earth. And every tongue confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Ad‑onai to the glory of G‑d the Father.”
Remember the reading of the akeida earlier? When I read the story of Abraham and Isaac? Do you see the parallels between that story and this one? And how that story ended and how this one ends?
But Shaul goes on, in the very next verse: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed… continue to work out your salvation… [because G‑d] works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Salvation in Messiah requires work toward G‑d’s purpose.
So in whatever paths you choose, if you want to live as G‑d would have you live, keep your purpose, and remember who you want to be. Because no one who has accomplished anything ever did it completely by accident.
Lastly, remember that you didn’t accomplish this day alone. Remember your teachers, your mentors, your peers. Remember those who helped you and who were rooting for you. And become mentors and supporters of those who come after you. Because no one who has accomplished anything ever did it all by himself.
My daughters, I hope that in the brief years we’ve been together—which have flown by far too fast—that you have grasped the value of learning, and purpose, and community. And wherever you end up in life, that you’ll find the stability and fulfillment I’ve always wanted for you.
P.S. My father has also published his bat-mitzvah speech, which (I am told) blew mine away. Of course, he’s been doing the public-speaking thing for longer than I’ve been alive (literally), and when I try to count how many years that is, I feel very old.