Friends, family, rabbis, spirits & honoured guests, I hope you are enjoying yourselves so far.
Before I get into the grit of the speech, I must give a few, and I will try to seriously make it a few, essential and special thankyous. First and foremost, I must thank my great-grandmother for surviving to this day, and Nana Felka I want you to know that we are all honoured to have you here with us. I hope you are as happy as we are that youre here.
I must give a special thankyou to Rabbi Zalman (hope that isnt too formal), for teaching me all year and for being here tonight. Zalman has put as much work into this occasion as I have, if not more, and without him I dont know how I would have managed to learn everything I needed to know.
My own mum gets a special thankyou for arranging the whole thing. If not for her, I doubt that we would be here and everything would be organised. Mummy has many different qualifications, including real estate stickybeak, holiday organiser, barmitzvah veteran, schlepper, and of course, being a mummy. In this major operation my mum has proven her true natural ability of organisation, and she deserves a big round of applause.
After the boss there comes my dad, who is also qualified in different areas. Apart from being a shul schlepper every Friday night & Saturday, Daddy is a go-to-bed and have-a-shower pro, an efficient worrier, a TV schloofer and a computer illiterate. Oh yeah, and a barrister, but thats only something minor.
I have one apology from a person that would like to be here, but couldnt quite make it. My dog Boo would have loved to have been here, but the caterers dont specialize in chicken wings and brisket bones, and we also didnt like the idea of throwing a tennis ball across the room right through dinner. We also couldnt afford to get carpet cleaners to clean away the inevitable muddy pawprints, but I assure you that Boo would be here if not for these technical problems.
Unfortunately my Nona & Nono arent here to see me either. Im sure they would have been proud of me, and Nona is definitely here in spirit. Nono could not come from the Montefiore home, as he isnt well enough, but when I saw him this morning he wished me mazal tov.
Thankyou tonnes Nana & Poppy for making it to this day. Poppy, over the years you have bought me watches, taken me to the movies, you have taught me the American chopsticks and given me advice, and it was indeed a great honour to have a kohen for a grandad yesterday! Nana, thanks for all the years I slept over, for all your orange cakes and for the countless swims weve had for all the Sunday afternoons in all the summers I can remember!
You may be surprised, but I do actually have something to say apart from thanking everyone for being here. Dad has already done most of them, and besides this is meant to be a speech, not a lullaby to put you to sleep. I would like to tell you all what this day really means to me.
Today, or yesterday, was the day that I finished being a Jewish boy and started my life as a Jewish man. The first of many things this means is that my parents are no longer responsible for what I do, and it is no longer up to them to teach me about Judaism and encourage me to be a good observant Jew. Of course, they have made it pretty easy for me, as they have encouraged me and taught me more than enough for me to keep going on my own. But it is now up to me to use my own initiative to participate in Jewish activities, to keep going to shule and to keep mitzvot. If I dont do these things, you cant blame my parents.
Another thing this means is that I can now be counted as part on a minyan. This is great, because it means that when we go to shule and there are 9 men there, I dont have to hold a chumash anymore!
In my parsha, parshas Bo, g-d quotes: "For seven days you shall eat matzos" (Shemos 12:15). This is where g-d commands us to eat matzos, and as it is a comandment and a mitzvah, we should do everything in our power to fulfil it. To show you just how important it is to eat matzos, I would like to tell you a story.
A young Boch had been training in Yeshiva when WWII began. The boy, whose name was Chaim, had been captured by the Germans, but by a miracle had escaped. He had come to Lublin, in Poland, which was controlled by the Russians at that time. He met his family there, but when they were reunited they were given a choice of becoming Russian citizens or living in Siberia. They chose Siberia, as they would one day have more chance of escaping from there.
Chaim, his father and brother were in the same barracks in Siberia, and were forced to live in bad conditions and do hard work. Although they were not allowed to keep any mitzvahs, Chaim did manage to put on tefillin every day. When he was caught once and the guard tried to take away his tefillin, Chaim said hed rather be shot than give them away.
Unfortunately, when Pesach came Chaim did not know what to do. The only food they received was stale bread, and they didnt know how they could stay alive without eating chametz. They had been sent some matzah and wine from the American rescue committee, but not enough to last them all through Pesach.
Chaim had one idea. The one thing they still owned was his fathers fur coat, and if they could sell it for some non-chametz food, they would be able to survive Pesach. So one day, when a wagon came through the camp laden with fruit and vegetables, Chaim traded a few bags of the parcels for his fathers coat.
When Pesach began a few days later, all the Jews in the camp were gathered in one tent for a seder. They were eating and singing happily, when a guard stormed into the room. He was appalled that they dare do this, and immediately accused Chaim of starting the seder, and put him in a prison cell in isolation. Chaim prayed to g-d that he would be rewarded for his good deed some day, and hoped that he had not gone to all the trouble to keep the seder for nothing.
In reward for his good deed that night, Chaim was freed from the barracks. He eventually settled in America, where his children are well known for their good services to this day.
This story teaches me that when we do a mitzvah, we will be well rewarded for it some day, and we should be willing to sacrifice as many luxuries as we must to keep g-ds mitzvahs.
Finally, I would like to evaluate my bar mitzvah and see what I have learnt from it, and what I can continue to do now that its finished (well, almost finished). In this year I have learnt many prayers, I have learnt to follow a service, and I have learnt the meaning of some prayers. Some of the sections of my Parsha have been hammered into me so well that I could say them 20 years from now! I have learnt how to use my Da-at, which is the power not only to know and understand concepts, but to learn from them and to realize their significance. Once again I must thank Zalman for bringing out the Da-at within me, and within some friends that I have been learning with.
I have decided that I will keep the mitzvah of putting on tefillin, and will put them on at least once a week. I will give some money to tzedakah every day, and will continue to go to shule on Shabbat.
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Copyright 1998 Jeremy Epstein. This site is a member of the JazaWeb Network.