Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Recently, my wife and I celebrated the bar mitzvah of our fourth son, Eliezer. Boruch Hashem we have much nachas and wish you the same from your children and families.

Prior to the bar mitzvah of our son Yitzchok Elchonon, I went to the local Grapevine wine store to buy some wine and schnapps for the simcha. I made my selections and watched as they were rung up on the cash register. One bottle rang up quite high. Seeing the price, I asked the gentleman behind the counter to please remove the bottle from my order; it struck me as extravagant.

A serious baal teshuva, he looked at me with sad eyes. “You’re making a simcha, obviously, aren’t you?” he asked. I nodded and he continued, “Look, Hashem has blessed you, he gave you a simcha to celebrate. Show Hashem you appreciate what He has done for you.”

He was so serious and so genuine I didn’t have the heart to say no to him, so I bought it.

The story surfaced in my mind as we discussed Eliezer’s upcoming bar mitzvah, and the man’s words came back to me. What if it had taken us ten years for Eliezer to be born? What if he would have been our only child? What if we had encountered difficulties in his upbringing? Wouldn’t we want to hold a special simcha and proclaim our happiness to the whole world?

Why downplay the blessings of a wonderful, nachas-giving bar-mitzvah boy? Why should we approach this milestone in his life with any less of a desire to hold a special simcha and proclaim our happiness for Hashem’s kindness?

The truth is that every time a young man becomes mechuyav in mitzvos it should be a major cause for celebration. Think about the evil forces trying to wipe the Jewish people off the map, trying to uproot our way of life. Look at all we have gone through, and still we are alive and flourishing. Every young man who takes on the sacred responsibility of Torah and mitzvos testifies to our immortality - is that not cause for more than a minimal celebration?

A few months ago, I made a last-minute decision to make a trip to Eretz Yisroel. An incident happened at the airport that triggered in me a thrill of pride in the fact that our Bnei Torah are, indeed, our most celebrated asset.

At 6:00 p.m., I made a reservation for a 9:30 flight that same evening. I left the house, arriving at the airport at 8:00. I got on the line and the bitachon (security) guy motioned to me to come over. Here we go, I figured, the usual questions. But there was a hitch in the routine procedure because I couldn’t produce a ticket when asked to. I explained that I had just made the reservation and didn’t have time to pick up the ticket. Frowning, he started to grill me.

“Which flight are you on?” he wanted to know. I said that all I knew was that the plane was taking off at 9:30. His eyes narrowed. “What do you mean you don’t know the flight number?” he demanded. “How can you come to the airport not knowing the flight number, without a ticket, not even an e-ticket, or a confirmation number?”

“Kacha, mah ani agid lecha. This is how I came, I made up my mind at the last minute and threw some things in a bag and ran out of the house.”

The security official went to make some inquiries. When he came back, he finally calmed down and returned to the routine questions. “Mah matarat habikkur? What’s the purpose of your visit?”

I told him that I had a son learning in Yerushalayim and I was going to visit him.

“That’s all?” was his skeptical response.

I told him I had a second son who wants to go learn there and I was going to try to get him accepted into the yeshiva.

He looked up at me and smiled. “Achshav ani agid lecha b’eizeh yeshiva lamadetah u’b’eizeh yeshiva haben lomeid. Now I will tell you which yeshiva you learned in and where your son is learning.”

“Come on, “I told him, “you’re fooling around and I’m going to miss the plane.”

“Brisk. Yeshivat Brisk,” he announced triumphantly. I wondered if he had checked it out on his computer. Is it possible that their information was so incredibly detailed that they record which yeshiva one’s son learns in? He didn’t even ask me my son’s name!

I was amazed and asked him how he knew.

After some kidding around, he told me that his job is to profile people.

“When you told me you had a last minute reservation which didn’t even show up on the computer, you had no ticket, and you didn’t know which flight you were on, all types of alarms went off in my head. I had to size you up, to profile you and judge if you were a security risk - that’s my job. I can tell which yeshiva a person studied in by asking a few questions and I can tell which yeshiva his children go to, as well.

At Eliezer’s bar mitzvah, I repeated this story. I wanted him to absorb the idea that a person’s essence should characterize his exterior as much as it defines his interior. I told him that everyone who looked at his grandfather, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, for whom he is named, knew that he was special. Anyone who spoke to him could instantly recognize that he was a representative of Kelm. There was no doubt about it; he was an aristocratic figure. A true Ben Torah, a rov, an odom hasholeim. He looked and conducted himself the way Hashem meant for all Jews to conduct themselves.

People wonder where Gan Eiden is. People wonder if Gan Eiden exists in this world. Rav Leizer Levin’s home was Gan Eiden. No one who was ever in his home ever asked where Gan Eiden was, because they knew.

He was so calm and serene, a cross or bitter word never crossed his lips. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what the world is really about; it wasn’t that he was naïve. But he knew that nothing was served by discussing the negatives. When necessary, he would sum it up in a word or two and move on. He was smart and learned, in a way people of our generation are not familiar with.

The tranquility that prevails in most Jewish homes on Shabbos filled his home the whole week. And on Shabbos his home was like Gan Eiden.

I would ask him to tell me about his rebbi, the Chofetz Chaim, and he would always say, “Az min hut nit gevust hut min gurnit gekent zehn.” If you didn’t know it was the Chofetz Chaim, you wouldn’t recognize anything extraordinary about him. But if you knew he was the Chofetz Chaim, and you would observe him, “hut min altz gekent zehn,” you would notice greatness in his every move and utterance.

And that’s how Rav Leizer Levin was; if you knew him, hut min altz gekent zehn.

And that is how we all should be.

Strong and determined, without feeling the need to make a statement.

So many challenges beset us; we are constantly put through the wringer. Often we have to ignore the obstacles and simply move on; we are not strong enough to carry too much excess baggage.

Greatness means letting go. At times, greatness means ignoring slights and indignities. Sometimes you have to make believe you didn’t hear, sometimes it means forgetting.

And sometimes it means just the opposite.

We shouldn’t do things in an attempt to become popular; we must aim to be ehrlich and to stubbornly insist on doing what we know to be right.

We pray that the young Eliezer will grow in his grandfather’s path of gadlus in Torah and mentchlichkeit.

We pray that in seven years, if Moshiach has not yet come, when Eliezer stands on that airport line, the bitachon guy will take one look at him and will say, “I know where he’s off to. He’s going to learn l’amitah shel Torah.”

Dear readers, let us pray that as all of our children mature and grow, Hashem will help them achieve their fullest potential, and we will all have much nachas from them, veyiroo ki sheim Hashem nikroh aleihem.


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