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Since My Bar Mitzvah #690

08/27/2021 05:47:00 PM

Aug27

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Ki Tavo
“I, the Lord, will speed it in due time.” (Isaiah 60:22)

Since My Bar Mitzvah

Like many bar mitzvah students, I passed through my special day in 1966 with very little spiritual connection to the words I recited.

In those days, bar mitzvahs were endured. I was taught by my father to chant some Hebrew words, which I did not understand. The idea was to get through it.

The only benefit seemed to be that prior to my bar mitzvah, checks and gifts arrived daily from people, whom I had never met, or had any idea how I was related.

Then there was the party, highlighted by Zev Lerner and his Orchestra playing, among an array of Jewish and Israeli favorites, renditions of two “Go-Go songs for the kids:” Georgy Girl and Hanky Panky.

Still, as I look at it now, it made my parents and grandparents happy — and besides, it was a different world back then.

In 1966, groundbreaking for the World Trade Center took place. The Metropolitan Opera opened in Manhattan, as did Caesars Palace.

The Sound of Music beat out Dr. Zhivago to win the Academy Award. Civil rights leader James Meredith was shot, and Walt Disney died.

The NFL and AFL merged. And, as God’s sign that the world was in order, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.

It was only many years later, when I began my rabbinical studies, that I began considering the meaning of the words I had recited that day, and how they would affect my life.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, which I chanted 55 years ago this week, talks about blessings and curses. Moses lays out for the Israelites two conflicting options, which for thousands of years have been central to the Jewish journey.

Choose a righteous life with meaning, Moses says, and you will be blessed. Opt out for a life of materialism and self-indulgence, and curses will follow you.

Overall, that has been the story of Judaism. But there is more.

A beautiful excerpt from the Book of Isaiah that follows the Torah reading, talks about the coming of a better day — where “the smallest shall become a thousand, and the least a mighty nation.” (Isaiah 60:22)

Perhaps the text is referring to the coming of the Messiah, but as I reviewed it this week, I thought about the State of Israel — with its numerous and extraordinary cultural and agricultural successes — especially in modern times, with its medical and environmental innovations. 

It is a small country — which many believe is larger than it really is — for such is the impact it has on the lives of all humanity.

And then comes the punchline that moves me each time I read it:

“I, the Lord, will speed it in due time.” (Isaiah 60:22)

Over the years, I have read many interpretations of these few words. But the one that touches me the most, the one that guides me to this day, is the one that inspires me to consider that if we are patient and nurture our inner angels, our blessings and dreams will eventually come to pass with great speed — when God says that it is time.

Eight years ago, we thought I would end our stay in Glen Cove in 2023, and move to Israel, to launch a progressive congregation. But then we were blessed with a granddaughter, and the idea of moving now seems distant.

Years ago, I thought I would continue to work in journalism or in the environmental sector. But then my wife attended a seminar on second-career rabbis, and here we are.

Year after year, I witness the spiritual and physical elevation of those around me. Dreams come to pass. New couples are brought together, often under circumstances they could never have anticipated.

More often than not, over 55 years, I have seen endurance and the fulfillment of potential despite the challenges. I have witnessed the building of spiritual antibodies, which have made it possible to achieve success — often when least expected — whether at work, in relationships or within our hearts.

And, for those who have been unable to fulfill all their dreams, I see their light continuing in the potential of the children and grandchildren they have inspired.

Is the journey easy? Of course not. Have we learned from our challenges? Absolutely.

As I look back, I have come to understand that true blessings are not achieved by clinging to black or white, but rather by embracing the greys.

I have learned that there are many paths to fulfilling ourselves as Jews, and much we can learn from those who are not.

I have learned that peace of mind is an ongoing process, linked to a softer heart, a kinder disposition, and — most of all — to empathy.

Did I understand that in 1966? Probably not. Have I achieved it now? Not completely, but I am on the road.

I remain buoyed by the understanding, like you, that my most precious years are those to come, with family, friends, congregants, and that miraculous dynamic that springs to life when we say, “Hello” to each other or to a stranger.

It is all contained within the plan that God put in place at the beginning of time, articulated by Moses thousands of years ago.

The journey officially began for me 55 years ago this week, but it is not over. It will continue and ultimately end with the final words of my prophetic reading.

“I, the Lord, will speed it in its time.”  

I cannot wait. But, as I’ve come to learn, everything in its time.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

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