Monday, August 9, 2010

Thoughts at Simcha's Bar Mitzvah 2

We're in the United States right now visiting with family. The primary motivating factor for the visit was the opportunity to celebrate Simcha's recent Bar Mitzvah with the family members who could not be with us in Israel, including most prominently Simcha's great-grandparents, who we affectionately call Safta and Grandpa.

Over Shabbat simcha read a second haftara in shul and led mussaf. He did a nice job - not perfect, but practicing would have helped some. I was struck by how impressed people were. Someone in shul commented on how unusual it was that he was doing a second haftarah. I really didn't think much of it. After all, once you know how to do it once, it's really not that hard to read a second or third haftarah, is it? Yet, people seemed surprised that we got our son to do a second one, when, as one father said to me, "I'm having a lot of trouble getting my son to do the first one."

Yesterday my in-laws hosted an open house where Simcha gave a very short dvar Torah, and on the spur of the moment I decided to share a thought from last week's parshah. The Torah tells us that,

בָּנִים אַתֶּם, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: לֹא תִתְגֹּדְדוּ, וְלֹא-תָשִׂימוּ קָרְחָה בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם--לָמֵת.

Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.

In simple terms, the Torah forbids us to mutilate ourselves, especially in the context of mourning. This was a common ancient practice. Yet, what is the connection between the first half of the verse - that we are "children" of God - and the second half?

The Midrash adds a well-known teaching as an additional teaching of this verse. Rambam, writing in the Book of Mitzvot (45th negative commandment) writes,

וכבר אמרו שבכלל לאו זה, גם האזהרה [על ההמנעות] מפילוג העם ומחלוקת
הרבים ואמרו: "לא תתגדדו - לא תעשו אגדות אגדות":

[Our teachers] already said that included in this prohibition is the warning
from engaging in [behavior] that would divide the nation, and public dispute,
and they said, "You shall not cut yourselves - do not divide yourselves into
distinct groups."

This, I think, clues us into the connection between the two halves of the
vers

e. As parents (and grandparents) age, one of their greatest desires is that their children remain close after they can no longer remain a uniting force. Conversely, they fear the opposite: that without parents to unite them, the family will disperse, lose contact, ultimately breaking apart. This is why the Torah connects the idea that we are "children" to God with His desire for us not to divide into distinct groups. As God's children, He wants us to focus on what we share; our common goals and aspirations; the values that unite us.

But it's not always that easy. The fear of a family falling apart is very legitimate. We all know of families who remain close due to the sheer force of a powerful personality and who bond around patriarchs, but lose touch once that parent no longer can keep everyone together. How then can a parent ensure that children remain together when they cannot count on the force of their personality to get the job done?

The answer has to be values. If parents can instill common values in their children, they while they might not be physically or even emotionally close, the values that they received and cherish from their ancestors will serve to keep them together, united in the goals and ideals that they share.