Sometimes, Hashem has a great sense of humor. And I love when I catch it.
It was 22 years ago that my husband and I first sat down with a member of the Torah Mitzion Kollel in Potomac, Maryland to learn. We had been growing in our Jewish knowledge and practice for only a few years and this was the first serious opportunity we had to enter into the world of Jewish learning. Our friend and mentor, Rafi, had offered to spend the hour each week with us in the bustling bet midrash (Jewish learning center) and we were ready to learn.
At some point while learning, approximately 22 years ago right now, we got to the topic of pidyon haben. This is an ancient Jewish ceremony neither of us had ever heard of, which is performed only in certain circumstances with a 30-day first-born son. My husband looked up at Rafi and said, “Um, Rafi? I think we might have an interesting situation.”
And, indeed, we did. As the first-born son, Josh had never had a pidyon. After a (slightly awkward) conversation with his mom, Josh had his own pidyon haben in our backyard in Potomac, Maryland surrounded by friends. He was carried in on the shoulders of a friend and then had a neighbor, who was a Kohen, do the exchange.
It was a very moving experience for us, bringing ancient Jewish learning and texts to life in our garden – made that much more moving exactly one year later when the same friend carried our oldest son into our garden for his pidyon haben. Same Kohen, same friends, same location, one generation after the next.
Fast forward to Shabbat this week, 22 years later. Josh, our 12-year-old son and I were learning the last page of the tractate of Pesachim in our daf yomi (daily Gemara learning) cycle. While the tractate actually finishes tomorrow, we were having a very small celebration at our friend’s house on Shabbat to combine Josh’s birthday and the finishing of the section of the Gemara. We wanted to finish on Friday night, in time for our get-together the next day.
I kept dozing off as we learned, which left Josh and our son in stitches since part of the end of the learning is about whether or not you can finish the seder on Pesach if some of the participants are dozing (yes, you can; but not if all of them have fallen asleep). Note to self.
Then, we got to the final part of the learning, and, seemingly out of nowhere, it was about pidyon haben. And I just looked up at Josh and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And I felt Hashem laughing.
We’ve now finished 14 months of learning, none of which have ever mentioned pidyon haben; and here we were with this topic polishing off the ending right before we finished for our siyum.
And our siyum wasn’t just with any friends. It was with Rafi; the same Rafi who taught us in the Bet Midrash in Potomac, Maryland all those years ago; the same Rafi whose garden we were having this small kiddush in; and the same garden where we have been davening every Shabbat since Corona changed all of our lives.
We found ourselves on Shabbat morning surrounded by many of the same friends who had been with us 22 years before. One friend who had brought us to where we are today; and a son who was carried in for his pidyon all those years ago and is now a soldier in the IDF. Same friends, similar topic, around the world in a garden in Eretz Yisrael.
Life certainly has some crazy ways of coming full circle. And of reminding me of how far we’ve come, and yet, how much things are interconnected along the way.