Zeli, mazal tov! We are so excited to reach this day with you, surrounded by friends and by the thoughts and love of our families who couldn’t make it for the simcha. We know they are thinking about you and loving you. We thank Hashem for getting us to this moment.
If ever there were a guy born under the symbol of the number 8, it was you. You were born on August 8, 2008, in delivery room 8, which corresponded on the Hebrew calendar to the 8th of Av. Wow. In Judaism, the number 7 typically signifies completion – the world was completed in 7 days, many of our festivals last for 7 days. The number 8, indicates a spiritual level just beyond nature. The Mishkan was inaugurated on the 8th day; a baby has his brit on the 8th day. There is this idea that 8 raises the level of the natural, the earthly and propels it that much further into the spiritual.
Being born under this symbol seems so fitting for you, as you’re always pushing yourself just beyond what we might expect and then achieving those goals. We see this in your learning of daf yomi, in your time on the basketball team and in the classroom. In your parsha this week, Devarim, Moshe stands before the people and gives an accounting of their journey through the desert. He is like a parent, or a blogger, summarizing events through his own lens and trying to make sense of the past and the lessons learned.
As Eliza says at the end of Hamilton, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” And that, really, is what’s going on here. Who is going to tell Moshe’s story? And what is that story?
Your story started in quite an interesting way with that magical 8th day, your brit. For many months before you were born, I had decided that I loved the name Aziel and wanted to name you that, with the nickname Zeli. As we got into bed well after midnight after the shalom zachor in our house, and got ready for your Shabbat day brit, I said to Daddy, “I’m not so sure about Aziel. Is it really a name? Will it be spelled like Uziel and everyone will call him that?” Daddy looked at me and said, “We had like 50 rabbis and twice as many Hebrew speakers in the house tonight. You couldn’t have brought this up a bit earlier?”
So the next morning, Daddy went to shul on time (of course) and I walked up the hill to get there for your brit. It was a Makovsky bar mitzvah Shabbat and there were 700-800 people in shul that morning. Daddy came outside as I was walking up the hill and yelled down, “It’s not a name!”
“Oh. Um, now what?”
“How about Azriel?” he said.
“How about Adiel?” I replied.
And we both shrugged and didn’t quite finish the conversation
The brit started, and I was at the back of the women’s section as I passed the baby off into a sea of people. When the name was read, the women all looked to me to hear what the name was since they couldn’t really hear what was said. I looked back and shrugged. I had no idea!
And that’s how you became Azriel. Our Zeli. You came to us at a time when our Aliyah had hit a bump in the road. We were both unemployed and a bit nervous about what the future was going to hold for us. And with Gd’s help (the meaning of your name) we both landed jobs that we both have until this day. You were our little delivery with Gd’s help.
And you are definitely that type of spiritual child that elevates us and helps us to grow.
Your parsha, Devarim, is one of my favorites in the Torah. Moshe stops here and takes stock of his life, of the journey through the desert that the people have had and of what is to come for the people without him, and with their new leader. I’ve always thought of this as Moshe’s blog. Because really, if we’ve been reading along since Beresheet, then we know all of this. We don’t need Moshe to summarize the sin of the spies, the battles they’ve fought, the time in the wilderness. Why stop and summarize all of this?
You gave one beautiful explanation with your dvar torah, explaining that in the Torah, in the Gemara and in our lives we constantly learn more each time that we revisit an idea.
Here’s another idea. Moshe, knowing that he’s soon going to depart from the people, wants to leave them parting words, some last lessons. He wants them to understand where they have been, and where they are going; to learn from their past mistakes and to appreciate the beauty of the Land to which they will soon go, without him.
It is fascinating, however, to see which examples and lessons he chooses to include and which he excludes. It’s also interesting to see how, in the rendering after these events, he relays them. Because so often we don’t see events the same when we reflect upon them as we did when they were happening. And there is great power in how we relay stories from our past and in what messages we choose to convey – and how we learn from past actions.
On erev Tisha Ba’av, as we celebrate your bar mitzvah with great joy, but recognize the day of mourning we have coming, it is up to us – up to you – to select your stories. To think about the life you are creating for yourself and the ways that you will tell your story in the future.
You, Zeli, are here on the cusp of adulthood, standing before the rest of your life. We pray that you will continue creating a beautiful life that you can look back on with stories of joy, friendship, great religious practice, wonderful times with your brothers and family, and health. These are your stories to create and please gd they should reflect the mysteries of the number 8, the help of Hashem as your name says, and all the joy we get from you each day.