On the Occasion of our Son’s Bar Mitzvah

Over the years I’ve given hundreds of charges to b’nai mitzvah.  While I strive to make each one uniquely meaningful, there is something especially wonderful — and daunting — about speaking to your own child on the bimah the morning of his bar mitzvah.  My thanks to Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, whose wisdom inspired my words to Avichai.

P.S. That the New England Patriots decisively defeated Tim Tebow and the Broncos this past Saturday night does not change the message in the least — on the contrary, it strengthens its meaning.


The day before yesterday USA Today reported a poll in which 43% of respondents answered that Tim Tebow is the beneficiary of divine intervention.  While those surveyed didn’t explain what they meant, I assume they believe that because Tebow frequently prays, does righteous deeds and gives God a lot of free publicity, the Almighty rewards him with completed passes and yardage.

I’m not sure that God works quite that way.

Tebow himself would be the first to say that people have it backwards; being a talented quarterback is not God’s reward, but a means to an end.  I think Tim Tebow and I would both agree that God puts us on earth for a reason.  And should Tom Brady and the Patriots squash the Broncos tonight, it won’t mean that Tebow didn’t take advantage of enough conversions on the field, religious speaking, or that Bill Belichik prayed harder.

There are coincidences in life; I’m not prepared to say that every single move we make is shadowed by fate.  Judaism certainly believes in free will.  But I do think some things are bashert, that there are invisible lines connecting us to others which are part of some larger agenda.  We almost never get a glimpse of the hand pulling us, pushing us, sometimes even tripping us.  But once in a rare while, if only for a second, we sense that we’re part of something far larger than ourselves.

Were it not for a conversation your mother struck up with a total stranger in the Ladies Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she would not have found out about the job at St. Ann’s School where she and I first met . . .  if she had gone to the bathroom five minutes later you might not be here today!  If it hadn’t been for your great uncle Ismar’s death in Japan just after World War II, which made Johanna Lubliner, your great-grandmother, determined to re-unite the family in America, my dad might have remained in Palestine, in which case I’d never have been born . . . and you wouldn’t have, either.  For me to speak to you today on this bimah, countless things had to happen over a period of many years – one single difference in the chain of events, and neither of us would be here.  But we are here and that matters.

Avs, it doesn’t matter to God whether or not you believe in God’s existence.  What is absolutely critical is that you know that God believes in you.

Let’s suppose Providence assigns us a part to play – maybe it’s not the part you think you auditioned for; maybe you’d like someone else’s role.  Me?  I sometimes think I should have been a power hitter for the Yankees, but God somehow said, “Look you’re going to be a rabbi, you want the part or not?”

If we choose to play our role to the best of our ability, if we really make it our own, it won’t matter why we didn’t get the part we wanted, but were never supposed to have; we’ll be having too much fun just being ourselves. On the other hand, if we end up pretending to be someone else, we’ll end up being a second-rate actor in a “B” movie of our life story.   It took me a very long time to understand that.

You are left-handed. Your grandfather was a professional trumpet player.  You love basketball and are the youngest player on the JCA Select Team.  You are forgetful.  You are incredibly creative.  You are the son of a rabbi.   These and a billion other things don’t define who you are.  But they are part of you and your resume.  Somehow, they will prepare you for whatever job God has in mind for you.

And that’s the secret of Tim Tebow.  Because he believes that God believes in him, Tebow puts everything into being the best he can be.  Your job in life is not to be a rabbi’s son, anymore than Tim Tebow’s true purpose on earth is to lead the Broncos to a Superbowl.  Win or lose, he’ll live with gratitude and a sense of purpose and blessing.  You see, if you believe that God believes in you, you will always find the inner strength to believe in yourself, and the strength to make even the rough times opportunities to grow.

If God believes in you, then Ima and I would never dream of doing less.  And we will always love you very, very much!


Filed under RJL Biography

4 responses to “On the Occasion of our Son’s Bar Mitzvah

  1. Margie

    Such exquisite words and thoughts. I am so happy to have been there to hear you deliver them, and to see the loving connection between you and your Avi. It was a moment to savor and one we will always remember. As parents, we have also found great value in bringing your message to discussions with Eliza, particularly, about how key it is that she know that God believes in her. Beeooootiful! Thank you!!!

  2. Steve and Anita Solomon

    This was beautiful. Steve and I wish you and your whole family much naches from Avichai and all your family. Hopefully we can be a part of many more blessings in the future.

  3. Jonathan – I cried when I read this. I’m stealing the lines about how it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in God, as long as you know that God believes in you, to use the next time my younger son Jonathan (11) tells me that he’s an atheist – something he does every time I mention that he has to give up an hour or so of time on the XBox to go to church on Sunday morning.

    Your blog is wonderful, and I’m adding it to my RSS feed. Am also looking forward to reading your book. I think that I told you once, when we were working the reserve desk in the library at Vassar, that you would end up being a rabbi even though you claimed that it wasn’t in your career plans (at least, on that particular afternoon). I’d followed our class notes only erratically over the years I was on active duty, so if you posted your career choice before I’d missed it; I don’t mind telling you that I indulged in an “I told him so!” moment when I read your entry on Avichai’s bar mitzvah.

    Blessings on you, Susan and your family. Wishing you all the best.


  4. Jonathan – I cried when I read this. I’m stealing your lines about how it doesn’t matter if you believe in God as long as you know that God believes in you. It’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell my younger son (11) when he tells me that he’s an atheist – which he does every time I tell him that he has to give up an hour or do of Xbox to attend church on Sunday!

    Your blog is wonderful. I’m adding it to my RSS feed. And I look forward to reading your book soon.

    You always spoke beautifully and eloquently about your faith, and that hasn’t changed. Memory is an unreliable narrator, but I’m almost certain that I told you one afternoon about 30 years ago, when we were working in the library reserve room at Vassar, that you were going to be a rabbi. And you replied emphatically that you would NOT. I’ve kept up with our class notes only erratically over the years, and so had missed any news you might have posted about your vocation; when I read your class note about Avichai’s bar mitzvah, I gleefully indulged in an “I TOLD him so!” moment or two.

    Blessings on you, Susan, and your family. Wishing you all the best –

    Jerri Bell

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