osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,
osewalrus
osewalrus

Very Briefly On Kalaiv's Bar Mitzvah

This weekend was the "bar mitzvah" for my nephew Kalaiv. I put that in quotes because Kalaiv is sufficiently autistic that he is not considered "bar das" (or, for you folks who speak real Hebrew rather than Ashkenazi pronunciation, bar da'at). It was a very exhausting affair, since my brother and Sheri had a lot of DIY in the celebration and I was part of the Y.

It was very emotionally moving and beautiful that so many people in our community and our family came to celebrate Kalaiv's accomplishments. Rabbi Walter, the Rabbi for our synagogue, spoke eloquently about how on Shabbas Shira (the "Sabbath of Song" on which we read he song of the splitting of the Red Sea) we are reminded of Kalaiv's unique song, that he has taught us how to listen to so that we can sing with him. My brother spoke about how Kalaiv is, for him, the proof of God and Torah in how he has seen Kalaiv and our community grow with each other.

I spoke at Seudat Shlishit -- the Sabbath afternoon meal. to summarize:


This week's parsha contains the famous phrase: "Hashem yilachaim lachem, v'atem tacharishun." This is usually translated as 'God shall war for you, you now keep silent." But the word "Tacharishun" is an unusual one. It is derived from the Hebrew shoresh (root) "chet-resh-shin." This is the same root as the word for deaf/mute (Charesh). Indeed, it's origin is from "plough." It's use for "deaf/mute" is derived, apparently, from the concept of turning inward and digging into oneself like a plough into the Earth.*

The word "tacharishun" is also interesting because it is hiphil. This is the binyan (conjugation form) of causing something to occur to another. Tacharishun is found in only one other place in the Bible. In the book of Job in Chapter 13, after the first round of discussion between Job and his comforters, Job exclaims "hacharesh tacharishun v'tihiyeh lachem derech chachma." usually translated as "Be quiet and you shall aquire wisdom."

Taking these together, we may take "tacharishun" as he profound silence, to literally be struck dumb, as a necessarily prelude to acquiring wisdom and understanding. As it says after the parting of the Red Sea "vayaminu b'Hashem o'vMoshe avdo." The Children of Israel saw the miracle of the Red Sea and were brought to absolute faith in God and his servant Moses.

And yet, no sooner did the Children of Israel depart the Red Sea when they took fright at every new thing and cried out. They come to bitter water and they cry. They confront the great waste and they cry. They are not even hungry yet, but the sight of the emptiness so terrifies them that they cry. Yet God here deals with them with infinite patience and love. Does this remind us of anything?

Anyone here who has been privileged to be parent of a newborn baby will recognize this. A baby has one mode of communication at first: it cries. Even smiling comes later. First the baby cries. It cries when it is hungry. It doesn't matter how many times it has been fed before -- it cries as if it has never been fed and never will be fed again. It cries when it needs changing, when it is frightened, it cries -- it seems sometimes -- at every minute of the day for some new thing.

But the parent understands. We tell the child "shhhh, it will be OK." Not the impatient "shhh" we may give the same child when he is older and running around in shul. Even though it is the same sound, we whisper "shhhh" to the baby, we sooth the baby to its profound silence so it can learn.

God transports the children of Israel through the desert and they grow in maturity. At first, God is with them constantly, as it says in our parsha "day and night, neither did the pillar of cloud depart in the day, nor the pillar of fire leave from before them at night." At the end of his life, when Moshe would describe this time to the children of Israel in his final song, he would say: 'As the eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreads its wings and shelters its young with its pinions" so God hovered over an protected Israel as they learned to fly.

And we see an echo of this weeks parsha when the Children of Israel ready to enter the land. At the beginning of Parshat Vayelech Moses tells the people that God will go before them, that he will be with them and not abandon them. Then Moshe summons Yehoshua. He tells Yehoshua "Have strength and be strong for you come to the land promised to your fathers "v'ata tanchilenu otam" -- and you shall war for them. Yes, God will still be with you, but God will no longer fight for you (v'yanchilenu) as he did at the Red Sea. You have grown. You are ready. You will fight for yourselves. Not because God abandons you, because your parent will never abandon you or ever stop loving you, but because this is the moment you parent has prepared you for -- the moment when you go forward into your own promised land.

We are here to celebrate the accomplishments of my nephew Kalaiv. As I have watched my brother and my sister-in-law these thriteen years, I have been awed and humbled. Kalaiv began life in a profound silence. As the Rabbi said beautifully earlier today, they had to listen and learn from him his own song. Even the complaints, the cries of the child, were not understandable at first. They have hovered over him, even a the eagle hovers over its young, and sheltered him with their wings.

And what of the future? It is helpful here to remember the historic Kalaiv ben Yephuneh. When the spies returned from scouting the land, our sages tell us that they did not wish to leave the comfort and closeness of their shelter with God in the desert. 'it is too soon!' they said to each other. They were unprepared to cross the Jordan and take on the responsibility of the real world. Therefore they brought back a bad report to discourage the people.

But Kalaiv said "Nachol Yuchal" -- we are capable. No "we are strong" but "we are capable," we can do this because we are ready. God will be with us. If we believe we are capable, we can go forth into the world, out from the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, where our daily bread falls from the sky. We are ready to earn our own bread, to make our own way. But the rest of the people were not ready. It was therefore 45 years until Kalaiv could come to Joshua during the conquest of the land and say "now I will claim my inheritance."

In the 13 years of his life, my nephew Kalaiv has done amazing things. He continues to grow and accomplish new things that at early times seemed impossible. Someday, I hope that he will say "Nachol yuchal," I am ready. Even if it takes another 45 years. But even if he never says "nachol yuchal" for himself, we say it. My brother and sister-in-law say it every day when they take care of Kalaiv. We in the community say it by welcoming Kalaiv into our community. Nachol yuchal. We are capable. And in doing so we pass from silence into wisdom and belief.

Good shabbos.


*Halachichally, the concept of "cheresh" for "deaf/mute" means one who cannot communicate at all. As discussed in the Talmud, a person who cannot hear, but can make himself undersood by signs and gestures, even if they are only understood by the local community, is not considered a "charesh" and his testimony is accepted for financial matters and other considerations.
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