By Shmuel Katz
We keep getting older. While I am sure that it is better than the alternative, it is still sometimes jarring to realize how different our lives have become.
Last November, before the first engagement in our family, Goldie turned to me and said, “I had a scary dream last night.” I asked her to tell me about it and she said, “I dunno—I just call it three weddings and a bar mitzvah in 12 months!” And she has been 75% right so far, with eight months left to go.
With the first two weddings behind us, we’ve passed a couple milestones recently. The disconcerting part is that while we’ve certainly enjoyed some awesome “firsts” this year, we are also coming upon some “lasts,” too.
Our youngest daughter graduated high school and entered Sheirut Le’umi (national service). Our youngest son graduated from primary school and entered middle school. And that same son is about to become a bar mitzvah.
I am not going to say “about to become a man,” because he isn’t, nor are the majority of our bnei mitzvah today. I really dislike that term. But he is certainly passing a milestone in his life, one which admittedly does mark the beginning of his emergence into adulthood.
Moshe is our big masmid and always has been. He has been incredibly focused on his learning since pre-school. About three years ago, he embarked on a mission to make a siyum on all of Mishnayot at his bar mitzvah. And as his primary chavrutah, I can say that he has expended tremendous effort to get there. Basically, he’s been prepping for his bar mitzvah since age nine.
Last week we had the enjoyment of reaching another milestone with him—tefillin. As with Mordechai’s, I bought Moshe’s tefillin through Rav Yerachmiel Askotzky, with whom I went to high school in Milwaukee, WI, and whose wife is from a Chicago family that my family has been friends with since we were both little kids; she used to babysit my youngest brother. Rav Askotzky is the director of stam.net, a full-service center for all Torah, tefillin, mezuzah, and megillah needs.
With the weddings out of the way, we finally had time to take Moshe to meet Rav Askotzky in Telzstone for a hands-on workshop, learning about the tefillin and observing the insertion of Moshe’s parshiyot into the batim of his tefillin.
I am sure that the majority of 12-year-olds experience a tremendous thrill as they acquire their tefillin, learn the leining (if they are going to lein), and do whatever other learning or preparation is necessary to prepare for their bar mitzvah. Yet, each kid is unique, and Moshe’s approach to the experience was unique as well.
As Rav Askotzky was discussing the halachot with him, Moshe was—to our enjoyment—an active participant, often quoting the halachah or pasuk along with him. At one point, Rav Askotzky opened one of the parshiyot and offered Moshe the opportunity to check it himself. I don’t think he expected Moshe to do so, but he did, word for word. By heart.
And the topper (at least for me) was when we were walking to our car and Moshe turned to me to explain one of the halachic issues he had been discussing with Rav Askotzky in greater depth. Moshe has apparently been learning the halachot of tefillin in school. Moshe being Moshe, he retained it all and put the knowledge to use during our time with the sofer.
A while later, I posted pictures online of Moshe with Rav Askotzky looking at the tefillin. Our son Mordechai saw the pictures and commented, “Four years later, and I still remember that.” It really is a significant moment.
We’ll be taking the tefillin soon and slowly building up to the big day in February, be’H. And no matter if it is the last or the first, it is special each time. We should all continue to share in many more “firsts” and “lasts.”
Shmuel Katz, his wife, Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.