By Mordechai Schmutter
Once in a while, I get letters from people asking for advice. And I try to help them out, because if they’re asking me, I know they’re desperate.
I’ve been asked to speak at a sheva berachos. What should I say?
No. You should say, “No.” In general, more people are asked to speak at shevaberachos than the audience actually wants to hear. Basically, it’s like how the hosts make way too much food, just in case. “What if the meat doesn’t come out good? There has to be chicken!” So in the same vein, they also ask way too many people to speak, just in case some of the speeches aren’t good.
So in all honesty, if you have nothing to say, it’s okay to say, “No.”
But I’m assuming here that you’ve already agreed to speak because you were afraid to say “No,” and now you’re asking me what you should speak about. Like that’s my problem. I’m just glad I don’t have to speak.
And it’s not just me. A lot of people don’t like speaking, but, unfortunately, everyone has simchas.
So usually people try to find something on the parashah that’s related to weddings. But not everyone is fortunate enough to have their relatives get married during Chumash Bereishis, and there’s not much else in the Torah that is as easy to tie in to weddings. There’s some stuff around, but you have to find it. It’s especially not easy in the parshiyos of korbanos.
But if there’s nothing in the parashah about weddings per se, you can try to find some kind of marriage advice, based on events in the parashah, because if there’s one gift that the new couple can’t have enough of, it’s handy advice based on your particular marriage. So like if someone in the parashah does what someone else asked him to, there’s your lesson. Or if someone carries someone else’s belongings, there’s another. Or if there’s any gold involved.
If there’s no marriage advice in the parashah that you can say without getting into trouble, you can pretend you’re still in last week’s parashah. “I was a few weeks behind on shenayim mikra—I’m still in Chayei Sarah, everyone—and it says . . .”
If you’re still stuck, you’d better hope that either the chassan or the kallah has some good quality that you can tie into the parashah. People perk up when you get personal about the chassan and kallah, and they’re two people, so you should be able to find something. At the very least, you can say, “I don’t really know the chassan and kallah, but they look like they have good qualities, based on the way they’re sitting at the dais and eating pickles.”
If they’re both honestly horrible people, you can speak about the family. Somebody related to them has to have something good going on. If they really don’t, then why are you even there? Unless you’re related. So maybe it’s you. Speak about your own good qualities. You’ll fit right in.
And anyway, there’s bound to be some good quality, because, especially around wedding times, everyone tries to be on their best behavior. “I don’t know the chassan, but in every picture I’ve seen of him, he always seems to be smiling.”
But you should be able to find something. My 12th-grade rebbi was somehow able to tie every single parashah into a mussarvort about playing basketball on Friday afternoons.
“She doesn’t play basketball on Friday afternoons,” you can say.
You last option is to go with a gematria.
Now I don’t mean to disrespect gematrios. Rashi uses them, the Gemara talks about them, and I’m pretty sure the Baal HaTurim used one every once in a while.
Basically, gematrios use math to say that A equals B. (Well, of courseA equals B. A gematria is allowed to be off by one.)
Everyone likes gematrios because they’re short (especially if everyone just trusts you on the math) and they show that you prepared. No one says, “I wasn’t really prepared to speak, but A is gematria B.”
But when da’as Torah comes up with a gematria, there’s probably more behind it than finding a gematria calculator somewhere. I’ve never heard da’asTorah say that mi’svara, you should say C, but look! a gematria! So B. They always have deeper reasons, but you tend to miss those, because look! a gematria!
But when you make one up yourself, you’re not actually saying a vort, no offense. Also, the general rule is that unless things work out exactly, no one likes a gematria except the guy who came up with it. It’s like a pun, but with math.
Not only that, but the bigger your gematria, the less likely it is that anyone’s doing it in their heads as you talk. You could be totally making it up. Especially if you go with a long pasuk. (“And I’m sure we all know that the gematria of the chassan, son of his father, and the kallah, daughter of her father, plus both last names and today’s date, including the year, equals the last six pesukim of perek beis in Bereishis!” Does it? You have no idea. But no one’s checking on it, especially if you speak on Shabbos.
Yes, there are real gematrios you can come up with, and they’re cool. But for every one of those, there are a bunch where you’re one off, or you’re actually three off because maybe each side of the equation is allowed to be one off, and then what’s one more? (There’s actually a reason it’s allowed to be one off, but most people don’t know it.) Or you could leave off letters like vav, hei, and yud. That’s okay, right? It’s done all the time. But no one will love your speech about how the chassan’s name, Dovid, is equal—if you don’t use the vav—to the kallah’s name, Chaya—if you don’t use the yud and the hei.
(It is. I did the math.)
And even the perfect gematrios—where the chassan’s name plus the kallah’s name actually equals bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael—the chassan is sitting there thinking, “You’re telling me this now? If I’d asked you a couple of years ago, before I started thinking about shidduchim, you should have just told me that I had to marry a girl named Shprintzi bas Shmerel, but without the ayin? Where were you? Some friend you turned out to be.”
No one has ever accepted a shidduch because the gematrios lined up.
My point is that your gematrios are cute, but no one’s taking them seriously.
For example, my name is Mordechai (let’s assume), and my wife’s name is Sara. Together, we’re 779, which is the same gematria as “V’asa maya v’chava l’nura.” I don’t know what that means for us. It’s also the same as:
• “M’Gan Eden la’avod es ha’adamah”
• “Ra’ash gadol me’od v’chazak”
• “Chasunah b’karov” (It’s about time.)
• “Tuvia ben Zahava yagia b’ania l’Antarctica.”
Meanwhile, if you add “Mordechai” to my wife’s full name that she never uses, it equals 798, which is the same as:
• “Mei’ah caloriyos” (100 calories),
• “Maves l’Arabim”
• “Ariel Sharon”
• “Ata echad v’shimcha echad”
• “Har Grizim v’Har Eival” (Which one am I?)
• “Zeh kashur gam l’bnei adam” (It’s also linked to humans).
Oh, and “Mordechai” itself (274) actually equals “Rachel Leah,” which is not my wife’s name. Wrong Imahos.
“Mordechai” also equals:
• “Balak Bila’am”
• “Lo ragil (not normal)”
• “B’etzem hayam ha’zeh,” but with no vav in the second word (“In the middle of this ocean”)
• “Ner Dovid,” but with a yud in the first word (“Dovid’s paper”)
• “Pil b’li chadak” (An elephant without a trunk).
And “Mordechai ben my father’s name” (534) equals:
• “Yimatzu chayim al kochav echad b’y’kum” (Will live on one planet in the universe), though it doesn’t specify which planet. But it’s nice that it refers to me in the plural.
• “K’eivei rosh (headaches).”
So sometimes it works.
And meanwhile, “Mordechai Schmutter” (829) equals:
• “Ki chol hamosif b’gematria goreya” (Less is more).
So we’ll stop here. My point is that a word can equal a lot of things. Who said you get to decide which of the million things that it equals is actually pshat in this situation?
I want to give the chassan and kallah a berachah that they should have some Torah (maybe with some stress on the word “some”) said at their shevaberachos, so that the entire thing doesn’t turn into zivchei meisim (517):
• “Chodesh Adar.” v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.