Daily April poem: same word
Daily April poem: unprompted

A bar mitzvah gift for the rabbi

Somehow I always forget that I'm going to be moved.

We're a small synagogue, so every time a kid becomes b'nei mitzvah, it feels like a big deal. I imagine that in some big-city shuls, where there might be one or more bar or bat mitzvah celebrations each week, maybe it becomes a little bit ho-hum. But not here. Here we only have one or two a year, and each one stands  out.

I always love looking out into the sanctuary and seeing the expectant faces of those who have gathered to celebrate Shabbat and to celebrate a young person's coming-of-age. I love leading us through Shabbat morning prayer, offering words of explanation to string the prayers together like pearls in a necklace.

I love inviting people up to see the Torah scroll in all of its unique handwritten beauty. I love singing English words to Torah trope and surprising people with hidden meanings. I love the laughter which erupts as we sing Siman Tov u-Mazal Tov and people throw candy at the b'nei mitzvah kid who has jubilantly finished the d'var Torah.

But I'm typically so focused on the service, on keeping things running smoothly, on trying to facilitate genuine prayer both for myself and for all who've assembled, that I forget that the morning always turns out to hold a gift for me, too. This time what made my heart catch in my throat was hearing one of the mothers of the bar mitzvah boy offer him a blessing she has spoken to him countless times over the course of his life: the priestly blessing, "May God bless you and keep you..."

As soon as she began, I felt tears banging at the back of my eyes. I say those words to our son every week too, punctuating each English and Hebrew phrase with a kiss to his forehead. And it hadn't occurred to me until today that someday I'll say those same words to him in front of our community, as he stands tall in a brand-new tallit -- maybe awkward and gangly, maybe bashful and beaming -- and steps over the threshold into Jewish adulthood. Right now our guy is only three, but I remember when this bar mitzvah boy was only three, too. The days are long but the years are short.

As the mother of the bar mitzvah blessed her son, I pressed my hand to my lips and blinked a lot, really fast, to clear my eyes. By the time I returned to the bimah, my emotions were under control and I was able to speak and sing clearly. But that moment of realization, that glimpse of the future, is still reverberating in me. An unexpected gift.