Shemini: Be Holy, My (Grand) Son

Dear Evan,

At 1:30 this morning -- the 18th day of Nisan, the fourth day of Pesach, the third day of counting the omer, in the 64th year since the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in our national homeland, and (according to our tradition) the 5,773th year since creation, corresponding to March 29, 2013 -- you were delivered from Mitzrayim (literally “the narrow places”) and entered the world. 

Baruch Haba!  Blessed be the one who has come!  Thank G-d, you and your mother are doing fine.

As I held you for the first time, I was filled with awe and gratitude.  You were amazingly serene and alert, eyes wide open, as if already watching, listening, and soaking in this new dimension of existence.  I tried to imagine what your life will be like, what kind of boy and man you will be, G-d willing.  And, I prayed that I will have the opportunity to help raise you. 

Life is so precious and yet so precarious and unpredictable.  In case, G-d forbid, I won’t have that opportunity, I want to tell you this now, and urge you to never forget it:  You are a Jew!  Who are you, Evan? You are a Jew!

This does not mean that you are better than anyone who is not a Jew.  But nor does it mean that you are an American who happens to be a member of the “Jewish religion.”  No, it means much more than that.  You are a vital link in the ancient chain of the Jewish people.  Our survival depends, certainly not entirely, but also certainly equally, upon you.  

Why should we survive?  Why have we survived?  Because we, and you, are charged with strengthening and furthering the mission given to the Jewish people in the Torah portion of this week of your birth, Shemini. That mission is to Be Holy. (Leviticus 11:44).  

It won’t be easy for you.  It has seldom, if ever, been easy for us.  But a holy life, not an easy one, has always been the most important goal of our people and should be your goal.  For thousands of years, our people’s – your people’s -- leaders have studied, argued, and written about how to Be Holy.  For us, being holy doesn’t mean being “religious” as that word is defined in what used to be called a “dictionary.”  Rather it means – at least -- these things: 

  1. Striving to be moral, ethical, and kind.  Sanctifying ourselves through proper conduct.
  2. Learning our people’s (slowly evolving) traditions and living according to them, with the guidance of both our ancient and modern sages’ wisdom. 
  3. Transmitting our people’s values and traditions, both to Jews and to others, through example and through teaching. 
  4. Contributing to our people’s continued vitality in our ancient and modern national homeland, Eretz Yisrael.

May you be blessed to stand as I did early this morning, holding your own grandchild(ren), praising G-d, and rededicating yourself to a life of Jewish values, wisdom, education, and practice.  

May your life be irrefutable evidence of the truth of the blessing I uttered when I first heard of your birth this morning: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Haolam, hatov v’hametiv.  Blessed are You, Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe, Who is and who does good!  Be good, and be holy. 

I love you.

Your Saba. 

Shabbat shalom u'moadim l'simchah. 

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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb