A Toast to Eli

Delivered on Nov. 12, on the occasion of Eli’s Bar-Mitzvah.

My dear son, awesome Eli.

This may be the last time in the next few years I can get your attention for an uninterrupted five minutes. Sorry to do this in public. Try to smile.

A Bar-Mitzvah traditionally marks the time for passing into adulthood. While you may not be reflecting much on that milestone, there is no shortage of celebration in your family, especially among your parents and grandparents.

And you have quite the achievement to mark this milestone. You worked hard, kept your focus, and persevered through challenges. Then this morning you showed poise and courage and performed beautifully. Your mom and I are very proud of you.

Being the fourth child in our family comes with special burdens and privileges, Eli. If that is not enough, if we count first cousins on both sides, you follow sixteen other grandchildren. For you the Bar Mitzvah marks a special milestone. Aren’t you tired of being asked how you put on that height? Aren’t you tired of reading books inherited from siblings and cousins? Aren’t you tired of asking the four questions at Passover? Guess what? That ends now.

Well, maybe not the four questions.

There are many traits that I so love about you, Eli, and these have been on full display as you prepared for this morning. Call it fortitude. Call it resolve. Call it determination in the face of obstacles. You have a way of putting yourself out there with insouciant courage and moving forward.

Maya Angelou said, “Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

Your distinctive character fills me with optimism about how you can grow. I see the potential when you laugh. I love it when you recall a silly movie or joke and laugh out loud in the middle of the telling. I also see it when you show kindness without worrying about what others think. I especially love watching you show kindness to young children. And, believe it or not, I love it when you gather your feelings and express them. You are so forthright and honest, direct without intent to hurt.

There is even more that can blossom. Though that is probably difficult for you to see, please indulge your father, and let me provide a bit of advice on how to grow. It boils down to something quite simple: ask questions.

Big or little questions are both ok. Just ask them. Questions complement curiosity. Curiosity leads in new directions. Questions stretch boundaries of thinking and lead to trying new ways of doing things. Questioning leads to correcting error. Questioning also complements empathy, the art of understanding other people, working with them, and learning to love them.

I know you have one question on your mind right now. You want to ask when this will be over. We are almost there. It is like a Cubs game: you have to wait until the end to see how it turns out.

Here is what I am trying to say. If the history of our people contains any lesson, it teaches the rewards to persistence in the face of adversity. You come from a long line of strivers, who possessed courage and fortitude.

More to the point, courage and questions don’t stop today. They are not fixed traits, with a ceiling on how high they can become or how much you are allowed to do.

If you question wisely, and with courage, life will continue to unfold with new possibilities. Always. Best of all, it will help you strive towards what our tradition labels as a mensch, a human being of uncommon warmth and wisdom.

So that is my wish for you. I wish you enough perseverance to overcome challenges, and sufficient courage to ask questions your whole life.

Let’s all toast to life, L’chiam.

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