Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Emor M'At

Years ago my folks went to weekend bar mitzvah of a neighbor's son.
Speech after speech extolled the boy's virtues, real or imaginary. One even made the comparison of this schnook to a gadol hador. He was 13!

My parents squirmed in their seats. Such blatant displays of self-congratulation were, and still are, alien to their upbringings (i.e. "ayin hara"). My brother dryly refers to orations of this nature as "obituaries."

My Zeidy phrased it a little more severely, when he would talk (he was a quiet man in general). "They are just asking for it,"  he would say, sadly.

My Zeidy, you see, believed in ayin hara. Not in the current mystical sense, which provides absolution with a red string. No bit of yarn will grant license to brag and boast.
Zeidy never gushed about his children; that, to him, was the only way to circumvent ayin hara. The most he would admit, Ma said, even when they were in shidduchim, were his children's height. 

A few years later the aforementioned neighbor's son began to rebel big time. Luke would overhear him cursing fluently, for no major reason, probably simply for the shock value. He stopped keeping Shabbos, waiting outdoors for his ride to show up at the same time as lechtzen. Drugs were apparent. His parents never threw him out (thank goodness), so his exploits were obvious to the neighborhood

Eventually he wandered back (kinda) and married a like-minded girl. But the time that he was distinctly out of control was harrowing, not only for his family, but for his neighbors, who witnessed it and wondered, "What could have gone wrong? Could this happen to my child?"

Of course I don't think that it was simple ayin hara. A couple of compliments by a party doesn't have such a supernatural force, in my opinion. It's more along the lines of what it represents. Children will not excel based on wishful thinking. Standing up in public, expounding with easy, empty praise will not guarantee a bright and dazzling future. Public displays of affection, even between parents and children, counts for nothing if it is not provided in private.

Ta recently discovered in the Taamei Minhagim that when hosting a seudas mitzvah, meaning even when someone is required to throw a party, one should be sure to invoke the coming of Moshiach in order to deflect ayin hara.  

Besides for the fact that no one really likes speeches (when did one by every course become required?) a d'var Torah should be a d'var Torah (as opposed to a hesped). Instead of elaborating on the honoree's qualities, how about emphasizing what we still have to learn, where we still need to improve? Our celebrations signify beginnings, not ends.

Take the average sheva brachos speech. A glowing, flirty couple sits before an entire room, and mostly everyone deliver paeans about how wonderful their married life will be, since the two of them are so wonderful. A wonderful married life does not just happen; it is based on two people making it a priority for their relationship to work.
Please keep speeches short (two minutes), sweet (laugh-cry-laugh), and most of all, true. Instead of saying what a loving brother the bar mitzvah boy is (when his little sister knows he melted her Barbies just last week) talk about how this occasion is but the first milestone of many. Reference a d'var torah about what behavior is now expected from a bar mitzvah boy. Invoke avos, imahos, grandparents, his namesake. 

Just don't say how great he is. That's not for now. Still 107 years to go.  

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