Sunday, November 25, 2012

Speech to son Nachman at his Bar Mitzvah celebration

Family and friends, it is very special to be celebrating Nachman’s Bar Mitzvah with you. Thank you especially to Shoshie’s parents Dr. & Mrs. Eichel for all your help in every way and especially with the celebration tonight. Thank you to my father for learning with Nachman each week. To Shoshie for all the work you put in to tonight and to everyone for being here and making this Simcha what it is.

Nachman Yehoshua, you are a lucky man. Your privilege includes access to the spiritual inheritance of our people and your family. The land we celebrate on tonight echoes with its own stories and spirituality of the Aboriginal Cammeraygal people. I acknowledge their elders past and present. While Aboriginal people struggle to preserve their language and heritage, you Nachman have had the zechus of growing up immersed in Torah, at home, at Kesser Torah College and at Chabad.

As you being your journey as a commanded Jewish man, uou can draw inspiration from your two of your great grandfathers who you are named after. Dr. Rabbi Nachman Eichel and Rabbi Joshua Tanchum Kastel, both of whom loved the Torah. Grandpa Eichel would learn with his granddaughters, Mommy and her sisters every week.

Zaidy Kastel also spent his last years with Torah study partners after a life of time devoted to education.

These two men have between them faced two of the most evil murderous and hateful men of the twentieth century Hitler and Stalin, outlived them and lived their lives in a way you can emulate.  

Grandpa Dr. Nachman Eichel like you Nachman had great determination. If he wanted to accomplish something, he got it done.  He wanted to get Semicha, ordination as a Rabbi, so he got it from several distinguished Rabbis. During the Holocaust he managed to save the lives of others, by helping the grandson of the Chasam Sofer, Rabbi Akiva Sofer and his son Binyamin leave Hungary.  

After the Holocaust Grandpa’s family went ahead to Australia but he remained and resumed his medical studies in Switzerland and became a doctor, only to arrive in Australia and be told that that his qualification would not be recognised here. Knowing very little English, he repeated his medical studies, with a textbook in one hand and a dictionary in the other. When Grandma passed away on a Sunday, there was the challenge of burying her the same day as the Torah teaches but the unions would not allow a burial on a Sunday. Needless to say, Grandpa ensured that the burial happened on the Sunday.

Nachman, you also have great will power and inner strength. You must have been around 5 years old when you stood at the children’s table at a shul Kiddush and an adult decided to help themselves to some of the kid’s food. You told them politely but firmly, “this is the kids, table!” You have shown determination in your school work, the Masechta Gemorah that you completed and the Pilpul you did so beautifully. You show it in your being on time to shul on Shabbos to lead the pesukei d’zimrah. This gift is also a double test. Will you get over-confident? Or will you rise to your potential? Will you be flexible when this is the right thing, rather than argue and by sheer force of will manage to get your way? These tests will hopefully be a small challenge to overcome as you determinedly pursue worthwhile goals and achieve them. There is nothing that stands before will,
 כל מילין דעלמא לא תליין אלא ברעותא[i], All matters of the world, depend on nothing but will.
By the time your Zaidy Rabbi Joshua T Kastel[ii] had his Bar Mitzvah, the monster Stalin was General Secretary of the Communist party.  Stalin had his own 1st commandment that allowed the state to steal grain from the farmers and leave them to starve[iii]. This commandment was to replace the first of the 10 commandments “you should have no other gods”.

Stalin’s communists tried to destroy Jewish education. In addition to threats, arrests and executions they also use ridicule. My Zaidy Kastel, sat us grandchildren around him and told us about the day his father read an article in a communist paper mocking Chasidim in the town of Nevel, who still dripped Mikvah waters from their beards. He turned to my grandfather and said Tanchum, we found you a Yeshiva and promptly sent him to Nevel.

After migrating to the United States, Zaidy Kastel, spent his life helping others study the Torah he defied the communists to learn. In the process earned the affection of his community.

One evening in the early 1990’s in Boston, I was sitting with my family at a New England Lubavitz Yeshiva, fund-raising dinner that is honouring my grandfather. I was in my twenties considering what I wanted to do with my life.

A wealthy donor of the school spoke about the first time my grandfather came to his office to ask for a donation for his school. The speaker’s father had been a donor and had passed away, now my grandfather was hoping the son would follow his father’s example.

The speaker saw my grandfather through the window. “Rabbi Kastel walked toward the office-building. He hesitated, stopped, turned around and walked a few steps away. Then he turned around and walked toward the building again. Stopped again...he was nervous. But he really had nothing to worry about, we all loved him”.  

Grandpa Eichel, was similarly a man who was greatly loved by the patients he cared for. As Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa used to say: Anyone whom his fellow men are fond of, the spirit of Hashem is also fond of[iv]”. Nachman you have been blessed with Chein, with grace. You have good friends, both at school and at Shul. I remember with some pride, how you made friends with Toby the caretaker at the old Chabad House. Toby was a quiet non-Jewish man. He was very fond of Nachman who liked to help with some of the tasks at Shul.

Nachman. You are blessed with faith and trust. This is the foundation for almost everything.
You have knowledge. This enables you to learn more, to teach, to do and to keep Mitzvos.
You are strong, equipped to overcome obstacles to doing what is right, including yourself.
You are confident, able to take some risks and make mistakes, an essential part of achievement. 
You are a friend. I hope you always approach all people, regardless of religion, or other differences with friendship and grace.

You are loved. No matter what you do or don’t do, you are precious to us and we love you.

(I also spoke to Nachman on the Shabbat of his Bar Mitzvah celebration, here is the link )

[i] Zohar 2 162b
[ii] born June 6, 1913
[iii] Snyder T, Bloodlands,
[iv] Pirkey Avot 3:9

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