In Kohelet we read that there is an “et livkot v’et lis’chok.” There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. “Et sefod v’et rekod.” There is a time for wailing and a time for dancing. This past weekend, my son Daniel celebrated his bar mitzvah. For months we didn’t fully know how many people could attend his bar mitzvah in shul and what a Sunday afternoon celebration would look like, considering the COVID restrictions. In the last week or two, with the easing of some COVD restrictions by the CDC and Rabbi Glatt, we were poised to have our largest turnout in over a year in our shul to hear my son layn and lead musaf for his bar mitzvah. We worked out his festive celebration on Sunday by inviting different groups of people to different shifts throughout the afternoon to celebrate with us. We were very excited.
Then tragedy struck in Meron. As many remarked, the date that the avelut, the mourning, for the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students ended thousands of years ago was the date that our national mourning began this year in what amounted to the worst civilian tragedy in the history of the modern State of Israel. The fact that the tragedy happened at a place that many of us frequented at one time or another specifically on Lag Ba’omer made the tragedy that much more painful. The fact that Klal Yisrael lost both young children and adults who had so much more to give to this world made the tragedy that much more painful. The fact that Klal Yisrael lost Donny Morris, a young man from Bergenfield, who was “one of us,” made the tragedy that much more painful. He was attending Yeshivat Shaalvim at the time, a yeshiva that my son attended a few years ago. He attended MTA, a yeshiva high school from our broader modern orthodox community. He spent his summers at Camp Dora Golding, a camp that my son currently attends. He was lauded by family and Rebbeim as a soulful, inspiring budding Talmud Chacham, a mevakesh, and a mentsch of the highest order.
Et livkot. Shabbat was a time to cry. Et lis’chok. Shabbat was a time to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah. I needed to find a way that our community and I could create space for both emotions. Therefore, before the prayer for the state of Israel, we read aloud the names of all the victims of the tragedy, their ages, their place of residence, the yeshiva where they were studying if applicable, and other personal information that was made available to me about each victim. As we recited the prayer for the State of Israel, we begged God not to allow another tragedy like this and we begged God to only bring blessing and happiness to our beloved country. Five minutes later, I danced with my son and my extended family as our beautiful kehillah threw candies and sang “Siman tov u’mazal tov” when he completed his haftorah.
I directed my drasha to my son and reflected on how the relationship between a parent and child changes once the child becomes bar mitzvah from an obligation of “chinuch” to an obligation of “tochacha” on the part of the parent. It was a special happy moment to address my son at this milestone in his life. Nevertheless, towards the end of my drasha, I turned to my son and said, “Daniel, it’s a very difficult time for many of our brothers and sisters in Israel after the tragedy in Meron. We pray for the souls of the departed and for their families, and we pray for the health and well-being of those who have been critically injured. Daniel, as you transition into an individual with your own personal identity, with your own dreams, goals and aspirations in which I know you will excel, please remember that now you must also view yourself as part of the larger picture of Knesset Yisrael. Even in this state of tremendous joy that you find yourself today at your bar mitzvah, I hope that part of you connects with the pain of those suffering and wishes them comfort and only joy and blessings in the future.”
Et sefod v’et rekod. A time of eulogy and a time of dancing. Sunday was a time to eulogize so many of the Meron victims, including Donny Morris, with thousands of people at the levaya and an estimated 34,000 people watching his funeral via livestream. Like many of the 34,000 listeners, I felt a special connection to him so I tuned into the beginning of the levaya. But then it was time for bar mitzvah pictures and then the first shift of the simcha with Daniel’s wonderful classmates, his Rebbe, our extended family and some friends in attendance. And then one shift of shul members. And then another shift of shul members. It was an “et rekod,” a time of beautiful, soulful dancing, as we celebrated the bar mitzvah with a siyum that Daniel completed on Masechet Megillah with a beautiful dvar Torah about the nature of Kriat Hatorah B’Tzibbur. After the dancing was over, and after the celebration had ended, I listened to a recording of the eulogies for Donny Morris at night. Sunday for me was an “et rekod” sandwiched by an “et sefod,” both beforehand and afterwards.
Kohelet speaks the truth. There is a time for the full gamut of our emotions. We must celebrate milestones in our lives and in the lives of our family members and friends and use these opportunities to reflect upon the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. We also must feel the pain of achenu kol beit Yisrael, our Jewish brethren throughout the globe, who are suffering. We must cry along with them, feel their pain, and do what we can to try to ease their pain. Let us hope and pray that God will grant all those who lost loved ones this past weekend, all those who experienced an “et livkot” and an “et sefod,” with much “s’chok” and “rekod” in the future.