My son is going to have his Bar-Mitzvah in two and a half months. He is really excited. Not about the party, not about the people coming and not about having to read the entire portion of the Torah in synagogue. He is excited about one thing. Getting his Tefillin or "Phylacteries" as they are called in the English dictionary. Now I assume that most of you have absolutely no idea what Tefillin are, so below are pictures.
Traditional Male Jews (and today some Females as well) put on Tefillin every morning for prayers (except on the Sabbath and holidays). It is based upon thousands of years of tradition and can be traced back to at the very least to the Temple Era. The whole real point of a Bar Mitzvah is not the party (believe it or not!), and I know you are aghast at such a statement, but it is the time when a Jewish male begins to have to wear his Tefillin every day from then on. That is what is behind the cliche - "Today I am a man."
But this post is not about teaching you the ins and outs of Judaism or of Jewish beliefs. It is about something I would hope most of us can relate to - childhood memories, a bit of nostalgia and perhaps the renewal of dreams.
Pop, my Pop, was the wisest, most compassionate and kindest man I have ever known on the face of this earth. I have said this numerous times before. He is long dead but I miss that man every single day of my life along with Mom. I guess I was one of the lucky ones. I had an incredible childhood with great parents.
It is true that I would give my right arm for the wisdom my father held in his pinky. And it is also true that I would give anything, even after twenty years, to be able to just hug my parents again.
Pop taught me never to allow bitterness to enter the heart, for bitterness leads to meanness and mean people are ugly. He taught me never to hate. He would listen to others talk in jealousy of what they didn't have and what others did have and would say, "Never be jealous of someone else's success. You have no idea of the woes and sorrows that another person carries with him. You have no idea what is in his suitcase of life." And when Pop saw someone worse off than him, he would always give a helping hand. He drummed it into me: "If not but for the Grace of God there goes I."
Folks. That is about the best advice any one can get on the face of this earth. Race, color, creed, religion all make no difference. What makes a difference is that you keep your own humanity - because in the end that is all you have. And you only have this lifetime to get it right.
So last night an important basketball game was on, and I was going to watch it with my son (we are basketball freaks). But though the television was on, he was nowhere to be found. I went into his room to see if he had fallen asleep, and there he was practicing with my Tefillin figuring out just how to put them on and wear them. (It is complicated for a child who has never done it before as there is one for the head and one for the arm and the straps must be put on in a certain way.)
When I saw him standing there with his back to me, though at times I can be an emotional person, this time I was overwhelmed with an emotion that I had not felt in a long while. The years upon this earth, of often riding the roller coaster of life, made me immediately realize this was something that was unique and something I would never be blessed to see again. There my son was, and in my mind's eye an old, long forgotten memory came out of the haze, of myself looking up into Pop's beaming face as he watched me put on my Tefillin for the first time.
My son felt my presence and turned around and said:
"Abba. I am just practicing. Don't worry. But I think I finally got it right."
He had it right. Totally. Completely. Not on his arm, and not on the straps. He had it so right though. And at that moment somehow, magically, in a moment that comes but once in a lifetime, my heart opened so wide, with so much joy and so much pain side by side, that I had to turn away for fear of my son seeing my tears fall.
And to my father in my heart I said:
"Pop. I wish you could see your grandson right now. Cause you know what? Maybe, just maybe, I think I finally got it right."
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