I, my younger brother, and my eldest daughter
all observed our Bat or Bar Mitzvah on a Shabbat Shuvah . . .
the anniversaries of which are tomorrow.
And so, in honor of this family tradition,
I offer a Shabbat Shuvah memory.
To those of you who already know this story, slicha.
I figure the message still works, so why reinvent the wheel.
You’ll access the memory when you scroll up and click BLOG
right between HOME and CONTACT OZZIE
And K'tiva VaHatima Tova.
You should be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.
For the past few weeks I’ve been observing my traditional pre-New Year customs - wallowing in nostalgia, thinking about people I miss, berating myself over things-I-might-have-done-differently. You know. All the introspective behaviors typical of so many of us at this time of year.
I’ve also been reliving my Bat Mitzvah which we observed in 1948 on Shabbat Shuvah - the Sabbath that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This week’s Shabbat, to be exact . . .
My father was my teacher. He was a rabbi, old-world style, who specialized in teaching (at which he was a veritable Pied Piper) and in reading Torah (at which he was uncommonly skilled.)
When Poppa read Torah, each trop was flawlessly and lovingly chanted. And his dramatic, intelligent interpretation of the text gave listeners goose-bumps, even if the listeners had zero understanding of Hebrew, which was usually the case.
Poppa tried to instill his passion for the perfect trop and his reverence for the Hebrew word in all his students. Generations of them sat at his feet, tried their best and still mangled many a munach in the process. Poppa listened to all of them and said simply, “Again.” His endurance was legendary.
I was a fidgety pupil. The trop came easily enough, but the haftarah for Shabbat
Shuvah - full of exhortation to renounce sin, transgression and return - shuvah - to God, held little interest for me. My delivery was hurried and sloppy and Poppa said, “Again” with regularity.
“How terrible would it be if I made a few mistakes, Poppa?” I asked him. “No one in the congregation will know.”
“If you make a mistake, tochter, you will know,” he said. I was only thirteen and this wisdom was lost on me.
Now, if my father was the consummate teacher, my mother was the quintessential seamstress, and so, of course, she made my Bat Mitzvah dress. I could have worn that dress inside-out, so exquisitely was it lined and finished. No raw edges. No tangled threads. If a seam didn’t meet my mother’s standards, she simply ripped it out and sewed it again.
“Why do you care so much about the inside?” I asked her. “No one is ever going to see the inside.”
“A dress may be beautiful on the outside,” my mother replied, “but if the inside is not well made, the dress will soon fall apart. Any good tailor knows that.” This wisdom was lost on me, too.
My Bat Mitzvah, as best I recall, went just fine. Did I make mistakes? I don’t remember for sure, but probably, yes. What I do know for certain is that the years since that Shabbat Shuvah have not been error-free.
And so, this Yom Kippur I will again say al chet and ask atonement for my sins. The sins of pride, anger, ingratitude, jealousy, disrespect, laziness - you know. All the sins of which most of us are typically guilty. And this Shabbat Shuvah I’ll remember my Bat Mitzvah and the teachings of my parents. Lessons even more meaningful in my life than the words of my haftarah.
I’ll remember to take more care with my stitches, Ma. I’ll try to tie up all those loose ends and neatly finish the seams. Sure, I’d like the outside to be beautiful, but I’ll try to give greater attention to the inside. I want this garment (which is me, after all) to wear well and not fall apart.
And yes, Poppa. I’ll remember that when I make a mistake - even one that only I am aware of - it’s still a mistake. I’ll ask to be forgiven, but this forgiveness may be the hardest to get, for it must come not from others but from me, myself.
Return, oh Israel, unto the Lord your God, says the haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah. Say unto him, forgive all iniquity and accept that which is good.
We should say that to one another, too. Forgive all iniquity. Accept that which is good. In others and in ourselves.
copyright Ozzie Nogg 1995
A little glossary:
yontifs — Jewish holidays
trop — musical notations used when chanting Torah and haftarah
munach - one of the trop/cantillation sounds
haftarah - a selection from the Prophets chanted after the Shabbat Torah reading
tochter - daughter in Yiddish
al chet - a confession of sins, recited on Yom Kippur