He was about to hear the words which would change his life forever
HE had avoided this moment for 22 years.
He had successfully evaded, dodged, and sidestepped the confrontation through excuses, trickery, and any pretext he could think of.
He was the master escape artist, the Harry Houdini (whose real name was Eric Weiss, and he, too, was the son of a rabbi) of the Jewish world.
Somehow he circumvented and bypassed that which no other person in his kehillah had succeeded in doing. He was 35 and planned to continue living in denial, somehow always conveniently disappearing just when capture seemed imminent.
That was until that fateful Shabbos in July 2023.
A shul attendee discovered that our friend’s 35th Hebrew birthday was Shabbos of Mattos-Masei, and unbeknownst to anyone, including the escape artist himself, this attendee, a well-intentioned Mr. Do-a-Chesed, was about to “out” the master of anonymity himself, arranging with the gabbai to entrap and corner our central figure in an escape-proof situation.
As our friend, the birthday boy, sat innocently listening to the leining, he was about to hear the words which would change his life forever.
At first, our friend was sure it was a mistake. When he realized they had indeed called him up, he sat paralyzed in fear.
Never before had he recited the brachos on the haftarah. He had deftly avoided this honor at his bar mitzvah, aufruf, and sheva brachos, each time coming up with a new and novel excuse. Yet the day of reckoning had arrived.
For decades he had struggled with a learning disability that left him terrified of reading Hebrew in public.
When given an aliyah, he would suffer from heart palpations.
When honored with one of the sheva brachos, he felt dishonored beyond anyone’s realization.
Yet through it all, he had managed with a bit of skill and much luck to never have to say the long brachos accompanying the haftarah.
That was until that fateful Shabbos in July.
He pleaded with the baal korei to read the brachos, but the latter refused.
He davened for his Hatzolah phone to ring. Silence.
Finally, with no choice and a restless crowd insisting he begin, he took a deep breath and did what he had never done before.
He was sure the entire shul could hear his heart beating like a drum in his chest. He was convinced the knocking of his knees would drown out the baal korei. Yet, despite his conviction of inability, he took a deep breath, whispered a silent tefillah, and said aloud those formally formidable brachos.
After successfully navigating the first brachah, he gained confidence, and in a voice trembling a bit with nervousness, read the last brachos loud and clear, taking his time to ensure he enunciated each word correctly.
As he returned to his seat in shul, most men were already saying Yekum Purkan, while a few offered a mumbled, “Shkoyach.”
However, he didn’t need the approval of his peers.
What mattered most to our friend was that he had climbed the mountain. He had met his fears and overcome them. Most importantly, he had proven to himself that with effort, siyata d’Shmaya, and an impatient shul urging him on, he accomplished what only yesterday seemed impossible.
Our friend realized that there is so much more a person can accomplish if they are only willing to try.
When the story of the haftarah made its way 6,000 miles across the Atlantic to the ears of a rabbi in New Jersey, it accomplished something else as well.
With tears of joy cascading down my cheeks, it once again made me realize why my son Tuvia is my hero. —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 975)
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