The usual presumptions of disaster haunted me as the day approached, and a few things – all minor in retrospect – did go wrong. For starters, my gas stovetop blew up as I brewed the chicken soup. The musician for the melave malka cancelled on Thursday night, and it turned out that the tablecloths I’d selected were the wrong shape and size.
I’m a girl who pays close attention to detail, even when it comes to the quotidian. Still, I had no intention of losing sight of the forest for the elaborate centerpieces I’d crafted. I had myself a good cry and allowed each of these distractions to resolve themselves.
This bar mitzvah was a biggie. It was our youngest son’s, the last of three. How had we’d gotten here so quickly? I envisioned sitting with a wreath on my head for the traditional mezinka tanz (dance) at his wedding. I rarely drink, but I needed a little claret to take the emotional edge off.
Here was my baby, about to become a man. I wanted the day to be meaningful. I wanted it to be about all the wonderful things he is and about the long, often turbulent journey of this particular, out-of-the-box 13-year-old, who has never had the luxury of taking anything for granted.
On the Shabbos of the bar mitzvah, there was no blizzard. The temperature was just above freezing, reasonable for the long walk to shul. None of my other supersized worries came to fruition either. My son had nursed a sore throat all week, but did not develop laryngitis. Despite his fear of public speaking, he did not refuse to get up there and do his thing, though he asked if he absolutely had to go through with it when I woke him up that morning.
He read his Torah portion slowly and clearly (flawlessly, if I may be so bold), and he himself could not believe what he’d done. He looked, as the tailor fitting him for his suit predicted, “sharp up there on the beamer” (my son may never call it the bimah again). I sobbed. I’m sorry. I just could not help myself.
During a break in the action, I asked a friend to handle the distribution of the candy bags we’d hurl at the bar mitzvah boy when he completed the haftarah. I nervously asked her again during the next pause, then once more. She humored me, though my nudging was never about the candy. It was about holding my breath and praying that the details would anchor an ethereal moment in the tangible world so that I’d know for sure it was true.
By then, my stove top had been replaced and the caterer had figured out how to make a small rectangular tablecloth fit a large circular table. Our musician had designated his replacement. Honestly, none of it made much difference.
What did matter, however, was my son and the Torah portion he’d spent an entire year mastering. And the moment when he stood next to his brothers, one after the next, as they each had an aliyah. It was also about the love packed into our crowded shul, and the way our family simcha became a communal event that expressed our gratitude not only to G-d, but to everyone on earth who’d helped us reach that day.
I recited the Shehechiyanu and meant every word. That night, I watched from the sidelines as the men danced with my son. I loved the way he beamed in time to the music and how much he enjoyed each second of the action. I, meanwhile, did one of heck of a mezinka dance in my head.