D’var Torah for the
Bar Mitzvah of Daniel Storfer, N’Y
Good Shabbos everyone, and mazel tov! Thank you, Doron, for
asking me to share a few divrei Torah.
Daniel! You are a man today. Now of course, since you’re
half-Slovak, you’ve been a man since you were eight and a half years old, but
today you are a man in the spiritual sense of the word.
When your father asked me to speak, I was very excited. It’s
been a while since I got such an opportunity. The first time I spoke formally
in public was in the UK, and I see they’ve shown up today to chart my progress.
Anyway, this would be the first time I was asked to speak at a Bar Mitzvah
(except for my own, which didn’t go so smoothly), and I was very excited. I
asked Doron which parsha it would be. He said Parshas Vayishlach. Excellent.
I quickly opened a chumash, turned to Parshas Vayishlach,
and immediately found no reference whatsoever to the name Daniel. I don’t
believe in Bible Codes, so I was looking for it in pashut p’shat. It wasn’t
there. Okay, no big deal. Moshe, maybe? No Moshe.
Wait, there was still hope. Maybe the haftorah is from
Daniel? Ooh, maybe maybe? Fingers cros, um, magen davided? Nope, it was from
the sefer Ovadiah.
Okay, wait, all is not lost. Maybe I could find an immediate
family member’s name and fined a remez there? Let’s see. I looked. There is no
Doron, no Shmuel. There was also no Arnon, no Nachum, No Shlomit, no Nechama,
no Naomi, No Mordechi, and certainly no Ichel. Nothing.
Okay fine, I thought I wouldn’t despair just yet. Maybe I’ll
go one generation further. Hoping I’d find something, anything, I finally found
Yehudah, but he’s just mentioned as part of a genealogy, and I finally found
Yitzhock and Rachel, but, let’s just say, they don’t make it to the next episode.
I called back Doron and I said I can’t do this.
I then figured, okay, so I can’t make any reference to
names. Let me look at the text of the parsha and see if I can derive any life
lessons befitting a Bar Mitzvah boy.
The parsha starts with Yaakov preparing to meet Eisav. Maybe
I can find lessons there about preparation. Appropriate for this context,
though it’s a bit shallow. I was looking for something more insightful. Anyway,
the parsha continues with Yaakov wrestling with the Angel. Ooh, a confrontation
with God. Good, but not juicy. It continues with the story of Dina, which is
basically a Law & Order: SVU episode. This is followed by wholesale
slaughter of a city, and finishes up with Eisav’s genealogy.
There’s not a lot of inspiration here.
I then remembered something that Elie Wiesel, A’H, said to
the gadol hador, Oprah.
He said, “Think higher, feel deeper.”
I remember when he said that, that I thought to myself that
it could also be inspiring to say, “Feel higher, think deeper.”
I decided I should look at the parsha again, and think
I noticed a difference between the confrontation Yaakov had
with Eisav, and the one he had with the angel.
To paraphrase Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobsen: “You want to know the
difference? I’ll tell you the difference.”
The difference is: when Yaakov comes away from the
confrontation with Eisav, he comes away the same person. When he comes away
from the confrontation with the Angel, he is changed. He receives a different
name. He becomes a different person, essentially.
I thought this was a nice find, but it could be a one-off.
Let me check if this holds elsewhere in the Torah.
Yes it does, just two generations prior! Both Avraham and
Sarah endure several physical challenges together, from travel to famine, and
many other of the 10 tests, but their previous identities as Avram and Sarai
don’t change until they accept God into their lives. They then receive name
changes, as a result of encountering God.
Good! This is starting to formulate. I wanted one more
example to prove this rule, and I found it one generation after Yaakov! Joseph!
Joseph endures several physical challenges – his brothers dump him in a pit, he
travels to Egypt, he’s sold into slavery, he survives the charms of Mrs.
Potiphar, he’s tossed in prison, and through it all, he remains Joseph (Go go
go, Joseph! Apropos for this weekend). When does his name change? When he
describes to Pharaoh that it’s through God that dreams are interpreted.
Finally, Joseph acknowledges God in the control of his life. Pharaoh himself
recognizes the significance of this, and renames Joseph as Tzufnas Paneach.
So there’s a lesson here: life can throw all different sorts
of physical challenges at you, but these don’t change who you are. They
manifest who you are, bring out what you are. There are plenty of examples of
this, which are highlighted when people in the public eye are faced with
serious issues and challenges. Challenging situations don’t make people. They
define people. They give expression to what’s inside.
True change, and in our context, the acceptance of the
spiritual yoke of heaven, causes a fundamental shift in what you are as a
person. It is so significant, that often a person takes on a new name. It is an
acknowledgement that you are now fundamentally, at your core, a different human
To further cement this idea, I realized that the converse is
true as well. One of the examples that Rashi gives to explain why the Jews did
not assimilate with the Egyptians was their refusal to take on new names. The
Jews retained their values by keeping their holy names. They held fast.
When I was thinking about this, I finally found the perfect
connection to our Bar Mitzvah boy’s name in TaNaCH: The prophet Daniel is given
a new name by Nebuchadnezzar in a targeted attempt to assimilate him. He does
this for Daniel’s three friends as well. But they refuse to adopt these names,
and they stay on path of faith.
So Daniel, you’ve had your physical challenges. You’ve had
some lumps and bumps and booboos and what have you, but they haven’t changed
you. They brought you out. You’re a good kid, and that always shows, no matter
But today, you become different. You’re a new person. Until
now, you’ve been Daniel, or Dani-el, or Danielko, or Danny, or, as your father
calls you: DANIEL!
Just kidding, I call him that when he’s a bit rough with my
But from this day forward, so far as the congregation of
Israel is concerned, whenever you are called up in public to accept a kibbud,
you are, Daniel Moshe ben Doron Shmuel. Your entire name is an expression of
your holiness. Acknowledging that is what matters. You are now changed, you are
now different. You accept upon yourself 613 mitzvos. It’s the longest homework
you’ve ever been assigned.
Now of course, I’m slightly stretching this, Daniel. Your
name hasn’t changed drastically. However, your full name is now public and on
display, and pronounces your essence, and the fundamental obligations on taking
on all these new mitzvos. There are probably people in this room who don’t even
remember that you have a second name, Moshe, and they probably also have no
idea from where it comes. Even I forgot! If you remember, my mom made a
yarmulke for you, with your name on it, and I told her the wrong name! I was
there by your bris, up close, I was your anesthesiologist. Shame on me!
Anyway, I’ll enlighten everyone: it’s a dual namesake. He’s
named for Sabi’s great grandfather, and also for the Chasam Sofer, whose full
name was R. Moshe Sofer, who established his yeshiva in…Bratislava! Now we all
understand the connection, and the full holiness and depth of our bar mitzvah
This is why, it’s my personal minhag, in my house, that when
it comes to being mechabed a guest with mizumin, I like to call him by his full
Hebrew name, because I feel it’s a kibbud, and that I should be addressing the
full spiritual name of the person as he is called in public.
Therefore, Daniel Moshe, it will be my special pleasure to
give you that respect and kavod the next time you’re at my Shabbos table. May
you perform that mitzvah beautifully, and may you perform all your new mitzvahs
beautifully and give your family and klal yisroel lots and lots of nachas.
So that was the think deeper part of my speech. I’d like to
introduce the feel higher part.
Today, literally today, December 17th
, is what
would have been my grandfather’s 98th
birthday. He passed three
years ago. I miss him.
It is one thing to be asked to share divrei torah at a
simcha, but it is a joy and a delight to be able to do so on a day such as
this. It has given the experience a deeper meaning for me and my immediate
family. There’s no question my grandfather had hana’ah.
Therefore, firstly, thank you Doron for asking me to speak,
and secondly, happy birthday Zaidy. May the neshama of R. Benzion ben R. Aharon
have an Aliyah.
Thank you, mazel tov everybody, and have a wonderful