Tuesday, December 20, 2016

D’var Torah for the Bar Mitzvah of Daniel Storfer, N’Y

D’var Torah for the Bar Mitzvah of Daniel Storfer, N’Y
Mordechi Bodek

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. Complete buzzkill.
I called back Doron and I said I can’t do this.
Just kidding!
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 deeper.
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 being.
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 what.
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 kids.
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 boy’s name.
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 Shabbos.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Weekend Funhouse

Highlights of my Shabbos in Park East to celebrate my nephew's Bar Mitzvah with my extended family:
1) Shepped huge nachas from the well-prepared and confident Bar Mitzvah boy.
2) Had my sweated-over carefully-drafted speech quite well received (will publish, natch).
3) Got loads of compliments for my slimness (running myself into the ground this year is paying off).
4) Attending a brilliant "Fiddler" production with the entire retinue.
5) My first non-race run through Central Park ever (what took me so long?).
6) This conversation that I had at shalashudous with the man who owns the right arm that operates Triumph the Insult Comic Dog:
Me: Good Shabbos. You either are, or look like, a certain genius named Robert Smigel.
RS: Heh, uhhhh, okay, everything in that sentence is correct except for the genius part.
Me: Well, I beg to differ.
RS: Heh, thank you. Ya know, nobody ever recognizes me, especially not here.
Me: Well, I guess I'm that one in 100 who admire blah blah blah SNL yada yada yada Triumph fawn fawn fawn appreciate comic writing flatter flatter flatter, so I just wanted to say good Shabbos.
RS: Well thank you. What brings you here?
Me: I'm an uncle of the Bar Mitzvah boy.
RS: Very good. I'm here to say Kadish.
Me: Ah, well, the neshama should have an Aliyah!
RS: I know exactly what that means. Thank you very much.
Me: You're welcome. Have a good Shabbos.
RS: For me to poop on!
Just kidding about the last one.
Mazel tov, Daniel!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Notes from my 2-Day Toronto Business Trip

Notes from my 2-Day Toronto Business Trip
Martin Bodek

Day 1:

Rise and shine at 3:00 AM, Roher Standard Time (vehamayvin yavin) and have an early meal like it’s a fast day.

Uber arrives on time, and off to the airport. I arrive so early that nobody’s behind the check-in counter yet. While staring at the four walls, I get the Uber receipt, which is double the value it should be because the driver ended the trip 20 minutes after dropping me off. Good start to my day.

Once check-in shows up, it’s lickety-split from there onto my plane, which is awesome! A Bombardier Dash 8 Q400! With the wonky propellers! I’m mesmerized by them, and ooh, I’m sitting right behind them!

OMG, the landing gear comes directly out of the engines??? Is that smart?

Anyway, while I enjoy their hum, I read “The Road Taken” by Henry Petroski, and 1:25 later, I touch down in Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport - which flies right by the CN Tower first – nice and gently. I note that the tires actually bounced! Interesting. This plane is wild.

Snow is everywhere. A storm just ended, and I gather they know what to do about that in this place.

The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksman (or in this case, Yakswoman) at passport control, asks me questions like she’s actually curious about what I do for a living. I know it’s her job, but 17 questions in, it’s time to talk to the next person in line. What I do is interesting to me, not other people.

I love small airports. You just zip right through.

At the Hertz counter, the clerk asks me if I have any questions. Yes, can I pump my own gas? The answer is yes. Living in New Jersey, this is a breath of fresh air. As I assemble my papers and turn away, I ask one more question: how do I get out of here? This conversation happens:

Clerk: “You make a right and a left and maple syrup go Raptors stand on guard for thee Bieber Morissette Reynolds and you roll onto the ferry.” (or something like that)
Me: “Did you say ‘ferry’?”
Clerk: “Yes, you go on to the ferry.”
Me: “Really? I get to go on to a ferry? That’s the way out of here?”
Clerk: “Yes, you’re on an island.”
Me: “And there’s no bridge?”
Clerk: “No, they haven’t built it yet.”
Me: “Really? Okay, I’m going on a ferry!”

I have a million follow-up questions. What happens when the water freezes over, is one, but there’s no time, I gotta go.

Onto a ferry! Why am I so excited by this? Well, I haven’t been on one in…30 years, and I dunno, I feel like a kid again.

Design flaw: the ferry has three lanes, but only the middle lane can roll directly off the platform. The cars on the right and the left have to roll into the middle lane to get off. Accidents can happen, and the ferry crew has to be overly mindful. Better idea: widen lanes, use electric signaling or bars to indicate when you can or can’t roll off.

This “The Road Taken” book is having this effect on me. I’m a pedant anyway.

I roll off the ferry and into Toronto proper, which has signs a bit different from the US, but the symbols are still readable and intuitive. Cool.

I witness an accident. A small car challenged a big bus for space. Doesn’t he know that 100% of the time, the bigger vehicle wins?

The Yaksmen arrive in seconds. Everybody’s okay.

I make it to the office, daven in the car in the parking lot, and:


After work, I tour a bit, and I realize as I’m driving that I have no idea if I can make a right on red. I don’t google and drive, so I do what any New Yorker would do: I go into the front of the right lane, and hang out, waiting to be honked.

Nobody honks me. I’m not in New York. I need feedback, people!

Clearly, Toronto has more Starbucks’ per square inch than NYC. America wasn’t enough for them, they have to take over all of North America? Sing taps for Second Cup and Tim Horton’s.

I find a good radio station: 88.1, but the DJs are frightened to death of negative Celsius temperatures. Wusses.

Toronto has an avalanche of kosher options. I navigate around a world of snowbanks to find some parking, and make it to Tov Li for dinner. Quite good food!

Then off to my hotel. I inspect the gym before retiring, because that’s how I roll. They have four treadmills and a sauna, open 24/7. I’m good.

I hit my room, turn on the TV, and mostly watch Canadian news, which is basically American news, with some Canadian tidbits thrown in.

A chat with my missus, and nighty night.

Day 2:

I head down to the gym at 5:15 AM to encounter a crowd of people. Whoa, way to go, fitness crowd!

I enjoy a 4.2 mile run on the treadmill. As I step off, the attendant puts an Out of Order sign on the sauna. Grrr. Guess I’ll have to come back some time.

These 88.1 DJs are really scared of the -2º temp! Going down to -9º. OMG!

I head to Isaac’s for breakfast, and also load up on lunch and dinner. Free cookies! Good food, too!

As I get ready to pay, another customer enters and stands behind me, no smartphone in hand, just looking around. Why is that noteworthy? Because:

My corporate card doesn’t work, so we try doing American-to-Canadian cash conversion, but the math doesn’t work, and we finally use my personal card, and through all this, the guy just stands there with a smile on his face.

The people are way too chill here. Pun intended.

I do witness some road rage upon my exit, so there’s some balance in the Force.

No, really. These 88.1 DJs think minus temperatures are the apocalypse, but you know what? They don’t talk much, there are few commercials, and the music is really great.


Okay, I can’t keep talking about this radio station without giving you a sample of their great music. Here’s some that really got my attention:

Filled up on gas before heading to the airport. Corporate card didn’t work again. While I’m figuring things out, the guy behind me doesn’t honk. Honk! It’s okay! I’m in your way! I pay with my own card, but the receipt doesn’t issue. I have to head in to the shop to get it. Minor grumble. We’re rolling.

I don’t encounter any traffic until I want it: when I’m going through downtown. The traffic allows me a real good view of the place, and note places for my next visit.


I don't have to take off shoes at security, because obviously, terrorists don't use shoe bombs when traveling from Canada.

I arrive three hours early for my flight. I walk up to the counter, and ask if I can be put on an earlier one. My passport disappears from my hands, the nice lady goes typety-type-type, and she says, “There you go. Your flight leaves in 15 minutes.” Alright!

Lessons: 1) Ask. 2) Use small airports.

I’m behind the propeller again!

Before we depart, an announcement:

“The Samsung 7 is not allowed on board. If you have a Samsung 7, please present it to the crew.”

Oh really? Exactly who is going to step forward so their phone can be chucked from the plane? Useless announcement.

It rains, producing an effect on the propellers that is mesmerizing: A cone of rain seems like it’s emanating from the centerpoint of the turning blades. Awesome, striking visual. I’m not the only one who snaps pictures. I swear the guy in front of me is using a Samsung 7.

We land hard, but hey, I’m home.

It takes 40 minutes to get through passport control. While staring into empty space because smartphones aren’t allowed to be used, I overhear this conversation between two Latin Americans:

Guy: “In Mehico, is differen from New Yersey.”
Gal: “Si, differen.”
Guy: “How is differen?”
Gal: “In Mehico, is ‘Andale!’, in New Yersey, is ‘Wait!’
Guy: “Si!”

It takes me three minutes to get an Uber.

Home sweet home, in time to put my kids to sleep.

P.S. I found the radio station online: http://indie88.com/. They have a live stream. Nathaniel Rateliff is on the front page, who is A1 in my book and gives a feel for the content. First song I heard is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl7cF9bwNHE

I’ll be hanging out for a while.

I write about stuff, as you can see. I even write books about stuff: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mbodekatgmaildotcom, http://tinyurl.com/BodekKindleBooks. Buy them.