Avi's Bris Speech for Akiva Kalev
June 5, 2007
Thank you all for coming today to celebrate the induction of my son, Akiva Kalev, into the tribe. I’d like to start by thanking God for a beautiful, healthy baby boy, the continued growth and development of my three older children. My oldest, Netanel Zvi’s names represent that he was a gift from God, and he is also named for Zvi, my father’s father. Shimon Refael is named for Leah’s grandfather and my grandfather from my mother’s side. Lila Bracha is not named for anyone in particular – we just thought her name sounds cool. We can always use someone who brings bracha – blessing – to the lila – night, or exile. It is so hard to believe we have four children. If you remember, and I sometimes don’t, as I’ve had short term memory loss for the past – how old are you Netanel? [Netanel: I'm 7 years old] 7 years.
Thank you all for coming today to celebrate the induction of my son, Akiva Kalev, into the tribe. I’d like to start by thanking God for a beautiful, healthy baby boy… right. Where was I… when, after 4 years of marriage and some rather terrible difficulties, we were convinced with good reason that we would not be able to have children of our own. It is astonishing to look around the room and see four children, each special and unique.
I must express extreme gratitude to God and His emissaries at Hackensack University Medical Center for Leah’s successful surgery. Before her third c-section with Lila, the doctors gave us a blood curdling description of all the things that could go horribly wrong after repeated c-sections. This absolutely terrified me, but Leah’s love of children knows no rational bounds, and here we are. I am so thankful and relieved that each surgery has gone better than the one before.
Special thanks also go to my parents for helping us survive the past few days, and to our Sandek (baby holder during a bris) my father in law, and my mother-in-law for agreeing to stay and help Leah for the next week or so, especially considering that I’m traveling non-stop for the rest of the summer, including a West Coast trip tomorrow for a consulting engagement.
We are naming our youngest son Akiva Kalev after two historical greats, Rabbi Akiva and Kalev ben Yefuneh. I had long wanted to name a child Kalev, who coincidentally is one of the main characters in this week’s parsha (Bible portion). Of course, I wanted to use the name Kalev Elchanan. Leah was fine with this until she learned why I liked Kalev Elchanan: his nickname could be Kal-El. (For the non-geeks in the audience, that’s Superman’s Kryptonite name). Other rejected names included: Chananel (Han) Solo Greengart, Yirmiyahu (Jim) Henson Greengart, Dovid (Darth?) Vader Greengart, Yosef (Joe) Gibbs Greengart, and Arthur (R2) Detoo Greengart. We briefly considered Shimshon, English name “Samsung” but could not come to terms with Samsung, or, for that matter, with Motorola or Nokia on naming rights fees. Once it became clear we were not having another girl, one of our favorite, beautiful names, Ora Shira was out. Leah never got that reference, and if you do, see me after class for your reward. [Note: Ora Shira does NOT mean "lightsaber." Thank you for playing. Try again!]
Anyway, there are no Star Wars, Muppets, Redskins, or cellphone references in the name Akiva Kalev – at least none that I’m aware of. Rabbi Akiva proved that one’s desire for Torah matters more than one’s background, and our Sages say that he was able to grasp nuances in the Torah that God put there specifically for him. Perhaps his genius in Torah was because he is best known for his focus bein adam lechaveiro, our relations between man and his fellow man. Kalev was the original 007, absolutely immune to peer pressure, and willing to stand up for faith in God and the land of Israel. His impassioned defense of God’s power and the goodness of the land did not win over the people of Israel at the time, but Kalev was rewarded for his faith: along with Joshua he was the only person in the entire nation who made it all the way from slavery in Egypt to the true freedom of settling in the land of Israel. We hope our Akiva Kalev emulates the stalwart traits of his namesakes.
In Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) we learn “aseh licha rav” (attach oneself to a Rabbi). Living here in Teaneck, we are privileged to be associated with great Rabbis and role models of our own. Rabbi Rothwachs, the Rav of our shul, is always available to answer questions, offer assistance, and makes each of his congregants comfortable in their own way (in my case, it’s oohing and ahhing over the latest gadgets). On the other side of Teaneck (technically Bergenfield) Rabbi Neuberger has been my Rav, my teacher, and personal confidant in areas of hashkafa, halacha, and Shalom Bayis. Sometimes we even listen to him.
But there is another Rav present here today who models Torah true behavior, and I have observed him since I was born. My father is not technically a congregational Rabbi …unless you count the University Blvd shul where he speaks and davens on Yomim Noraim (High Holidays) and Yom Tov (Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot holidays) and his duties as head of the ritual committee for his shul. His love for the Torah is something we hope all of our children will emulate. I have asked my father to share a few short words of Torah with us at this seudas mitzvah (special meal) – and please, Abba (Dad), I’m serious about the “short” part.