Home / Musings / Musings-30


The Sweetest Celebration

 Yitti Berkovic

I was preparing to hang up when my mother’s parting words took me by surprise.

“By the way, Abba and Tzvi are finishing Mishnayos soon. I think we should make a big siyum for friends and family.”

I stared at the phone. Really? Did we have to? 

Every fiber of my being was insisting, “No!” Not only because I’m a terrible party planner who has been known to stand in the paper goods aisle for an hour, trying to figure out which napkin matches which plate, and not only because I wasn’t sure when I would find time to throw a party during what was a very busy work season.

My mind was pleading “No!” because the thought of throwing a party to celebrate my still-very-young son’s accomplishments in learning made me uncomfortable on a very visceral level.

On the one hand, this siyum was a genuine cause for celebration: My father and my son Tzvi have been learning together every night for more than five years. When Tzvi was eleven years old, he began learning Mishnayos with my father over the phone so they could make a siyum for his bar mitzvah. Baruch Hashem, they chose to continue after the bar mitzvah, scheduling ten-to-fifteen-minute slots every night.

As my son got older and went off to high school, I waited for this chavrusashaft to run out of steam, for Tzvi to tell me he was too tired after night seder, or for my father to move on to his other grandsons, bli ayin hara.

But to my surprise, they kept at it. Quietly. Without fanfare. Without my encouragement or prodding, Tzvi called my father every weeknight for more than five years, ultimately reaching the completion of Shisha Sidrei Mishna.

Neither Tzvi nor my father is of the big schmoozers (maybe it’s in the genes), so I loved that that they were building a relationship in the language of Torah. When I listened in, I often laughed because they rarely asked each other about their day or made any attempt at small talk. Instead, they bonded through learning, and I could see the connection was shaping Tzvi in beautiful, almost imperceptible ways.

So, I knew my mother was right – this was an achievement worth commemorating with a seudah, attended by all those who love and support Tzvi. But still, my every instinct told me to say no. To say, “Let’s make a siyum when Tzvi’s older, im yirtza Hashem, when his learning will have greater depth.” Or, “Let’s make a small party just for us, without a minyan. Let’s not risk ayin hara when Tzvi’s learning is still in its infancy.” 

Because the very last thing I wanted was to take a megaphone and announce to the world, “Look at my budding talmid chacham! And look how fortunate I am to have a father who makes time in his busy schedule to nurture my son’s learning!”

This was not the way I was raised to do things – I was taught to live my life quietly, b’tzinah, without drawing attention to what we achieve. Why were we suddenly bragging about our accomplishments?

I didn’t want to shove my nachas in anyone else’s face. It was too insensitive.

There are friends of mine who wish their children had a grandfather who was alive or who was well enough or interested enough to learn with his grandchildren. There are friends of mine who wish their sons had the skills or the zitzfleish or the desire to learn with their grandfathers every night. 

In my own home, I have a son who cannot even read from a siddur, so I know the toxicity that can come from comparisons or from feeling that someone else’s grass looks greener. Why would I make a big siyum if it comes with even a risk of causing someone else pain?

But my mother is persistent. To her, it was a no-brainer. You make a big siyum – with all the trappings – because you are showing your children that there is nothing more important in your life than Torah.

So before I knew it, the planning was underway (my mother assured me that she would choose the napkins and plates – phew). I was tasked with preparing the invitations. As I typed up the information – where, when, why – I was tempted to include a large, shiny asterisk next to Tzvi’s name that said: Don’t get the wrong idea! No ayin hara necessary! 

Because budding talmid chacham that he is, he’s also a regular boy! He’s a boy who makes me incredibly proud, but who also still leaves the stuffing from the dry cleaners on the shelf in his room like it’s some sort of souvenir. He still needs reminders that his hat and jacket don’t belong on the dining room table. He still fights with his siblings, leaves snack bags under his bed, and thinks putting laundry in the hamper is only a recommendation. 

So, as I ordered the food and sent out the invitations, I had an enormous pit in my stomach. Why were we doing this? Why were we opening ourselves up to ayin hara?

But then the day of the siyum dawned. I set the tables to the best of my ability (there would be no risk of making anyone envious, with my party-planning skills), still holding my breath, still doubting whether this festive feast was really called for.

And then the guests began to arrive. And the pit in my stomach disappeared.

I watched as Tzvi’s friends dug into their poppers and their potato kugel, boys who were lanky and peach-fuzzed, young men but still very much children, celebrating baby steps in the right direction. And I watched as Tzvi’s rebbeim, past and present, took time out of their busy schedules to come to my home and share in his milestone, making clear to all the boys what their true priorities are. And I listened as every speaker used the opportunity to build Tzvi’s belief in his abilities, to inspire Tzvi to continue to use his kochos for future siyumim.

I looked around my crowded dining room, and I kept dabbing at my eyes (with the beautiful napkins my mother chose!) as I thought to myself, “Hashem, who is like Your nation?”

This was not a party for a birthday, a newly earned college degree, or a promotion at work. And, despite my early misgivings, this was not a party that announced, “Look what I have done!” or “Look at how great I am!” Instead, it was a party that challenged everyone in the room: “Imagine how much more we all can do!”

It’s been a few months since the siyum, but I’m so grateful my mother pushed me to do it. (Yes, Ma, you’re always right!). As I prepare for Shavuos, I understand that making that siyum was akin to the simchah we feel during Zman Mattan Toraseinu because it reminds us of our purpose and our greatest source of pride. 

I hope Tzvi saw at his siyum and continues to see this Shavuos that no feat in learning is too small to celebrate, and no effort is more valuable than the sweat and tears devoted to acquiring Torah. 

May he and the rest of the boys and men of Klal Yisrael continue to savor the sweetness of Torah and make many, many more siyumim that bring kavod to the Torah and nachas to Hakadosh Baruch Hu


Other author's posts
Leave a Reply
Stay With Us