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The Bar Mitzvah of Rav Lau

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Several days ago Rav Yisrael Meir Lau held a ZOOM session with students of the ORT Maalot yeshiva in the upper Galilee. He was asked to deliver a message to students who will be forced to give up their Bar Mitzvah celebrations due to the coronavirus restrictions. Rav Lau, who was orphaned during the Holocaust and was raised in Israel by his uncle, told the following story:

"For several months I had been studying the Shelach Torah portion in preparation for my Bar Mitzvah. In the synagogue in Kiryat Motzkin there was a Jew who read the Torah every Shabbat, Reb Moishe. The gabai (synagogue manager) forgot to tell him that on this Shabbat the boy Yisrael Lau would be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. And so as I went up and stood on one side of the bimah (platform where Torah scroll is read), he went up and stood on the other. The gabai said to him: 'Moishe, today you are not reading, the Bar Mitzvah boy is reading.' And when Reb Moishe said: 'But no one told me,' the Gabai answered: 'So now we are telling you.' In response Reb Moishe said: 'For many years I have volunteered to read the Torah every Shabbat, and especially now when the synagogue is overflowing with guests from all over the country who came for the honor of an orphaned Bar Mitzvah boy, a Holocaust survivor, you tell me to leave the bimah?' He was practically in tears. I was already standing there wearing my tallit, but I saw that he had become so emotional that I went over to his side of the bimah and said: 'Reb Moishe, I am still young, I hope that I will have many more opportunities in life to read the Torah. I do not want to take away your privilege.' I left the bimah and Reb Moishe read my Bar Mitzvah Torah portion."

Since then Rav Lau has indeed received numerous opportunities to read the Torah, to speak, and to appear in public. He finished his message to the students as follows: "I think this was the first mitzvah that I observed -- the mitzvah of giving up something. I saw a Jew in anguish, a Jew whose entire honor and pleasure in this world depended on reading the Torah in an overflowing synagogue. We never lose when we give up something."

Mazal tov.


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