Shaarei Shamayim

A Place of Comfort, Companionship and Healing



My Birthday Shabbat

Welcome, and thank you for coming to help me celebrate my birthday today. A special thank you for all those who participated in sponsoring today’s special Kiddush. If yo didn’t get a chance to participate you can send it in after Shabbat.

Why celebrate a birthday? The Lubavitcher Rebbe, a”h, was once asked if it is permitted for Jews to celebrate a birthday—a secular celebration. His response was absolutely exquisite: “Of course one should celebrate a birthday because [and listen carefully to these words] your birthday is the day when Gd decided that the world cannot live without you.” [Repeat] I just pray that I may be worthy of that.

All of us, as we get older, get hit with one ailment after another. I consider myself to be in fairly good shape, but every year my list of doctors gets longer. I have a special doctor for my eyes that I went to see last Monday. The Thursday before I visited another doctor for oral surgery on my teeth. Then there’s a doctor for my shoulders, my voice, my back and a special doctor for my prostate…“Oh,” you say, “TMI—too much information?” Ok, but that’s all in addition to my regular doctor! But there is one perk to having so many doctors—I get lots of opportunities these days to read People Magazine!

I wanted to wear my best suit this morning which I bought at a special 50% sale at Joseph A. Bank. It’s not from Saks or Nordstrom. I can’t afford to shop in those stores—not with the salary you pay me. However, I can’t tell the difference between this suit and theirs—can you? Anyway, at my age, when it comes to clothing, all I have to remember are 3 rules:

  1. Wear the right colors: No wearing black after Memorial Day, no wearing white after Labor Day, and no turning red when you see the bill. 
  2. You’re hip if your clothes are referred to as unstructured and baggy. You’re not hip if your body is described this way!
  3. For Gd sakes, dress appropriately for your age. Don’t do punk, grunge or hip hop if you’re also doing Depends!

Shakespeare was said to have remarked: “Clothes make the man.” The truth is Shakespeare never said this! What Polonius in Hamlet said was: “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” It was Mark Twain who actually said, “Clothes make the man.” He went on to add: “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” It’s hard to argue with that logic, especially since recently clothes have been the object of discussion in nationwide events. 

Roger Stone, President Trump’s old buddy who is now in legal trouble, in his book, Stone’s Rules: How to Win at Politics, Business and Style, 54 of his rules have to do with clothing! It’s well known that when Stone appears in public wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or a 3-piece, double breasted blue navy suit, each was chosen to give off its own message. 

Last month there was a great to-do about a group of students in Washington DC wearing MAGA hats—pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hats. Almost everyone assumed that the main student in the video, Nick Sandmann, was harassing Native American Nathan Phillips. Almost all the news programs and social media immediately condemned him. But the video viewed in its entirety shows the opposite. Then a discussion started whether high school students should be wearing a hat that gives off such a message. They most certainly should, according to Kanye West! When Kanye met with Trump in the Oval Office, he thanked the President for his MAGA hat, and said that wearing it, “made me feel like Superman.” Now, who am I to argue with a great intellect like Kanye West? So clothes do make the man!

This morning’s Torah portion describes in detail the special clothes priests wore in the Temple. There were 4 garments: linen trousers, a tunic, a belt and a turban. The High Priest wore additional garments: the ephod (the breastplate), the robe and its bells, and the tzitz—the band on his forehead that proclaimed the words, Kadosh laHashem (Holy to Gd). Wearing these garments made the priests more aware of their special role. It told people the priests were holy and unique and it made the Priests feel that way as well! 

It’s true that wearing a MAGA hat says something about you—just like wearing a black hat and a black suit with tzitzit hanging out also says something about you and what you believe. Even the kind of yarmulke you wear or lack of says something about you. In the ultra-Orthodox community, the yarmulke will generally be large and made of black velvet. The smaller, knitted—often colorful—kipa is connected with Modern Orthodox Jews. 

And for a woman a sheitel (wig) or hat and a long dress indicate one is part of the ultra-Orthodox community…while a dress above the knee or pants indicates a more modern approach. Speaking of women’s clothes, I recently read with sadness that Victoria’s Secret is facing a financial crunch. I feel bad because Victoria’s Secret is one of the clothing chains owned by Leslie Wexner—one of the wealthiest Americans and major Jewish philanthropists. He has supported countless Jewish schools and institutions in America and Israel. He’s used his money for us…so why don’t we do the same for him? I appeal to you on my birthday, go to Victoria’s Secret and get a little something for yourself or your beloved. And if clothes make the man, I’m sure Victoria’s Secret clothes—in their own special way—will make the woman...And when the salesperson asks you why you did it, just tell her: “My Rabbi made me do it!” 

So clothes do make the person and that’s why I’m wearing my best suit and since it’s my birthday let me we wear—not a MAGA cap—but a birthday hat! [Put on a cone birthday hat.] Looking at me now with my birthday hat you can see that age is just a number. I think it was the old pitcher Satchel Paige who said that when it comes to age, the real question is: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” My birth certificate and my license may say one thing, but my head and my heart and even my body don’t believe it for one minute! If you ask me how old I would be if I didn’t know how old I was, I would tell you 40, 45…tops! I know that’s a bit of a problem when I have 10 grandchildren, but I feel that there is so much I’m still able to do, that I still want to do, and that I still have to do!

And of course, that means different things for different people. George Bush senior passed away a couple of months ago. When he turned 85, do you know what he did? He went skydiving! Dr. Michael DeBakey—the pioneering heart surgeon—on his 90th birthday performed a quadruple bypass standing for more than 3 hours. That was remarkable. But let me tell you something: I’m not sure I would want him operating on me!

My friends, I’ve been blessed—truly blessed. I have an amazing wife, a marvelous family and a wonderful congregation. I thank Gd for that and for so much more. Too many times in the past I’ve passed up opportunities to be with my family because of my rabbinic calling. That won’t happen anymore. I no longer confuse my career with my life. I just love it when my family gets together with me and Cheryl under one roof.

My advice to you today on my birthday besides visiting Victoria’s Secret: Tell everyone in your family regularly how much you love and appreciate them. I’ve come to understand that when my time comes what will matter are not my memories, but how I will be remembered. To my family and to you, my beloved congregation—my extended family—I say words that I’ve told you to say many times: I love you and I need you. I’m going forward with you to build this magnificent congregation and I never want to retire.

Every few months we hear of the running of a marathon with several runners over the age of 80. Don’t get me wrong. I like Bruce Springsteen but I was not “Born to Run!” Still there’s a lot of life in me, a lot of laughter in me, a lot of love in me. I’m not going anywhere! So stick with me. As the John Lennon put it, “Grow old along with me…the best is yet to be!” Amen!

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