Pidyon HaBen Remarks from Estee & Willie Balk

PH.jpg

Estee’s speech appears first. Willie’s appears second. Mazel tov!

Thank you all for coming to share in our simcha. We feel blessed to be able to have so many people in our corner to experience this high point in our lives together. It’s unbelievable how our lives have changed in one moment, and we’ve been on a high ever since.

We specifically would like to thank our parents being there for us in so many ways in reaching this moment.

When deciding what to name our son, we knew that we wanted to name him with some combination of the names Yaakov and Yehoshua after Willie’s beloved great-grandfathers. These names were meaningful to me because of who these characters represent in Tanach.

Yaakov Avinu stands for Emes, truth. He lived a life of hardship after hardship. Running away from home, tricked into marrying Leah and being led to believe for years that his most beloved son was dead. His relationship with Esav was tumultuous before they even left the womb, a relationship that thankfully, my twin brother and I do not have. What makes Yaakov so great? That he struggled? Yaakov’s greatness is reflected in how he lived with all the struggle, all the pain and uncertainty in how his life would evolve. Yaakov Avinu’s entire being still represents Emes, truth. With all his trials and tribulations, he was able to stay connected and epitomize what it means to be an Eved Hashem.

Yehoshua is among a few people in Tanach that had a name change. Moshe Rabeinu changed it from Hosheia to Yehoshua by adding a Yud at the beginning. What is significant about the letter Yud? The gemara shares that the first two letters in Yehoshua’s name now starts with the name of Hashem. Moshe wanted to give Yehoshua extra protection in order to stand up to the 10 Meraglim that were going to speak badly of Eretz Yisroel. We see Yehoshua develop into the leader that Moshe knew he could be. Yehoshua and Calev were able to remain true to themselves as they tried their hardest to save their colleagues from giving a false report. He was not afraid to stand up for the right thing, even when the right thing is not the popular thing to do. Additionally the Da’at Zekeinim adds that the Yud represents 10 shares of land that Yehoshua would inherit. Moshe indicates that Yehoshua would inherit the 10 shares that would have been the shares of the other ten spies, had they not slandered the land of Israel.

Menashe, Yaakov’s grandson, grew up far away from his grandfather’s home. Yet, even in Galus Mitzrayim, he was still on such a high level that he was considered like one of Yaakov’s sons. He even earns a shevet in his name. One famous story about Menashe is when he received the bracha from Yaakov who was on his deathbed. He puts his left hand on Menashe’s head and right hand on Efraim’s head, which confused Yosef. As Yosef’s bechor, Menashe deserved to have the right hand on his head while receiving a bracha from his grandfather. Nevertheless, Menashe doesn’t say a word. It is Yosef that is astounded by his father’s choice in switching his hands and putting the right hand on Yosef’s younger son Efraim. Commentaries explain that Yaakov did this because he saw that Efraim’s descendants would grow to become greater than Menashe’s and therefore Efraim earned, so to speak, to have Yaakov’s right hand. Menashe’s silence on this matter speaks volumes. Menashe doesn’t argue, doesn’t speak up respectfully, he doesn’t feel the need to change his grandfather’s mind because he gets it. Menashe understands that Efraim will become greater than him and he’s ok with that. Menashe knows who he is and just because his younger brother will be great does not mean he won’t be as well. In fact, this is the first time that we see in Tanach, that brothers can get along.

When Willie and I were considering different names to reflect our journey, we liked a few options but nothing stood out. Then the name Menashe came up and we both loved the name for various reasons. Willie already mentioned at the bris “ki nashani elokim es kol amali” How Yosef thanks Hashem for helping him forget the struggle he endured in his father’s house and blesses him with a son. Additionally, the letters of the name Menashe can be rearranged and spell Meshaneh, change. This journey truly changed us and it is our bracha that Yaakov Yehoshua Menashe should continue to change our lives for the better.

Words cannot express our gratitude to Hashem. The Pasuk in Shir Hama’alos says  “Ha’zorim b’dima, be’rina yikzoru” “Those who plant with tears, will later reap with joy”. While tears are flowing, it’s almost impossible to imagine or even picture the simcha that will hopefully, eventually come to fruition. We’re are so happy to be here today reaping with joy as we get ready to redeem our son tonight.

I’d like to end with one last message. Years ago when I was learning in seminary we had a weekly class with Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller and it must have been before Pesach when we had a discussion about galus mitzrayim. I remember asking her a question I had for a while. I noticed that Galus and Geulah have the same root word, Gal and I couldn’t figure out why. How could such opposites be linked together? Rebbetzin Heller shared a very powerful message. Gal in hebrew is a wave. She said that in Galus we feel waves and waves of suffering. Just when we think we’ve hit rock bottom so to speak, it gets worse. And it will be the same when the Geula comes. We will Be’ezrat Hashem experience waves and waves of goodness and just when we think life can’t get any better, Hashem will bestow even more bracha upon us. I’ve shared this idea many times since hearing this years ago however over the last month we’ve experiences more waves of goodness than we could have imagined.  

Willie, over the last couple years we’ve always said “If we could get through this, then we can get through anything”. There are no words that can thank you enough for always being there. I may have been the one to physically go to all appointments and take medication, but it was only doable because you’re there. This last month has been truly amazing, even with the lack of sleep. I can’t wait to experience more and more moments like these together.  Yaakov Yehoshua Menashe doesn’t know yet how lucky he is to have you as a role model in all areas of life, a sports fan, and of course as a father.


It’s bashert that we’re here tonight to celebrate the pidyon haben of our bechor. One week from right now, we’ll be gathering in our homes for bedikas chametz in preparation for Pesach. My Rebbe Rav Elchanan Ehrman reminded me that the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned in bentching where it says “ufdisanu mibeis avadim,” that Hashem redeemed us from the house of slavery. The word, ufidisanu comes from the word Podeh, to redeem, which is exactly what we’re doing here tonight.

When Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt and subsequently takes them as His nation, the pasuk in Devarim states vayotzi eschem mikur habarzel, I took you out of the iron crucible for Me as a nation. The Midrash says that when klal Yisrael were in Mitzraim, they were connected like iron to the Egyptian people and their way of life. What does that mean? In order to make iron, you take a bunch of different substances and melt them together at very high heat. The naked eye cannot determine the different components when glancing at it, and that’s how Bnai Yisrael were in Egypt. Other than the fact that the Jewish people were slaves, there was not much differentiation between them and a random Mitzri. There was no milah, they were ovdei avodah zarah, nothing uniquely connecting them to the Creator other than the fact that they were themselves Jewish. Nevertheless, Hashem chose them as His nation, and He redeemed them. If we were called in for an interview with the Almighty and He told us that we were the Am HaNivchar based upon our experience in Egypt, we would be so perplexed. Don’t you see us? Don’t You see how we’re living, what we’re doing? What we’re not doing? We have nothing, and You know that more than we do! THIS is what you want? Absolutely. He chose us, and we remain His people.

I heard a shiur from Rav Avraham Tzvi Kluger on this topic this past week, and it immediately reminded me of the mitzvah that we’re about to perform. Baruch Hashem, Estee and I were blessed with a son. Those of you in the room who have yet to be blessed with children may not be privy to just how much a parent gives to their child. You will no longer sleep through the night because you will need to feed, clothe, or bathe your child. Even during the day, time when you would be awake anyway, the child still requires tremendous care. Not to mention how expensive it can be to raise a child. The doctor visits, daycare, later tuition. Your newborn will deplete you of your time, sleep, money, your kochos, just about every resource you can imagine. For Estee and I and many, many other couples, as you know, the road is even longer. The pain of tzar gidel banim pales in comparison to the tzar of wanting to gidel banim. Now I ask you, THIS is what you want?! The answer, is a resounding yes.

Just 49 days after Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt, despite their level of tum’ah, as we know, they merited ascend to such spiritual heights that received the Torah, to stand at the foot of Har Sinai and witness the most awesome of sights. We know that right now, our little Yaakov is small and requires much more meticulous care like any other small child, but we as we say at the Bris Milah, zeh hakatan vegadol yihiyeh, that this diminuitive child will one day grow and flourish into a wonderful source of yiddishe nachas for his family and his community. Yaakov, we love you so much, and we are so grateful to Hashem that you’ve entered our lives.