Below are the remarks from Yair’s bris. We are so thankful that so many people we love were able to celebrate with us, both in-person and virtually. (Here is the video of the ceremony).
Hodu L’Adonai Ki Tov Ki LeOlam Chasdo. Thank you all for joining with us today to celebrate the bris milah of our beautiful son, Yair Shlomo Elimelech Balk. There are so many that need to be thanked. First, we thank Hashem for continuing to bless us, and for enabling us to reach this very moment. We are so grateful to have found gifted emissaries of the Almighty through Dr. Eli Rybak as well as the rest of the medical staff at RMA of New Jersey. We are likewise grateful to our friends at Bonei Olam, ATIME, and Yesh Tikva. Without these individuals and the individuals behind the scenes of the organizations, we would not be here today. On a similar note, it is hard to accurately and adequately thank our parents for all that they have done and continue to do for us on a daily basis. We so fervently hope to provide the type of support for Yaakov and Yair that you do for us every single day. May God grant you the koach to continue in good health for many years to come. Last, but certainly not least, I must thank Estee. Fifteen months ago, I mentioned my thanks to Estee at the end of my remarks, and although she’d prefer to not be mentioned at all, that simply will not happen and I’d like to mention them right at the outset. Estee is the single most positive driving force in my life, and I am so thankful that she is my wife. She is an incredible mother to Yaakov, and Yair is already receiving her benfits, and she insisted that even while pregnant she not slow down. Thank you for everything, and I am so excited for what the future holds for us, even through the ups and downs, I know we will weather all storms together.
Shlomo Elimelech ben Yehuda Menachem, Reb Milech Gross, was Estee’s great-grandfather. He was born in 1877 and lived a beautiful and full life. As the story goes, Reb Milech Gross was the richest, most successful businessman in Maden. He and his wife, Shifra, ran an iron works company, and their largest customer was the Polish army. As a mild-mannered individual, much of their success stemmed from his wife’s tenacity. He was a big-time galicianer. A third-generation Galicianer shebe-Galicianer, and came from a devoted family of chassidim of the Plantcher Rov, who was the father-in-law of the Satmar Rebbe. In early 1940, life in the shtetl ended abruptly, and the Milech, Shifra, Leizer (Estee’s grandfather) and Alter (Estee’s great-uncle) were eventually sent to Siberia where Shifra died. After years of struggle, the family eventually received visas from Milech’s older sons Avraham and Avidgor who were already living in New York. It was there that for the next twenty years, Shlomo Elimelech Gross watched his family grow and blossom. Grandchildren were born and grew up, having children of their own. Reb Milech passed away at the age of 89, just a few months after my father-in-law’s bar mitzvah. What Estee and I know about her great-grandfather comes from her father, as well as a book put together by a cousin, and we are so thankful for these two accounts which help shape the image of our towering patriarch. This past shabbos, I had the opportunity to talk with Estee’s father about many of his family members, and I tried to secretly, or maybe not so secretly, steer our conversations back to details about his grandfather. They were blessed to live in the very same building, and the three Gross men, Avrumi, Leiser, and Milech, would learn together every night. My father-in-law related that he was the only kid in yeshiva that ordered 2 Gemaras every year, one that he and his father would share and one was reserved for his grandfather. Reb Milech was constantly engrossed in learning. A cousin of Estee’s father once asked his grandfather if he ever got lonely as a widower living by himself. He responded that it’s hard to be lonely with Abaye and Rava. We mentioned his chassidishe stock; he wore a Homburg, donned a long jacket on Shabbos, and had a long, flowing white beard. Estee’s father still uses his grandfather’s gartel when he lains on the Yamim Noraim. It’s truly an honor to name our son after such a great man, a man who was so important to my father-in-law, and the broader Gross family, some of whom are here this morning. It is our hope that the sterling qualities of Yair’s great-great-grandfather will be found within him as well.
Yair in Hebrew means will give light, or illuminate. On Lag B’Omer, when Yair was born, we recall light in many different ways. Lag B’Omer commemorates the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and there is a great amount of light that radiates from him. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a talmid chacham unimaginable wisdom who spent many years of his life on the run. He authored the Zohar, which means to shine, and is referred to as the Botzina Kadisha, the holy lamp. The reason that bonfires on Lag B’Omer are as ubiquitous as hamentashen on Purim is because they are lit in his memory every year, both in Meron where he is buried, and elsewhere.
This light also manifests itself through the light of Torah. “Ki ner mitzvah vTorah or,” as Mishlei tells us, the Torah itself is light. This weaves its way to Lag B’Omer through the story of Rabbi Akiva and his students. During the first three and a half weeks of the omer, Rabbi Akiva lost 24,000 students to a plague, and the carnage ceased on Lag B’Omer. They died, as the Gemara explains in Yevamos, because they did not accord one another the proper due respect. These were not students of a flawed teacher, but those of Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest rabbinic leaders in the history of our people. After such a devastating blow, it would’ve been understandable if the great sage wanted nothing more to do with spreading Torah. Losing one student would be painful, but to lose thousands upon thousands of disciples? How does that teacher, the one whose motto was Veahavta Lereyecha Kamocha, to love one’s neighbor as you love yourself, move on? But move on he did. Rabbi Akiva began anew with 5 pupils and these were the students who spread Torah learning, and, as Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon writes, saved Torah Shebe’alpeh as a whole. It’s no coincidence that one of those 5 students was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Furthermore, you rearrange the letters of Yair, you get Iyar, the month we’re in on the Jewish calendar. The entire month falls during sefiras haomer, unlike Nissan or Sivan which also contain days of the Omer. The Month of Iyar is the bridge that connects Nissan to Sivan, Pesach to Shavuos. Although we consider this time to be one of mourning, due to the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva, Rav Rimon explains that it is the days of sefirah, the days of Iyar, that are really days of potential. Days filled with potential to grow like the Jewish people did from Pesach as they left Egypt as lowly slaves to Shavuos they merited to receive the Torah. The potential to heal as Iyar is also an acronym for “Ani Hashem Rofecha”, I am the God that heals you from all that afflicts you. Yair, you have entered the world and brought a tremendous amount of light to those around you, and we can’t wait to see how you use your potential, to channel your light, to illuminate the world.
I’d like to conclude with an idea that I shared with some of you here at the Shalom Zachar in our home last Shabbos. In Parshas Behar, the Jewish farmer, but really the Jewish people, are tasked with a tremendous lesson in emunah and bitachon in Hashem. The first six years, the land may be worked, but in the seventh year, the land must lay fallow. Lest one panic of there not being anything to eat, God informs us that the land will produce a bountiful amount in year six to last for three years, and that we’ll sow in year eight while still eating old produce. Hashem is sending a clear message to the people that they should not worry or fear, because there will be enough for them to eat. Yet, rationally, put yourself in the mind of a farmer, since I don’t think many of us here are farmers. When you have to put food on your table, make a living, and provide for your family. Rationally, there is so much planning that goes into ensuring that the crop is plentiful every year. There are so many details out of one’s control, even when their own hishtadlus is flawless. It’s really all going to be okay if I sit here and do nothing? God is telling us that when you look back at the beginning of the shemittah year, and you do not prepare or work the land, you won’t believe the place you were in then versus where you are now. Even though laying dormant is the opposite of what we’ve been doing, that sense of blessing is exactly how Estee and I feel now. Just years ago we were in the doldrums, in the darkest, worst possible place as we struggled with infertility. Yet, looking at Yaakov and Yair, we would not be able to fathom the bounty that we have been privy to. Me’afeilah le’or gadol, as the Haggadah tells us, from unending darkness to great light.
Thank you all for being here, making our simcha so special, and sharing in our light. Mazel tov.