April 12, 2024
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April 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Say No to the Status Quo

Levi came from a very proud family. The Goodmans lived in a community of North Juniper for over 200 years, and Levi’s parents each came from five generations of doctors. Both of Levi’s parents were doctors, as were three of his four grandparents. Coming from such an important family had its benefits, of course. Levi often received free “extras” when ordering from his favorite restaurants, and his parents often received gifts from grateful patients. Many of these gifts made their way to Levi or one of his siblings. The Goodman children always had what they needed (and more). Growing up Goodman was pretty good, man. (Sorry for that.)

Yes, Levi had a wonderful childhood. But at only 12 years old, one concern sat in the back of Levi’s mind—the pressure to become a doctor. Levi definitely understood why being a doctor would be a noble choice of profession. He even found himself dreaming about it once in a while. In addition, both of Levi’s siblings, whom he admired, seemed on the path to doctor-hood. However, Levi just couldn’t imagine being a doctor one day; it just didn’t appeal to him. He had so many other talents. Levi particularly enjoyed sketching buildings and designing spaces. Maybe he could be an architect or something.

Levi’s parents tried not to get too aggressive about the doctor thing. They spoke in advice and suggestions instead of asking or telling. “The medical profession has always been very good to our family,” Levi’s mother reminded him. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” added his father. This keep-doing-what-works attitude wasn’t limited to choosing a career—it spilled over to other matters as well.

“But I don’t want to lain the whole parsha!” argued Levi for what felt like the hundredth time. “There are so many other things I want to do in honor of my Bar Mitzvah! I can lain a few aliyahs and maybe the Haftarah, but I’d really prefer not to do the whole thing. Parshat Noach is HUGE!” Despite Levi’s best efforts, his parents set him up with bar mitzvah lessons (“the same teacher who taught your father and uncles!”) with the plan to cover the entire thing. Levi was not happy, but he figured he’d make the best of it. He knew there was no more convincing his parents to do something different than what “the Goodman men have done for centuries,” or something like that.

Fortunately for Levi, he had his own bar mitzvah parsha on his side, he just didn’t know it yet. After a month of practicing his parsha, Levi’s parents scheduled him to learn with the shul rabbi each week. They would read through the parsha and discuss it, and Levi hoped this learning would help him come up with ideas for his speech. (“Your father, his father, and his father each wrote their own speeches!”)

The time for the first lesson arrived and Levi walked over to the shul, carrying a Chumash. He was looking forward to learning because the new rabbi seemed like a really interesting man and fortunately was not the same rabbi with whom Levi’s father and grandfather learned. Somewhat surprisingly, Rabbi Tepper asked Levi to open to the end of Bereishit. “Why do you think,” asked the rabbi, “we have this giant list of names of fathers and sons?” Levi paused, feeling like there was more coming. He was right. “Also, how does Noach break up the pattern?” Levi knew the answer to this one. “Noach has three children named in the pasuk, not just one.” Rabbi Tepper smiled. “Excellent.” Then he paused, giving Levi a chance to think.

After 10 seconds or so, Levi looked up with a smirk on his face. “The Torah makes it seem like their lives were so boring. A guy lives a few years, has a son, lives a bit longer and then dies. Over and over, the same thing.” Rabbi Tepper nodded. “True. So then what might that tell you about Noach?” Now Levi spoke in a confident tone. “Maybe Noach was out of the box. He wasn’t interested in just doing the same thing as everyone else.” “Now that’s a thought!” exclaimed the young rabbi, who then added “and maybe Noach having three sons represents variety. It’s good to have different ways of doing things. Not everyone is the same, you know.”

That evening, Levi told his parents what he had discussed with Rabbi Tepper. They listened carefully and eventually agreed to speak with the rabbi to get his advice. A year later, Levi read two aliyot of Parshat Noach, along with the Haftarah. He also served as chazan for Mussaf, made a siyum to celebrate completing Nach, and started a program to make sure senior citizens in the neighborhood had visitors on Shabbat. Twelve years after that, Levi became a licensed architect, with a specialty in designing doctor’s offices. For the Goodmans, that was close enough.


Yair Daar is the director of Student Life at Bicultural Hebrew Academy High School. He can be reached at [email protected]

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