It’s a Date! And an Eerily Fitting One at That!

After a few weeks of back-and-forth, we have a date for the mikvah, the ritual immersion that is the last step in the conversion process.

October 23, 2009, or the fifth of Cheshvan 5770.

I asked for this date after a couple of other suggestions didn’t pan out, in particular a very early date in September that Brian, thank God, talked me out of. I had wanted to get a date before my fortieth birthday in mid-October, so that I could — shall we say — start my fifth decade out right, as a Jew.

When that didn’t work out, I started thinking, hmm, I wonder what the dates look like on the Hebrew calendar? So I went here, entered my date of birth, and came up with the 3rd of Cheshvan, 5730, during the week when all the world’s observant Jews were reading Parashat Noach, the story of the Flood in Genesis.

This year, we arrive at Parashat Noach on the evening of the 5th of Cheshvan, October 23rd. So on the Hebrew calendar, the 23rd is actually closer to my birthday, and to the Torah portion people were reading forty years ago, than my actual secular birthday.

A tingly coincidence? Turns out I had no idea.

Parashat Noach also contains the Tower of Babel incident. I swear I didn’t remember that when I aimed for the 23rd of October.

1. Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words. א. וַיְהִי כָל הָאָרֶץ שָׂפָה אֶחָת וּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים:
2. And it came to pass when they traveled from the east, that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. ב. וַיְהִי בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם:
3. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly”; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar. ג. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן וְהַחֵמָר הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר:
4. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth.” ד. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן נָפוּץ עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ:
5. And the Lord descended to see the city and the tower that the sons of man had built. ה. וַיֵּרֶד יְ־הֹוָ־ה לִרְאֹת אֶת הָעִיר וְאֶת הַמִּגְדָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם:
6. And the Lord said, “Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do? ו. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם וְזֶה הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת וְעַתָּה לֹא יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת:
7. Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion.” ז. הָבָה נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ:
8. And the Lord scattered them from there upon the face of the entire earth, and they ceased building the city. ח. וַיָּפֶץ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ וַיַּחְדְּלוּ לִבְנֹת הָעִיר:
9. Therefore, He named it Babel, for there the Lord confused the language of the entire earth, and from there the Lord scattered them upon the face of the entire earth. ט. עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ בָּבֶל כִּי שָׁם בָּלַל יְ־הֹוָ־ה שְׂפַת כָּל הָאָרֶץ וּמִשָּׁם הֱפִיצָם יְ־הֹוָ־ה עַל פְּנֵי כָּל הָאָרֶץ:

Languages have been a constant thread in my life since I was three months old.

My father, a Navy man, got stationed in the Azores, a Portugese island chain off in the chilly, damp North Atlantic. It was an is a place of grinding poverty where an enlisted man with a wife and four live-in children could afford to hire a maid, Lucia.

Lucia adored me, I am told, and spoke only Portugese with me until I was about two years old. I was her her ‘little monkey,’ macacinho.

I have every reason to believe Lucia sensitized me to language for the rest of my life. I’ve always been quick to pick up words, expressions, pronunciations. At different points in my life, I’ve been able to have conversations with people in Japanese, Czech, German, Dutch, and French. I can sorta read Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, Swedish. I know words and dumb expressions in a dozen or so others.

So what are the odds that a kid with languages on the brain, born when all the world’s observant Jews are reading the Tower of Babel story, would grow up to become a Jew on the day that everyone opens up to that same portion?

Oh, and just a few days after his fortieth year. Get it? Forty?

But wait! There’s more!

Part of becoming a Jew is choosing a Hebrew name, one that will be used for ceremonial purposes such as being called on to read from the Torah scroll. I chose the name Shimeon long ago, because its root — שְׁמע, shin-mem-ayin, with meanings including call, listen, hear, name — is the same as sh’ma, the call in the central prayer of Jewish faith: Hear, Israel! Our God Is One!

And as it turns out, the same root, along with a couple of different plays on it, is at the center of the Babel story. When God decides to ‘confuse’ the language of the tower-builders, the actual text that explains God’s goal is is asher lo yish’m’a — that they will not hear.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a few thousand years of commentary to catch up on.

This is indeed a joyous, joyous thing even without all the spooky coincidences. Baruch haShem! And blessings upon the kind, loving people who have made it happen.

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One Response to It’s a Date! And an Eerily Fitting One at That!

  1. Mike Wallerstein says:

    Mazel Tov on picking such a meaningful date. As it turns out, you’ll be celebrating your mikvah on the day of Jeffrey’s 40th b-day. Here’s wishing you blessings on that day and every day that follows.

    L’chaim!
    –Mikey

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