I wouldn't call it your typical Bar Mitzvah. There was no reading from the Torah by the bar mitzvah boy, no Haftorah. Yet it was special, holy, and so extraordinary. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, awesome and awe-inspiring. It was Chaim's Bar Mitzvah.

Chaim was born 13 years ago, a healthy child to healthy parents. A precocious redhead, he was a bundle of energy from the day he was born. Then one day, out of the blue, at the age of one and a half years, Chaim contracted a "virus." (Funny, how when they don't know what it is, they call it a "virus.") Chaim started shaking uncontrollably. Batteries of tests followed, cortisone injections, visits from specialist to specialist; still things went from bad to worse. "It will go away with time," said one expert. "The same way it came, the same way will it go," said another. "Be patient," said a third.

That was more than a decade ago. Chaim is still plagued by "the virus." He is still shaky, spilling things a dozen times a day. Mealtimes are mini-nightmares. His condition is a constant weight on the shoulders of his loving, dedicated parents; a daily and nightly burden on his siblings at home. All of them have learned to be masters of patience. Their tolerance levels are remarkable. Somehow, they are able to accept Chaim's difficult behavior.

Chaim goes to a special school. In the summer, he attends a remarkable overnight camp where children with disabilities are taken care of and given a vacation by a group of angels in human form who give up their own summer holidays to be counselors at the now-famous Camp HASC.

The easiest thing for Chaim's parents to do would have been to hold a small, quiet Bar Mitzvah party for their son. A low-profile kiddush at the synagogue would have been ample, a little private party for close family and friends quite acceptable under the circumstances. But Chaim's parents are made of different stuff. They took the bold decision to give Chaim the same experience they gave their two older sons for their Bar Mitzvah celebrations — a hall, a catered affair, a band, the works.

The wider family wasn't sure it was the right decision. Some were apprehensive. Would Chaim be able to cope with the stress levels of being on center stage? How would he perform? Would he behave? But the decision was made and they stuck with it.

As the day approached, the tension was tangible. Chaim's brother came in to New York from Montreal where he was studying in yeshivah. Family arrived from out of town, an uncle — and even one amazing friend — came in from abroad. Nobody knew what to expect, but they felt they just had to be there.

The Shabbat meals were hosted at home. Chaim's mother catered lavishly. Guests spoke words of Torah at the table. Words of wisdom and many beautiful blessings filled the air. Chaim wore a new black hat which he seemed to be quite proud of. On Shabbat morning in Shul, Chaim was called to the Torah. With his father standing by his side, he recited the blessings on the Torah relatively clearly and articulately. The atmosphere at lunch was much happier. One hurdle passed.

The camp counselors who came to the neighborhood to spend Shabbat with the family took turns speaking at lunch. Each one told how it was a privilege for them to be part of these children's lives and how their own lives had been enriched from the experience. They thanked Chaim and his friends for teaching them not to take life for granted, to appreciate the blessings most of us assume are our birthright.

I felt humbled; so small, so ordinary. Here was true greatness. These were real-life heroes, regular guys who stood above the crowd. And it was all done without any trace of self-consciousness. They made it all seem perfectly natural.

Then came Sunday evening and the big party. Hundreds of guests attended. To see Chaim's face shine every time one of his classmates arrived, present in tow, was a study in joy. Then the first dance. Chaim and his friends danced the hora together. Chaim was hoisted on to his counselor's shoulders. Chaim and his friends, all riding on their counselors' shoulders, screaming with joyous delight, faces radiant. Was this the happiest day of his life? I think so.

Have you ever danced and cried at the same time? Dancing and crying, singing and weeping, a kaleidoscope of emotions whirring around my heart, confusing my brain. My handkerchief was wet, saturated with tears of joy, tears of sadness.

The lead singer sang a song from Psalms, Hazorim b'dimah b'rinah yiktzoru — "They who sow in tears, with joy they shall reap" — and I was reminded of the chassidic interpretation that "They who sow in tears with joy, they shall reap." When Chaim delivered a short Torah speech, part of the traditional maamar said at Chabad Bar Mitzvahs, I felt a tangible fulfillment of that verse. His parents must have worked very hard to help him achieve that momentous milestone.

I was called upon to speak. After all the wrenching emotions of the evening, the words from the second Psalm came to mind — v'gilu b're'adah, "rejoice in trembling." I just couldn't deliver a prepared speech. I put aside my notes and recalled a visit to the USA some years back by a group of Israeli soldiers. These young men had been wounded in Israel's wars. Some were paraplegic, others maimed, each one a holy soul in a broken body. They had elected to give up a night on Broadway to visit with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The large synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway was cleared, ramps for wheelchairs installed and the Rebbe came down to speak to these soldiers, each of whom had given so much for their people.

The focus of the talk was how when a person is, G‑d forbid, deficient in one faculty, he is compensated in another. Sightless people have exceptionally good hearing, etc. When individuals are physically challenged, said the Rebbe, G‑d gives them extra strength in the spiritual realm. You should not be called "disabled," the Rebbe said to them, but metzuyanim, "Those who excel."

Chaim is a metzuyan, I said. Tonight we have witnessed excellence. He may not be able to perform the same as you and I; he may not possess the skills you and I routinely take for granted. But Chaim excels at many things, including making the rest of us more aware, more sensitive and much more humble.

As the rabbi of a large congregation, I'm called upon to speak quite often. Over the years there have been some very difficult speeches to make. But none were for me as difficult as my speech at Chaim's bar mitzvah. You see, Chaim is my brother's son.