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Hey, Do You Want To Put On Tefillin?

hgftdg.jpgI take particular pride in doing a mitzvah in public. When we show pride in our heritage, our faith, and our background, others respect us. When people see that we respect ourselves and are not afraid to display our Judaism, we earn their admiration. 

This week, I had the opportunity to do just that.

For six years I’ve been stopping by Yankel’s* office to offer him the opportunity to put on tefillin, and every time he refuses. “I’m not ready,” he says. Or “This isn’t for me; I don’t believe in it.”

On Rosh Hashanah, I blow the shofar in his office so he can hear it. He is happy to shake the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, because it takes about 10 seconds. But tefillin, I haven’t been able to get him to commit to.

Until last week. 

I was driving around, looking for parking, when I spotted Yankel walking down the street.

I pulled down my window and shouted across the street, “Yankel! How are you?”

He was on the phone, but so excited (or alarmed!) to see me, that he called back, “Hey, Rabbi!”

“Want to put on tefillin now?” I asked.

“Yes, sure!”

Not wanting to lose the moment, I jumped out of my car and whipped out my tefillin. Dozens of onlookers watched as I helped Yankel put on the tefillin and say the shema.

And I wondered, “Why did you agree today? In public? In the middle of the street? In your office, you always refuse! 

“Because you’re crazy, Rabbi! Screaming at me from across the street while I’m on the phone—I just love this about you!”

Our sages teach, “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” In order to reach another person, you have to approach them with genuine love and concern. In fact, the Torah gives us the mitzvah to rebuke one’s fellow Jew, but precedes it with the verse, “love your fellow Jew,” to indicate that only when there’s love, can the rebuke be effective. 

It would seem that until now, when I asked Yankel to put on tefillin, I didn’t mean it enough. This time, I did.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

I Got an Entire Manhattan Apartment Building!

Blog.jpegJust before Passover, I approached the doorman of my building.

 “Peter, I need to rent this entire building from you for the year.”

 “Sure, how much are you going to pay?” he asked.

 I pulled out four quarters from my pocket and handed them to him. Without blinking an eye, Peter told me, “From now on, Rabbi, anyone who wants to rent an apartment here has to go through you. You are the boss!”

 I shook his hand, satisfied that I had landed my best ever real estate deal.

 What was this really all about? Jewish law mandates that in order to be able to carry anything from inside my apartment (private domain) out to the hallway (public domain), I need to perform an “eruv chatserot” which involves making sure one person owns the rights to all the hallways. The rules date back to the time of King Solomon, and are quite complex, so it’s important to consult with a rabbinic authority first.

I was unsure how I could convey this to the doorman. How could I explain to him that I need to buy the rights to the building for one dollar? It’s certainly not a normal thing to do.

So I was pleasantly surprised when he asked no questions, expressed no concerns, and easily agreed to my bizarre request. 

And then it struck me. This is hardly the first odd thing Peter has seen me do! In fact, he sees more of my life and habits than most people.

Normal people get up early to exercise or walk the dog and then go to work; I get up and head out to pray. Normal people keep the hallways relatively quiet; I blow shofar in the hallways for people throughout Elul and Rosh Hashanah. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Peter sees all this and more. He sees me don my white coat and crocs on Yom Kippur, and he sees me traipsing out to the Sukkah anytime I need a drink of water, day or night. He sees me handing out thousands of doughnuts and menorahs on Chanukah, and  delivering boxes of matzah before Pesach. On Purim he seems me dressed up and walking around with a bottle of whisky, and on the night of Selichot he sees me leave fully dressed at 1am and return home at 5am.

After all this, does it really seem out of character for me to ask for the rights to the building’s hallways? Apparently Peter doesn’t think so! What’s normal after all?

As Jews, nothing about our lives is normal. We are surrounded by enemies who want to destroy us. Our survival through thousands of years of upheaval and persecution is nothing short of miraculous. Certainly, it is not “normal.”

In fact, every mitzvah we do is abnormal. It is normal to be selfish; it is not normal to be kind— it goes against our very nature. It is not normal to light Shabbat candles or put on tefillin or give charity. And in 2018 it is certainly not normal to turn our electronic devices off for Shabbat and holidays!

But that’s who we are and what we do.

So go ahead, do something abnormal today.

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