The Mussar from a Haircut
Wecome to my first entry.
I got my pre-Pesach haircut yesterday. As a newcomer to Chicago, someone recommended a gentleman in my neighborhood, West Rogers Park. I walked in, sat down, and we started talking. He told me he gives haircuts to alot of orthodox people. In fact, he’s cut hair for 3 years olds, post-upsherin, (inlcuding kids that belong to some of my closest friends. Well, after the cut was finished, he held up the mirror, so I could take a look at the final product. “Now you look like a mentch. Of course, it’s not hard to look like a mentch, is it?” he said.

I was stunned. You know, he’s right. He’s never learned in cheder or opened a copy of Mesilas Yesharim. In fact, my new barber isn’t Jewish. This man who sees frum Jews 5 days a week for a living touched on a cornerstone of my Hashkafa. Acting like a Mentch is just as, if not more, important than looking like a Mentch. Klal Yisroel seems to have forgotten this. Just look at what happened last week in Boro Park. Or look at the person in the grocery store fighting with some for as space in line (especially before Pesach). What happened to being a Mentch Yisroel (for the Rav Hirsh fans reading this)?

My conversation at the barbershop sent me back in time almost 16 years ago. I was at YU and it was right after Lag B’Omer. Like everyone else it was time for haircut. I walked a few blocks and found a place that seemed off the beaten path. I had been sitting in the barber’s chair for about 2 minutes when in came Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz, Z”TL, the Suvalker Rav, and his shamash.
Reb Dovid, as he was known, sat next to me, and I froze. I had seen him around YU, heard about him, but never had any contact with someone of his caliber. “Nice day for a haircut”, he said. He then proceeded to ask me my name, where I was from, what brought me to YU, etc. He was interested in who I was. He didn’t mention anything about himself, except introducing himself to me as one of the teachers at YU.

Acting like a Mentch is just as, if not more, important than looking like a Mentch. My barber knew this, and Reb Dovid embodied it. What can we do to promote this lost yesod of yiddishkeit?

16 thoughts on “

  1. daaty

    Welcome aboard,
    Great start.Great story.That was Rav Lifshitz zt”l.
    I’m with you about bein adom lechavero.In fact in our chumra world that we live in-I say if you want to be machmir start with bein adom lechavero.

    Reply
  2. Neil Harris

    Thanks Daaty. The Chumra-ization of yiddishkeit is something that kind of bothers me (and most people). Espeically when people don’t really know why they do things. Probably this topic has been exhausted on much more chashuv blogs than mine. I often wonder what Reb Yisroel (Lipkin) Slanter would have said or written if he was alive today?

    Reply
  3. Ari Waxman

    “What can we do?” I think that you have taken the first necessary step – raising awareness and sensitivity to this crucial issue. Unfortunately the fifth chelek of Shulchan Aruch is becoming the lost chelek. I’m not sure, but it seems to me that through the family unit and role modeling this chelek was transmitted inherently in the past, and right now it may be time to advance straight forward chinuch in this area. To illustrate my point I will mention that in the yeshiva that I am privileged to work in, Yeshivat Sha’alvim, we ran a three day seminar at the beginning of Nissan which helped the talmidim improve their human relations skills. A workshop like this may have been superfluous in the past but today it seems essential.

    Thank you for sharing this story which beautifully captures my grandfather’s attitude towards other people, testimony to his greatness in all five chalakim of Shulchan Aruch.

    Reply
  4. Neil Harris

    Thanks Ari. Maybe the program at Sha’alvim could be adapted in various day schools and Yeshiva High Schools in the US. The fifth chelek of Shulchan Aruch is becoming a memory. Rabbi Yom Tov Schwartz has written a delicious book about this whole problem, “EYES TO SEE”. It’s a translation of the hard to find “EINYIM LE’EROS”. The english version is available at most better seforim stores, or on the web at: http://www.urimpublications.com, amazon.com, or even walmart.com. If you have an open mind it’s a powerful mussar read and wake up call for a yiddishkeit that seem to always be in the media spotlight.
    How did you stumble across the blog, it’s only a few days old?

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    BTW I happen to have a barber with a sense of humor – when he is done shaping my payos and chasing the few stragglers off the top of my head, he dusts me off proudly and says “kazeh r’ay v’kadesh”

    Reply
  6. Neil Harris

    Anonymous said…
    are you the NH who was my dorm counselor in MTA?

    Sorry Anonymous. I’m 35 and only lived in Morg and Rubin. There is another Neil Harris who was the former head of financial aid. I think he was also big in Hatzalah on the West Side. It’s too bad there isn’t a blog site with stories of former Yeshiva High School dorm counselors, though. It would probably be good reading. Thanks for taking time to check out my blog.

    Reply
  7. Rafi G

    great story, and great point the barber made.. I always used the guy on Howard. I do not remember his name, as I have been in Israel for a long time, but the guys on Devon were top busy for me and the jewish guy on Howard was pretty good.

    Reply
  8. Soccer Dad

    At Rav Lifshitz’s levaya there was a woman; a neighbor who was out in the hall crying. She wasn’t there because he was a Gadol or her teacher; but because he was her neighbor. And she was distraught that her neighbor had passed away.

    Reply
  9. Esther

    Thank you for a great post. One of the pleasant surprises when we moved to a smaller community was rabbis who would introduce themselves by name and start a conversation, and then later I would find out they were the head of the high school or something. This was a contrast to a larger community we left where everyone who had smicha would insist on being known as Rabbi above all else. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog.

    Reply
  10. micha

    I also think you captured Rav Dovid in a nutshell. Being in his shiur was often like having a third grandfather.

    The morning of finals (YU required they be given), for example, rebbe would ask who was up all night studying for the test. If you didn’t report having 8 hours of sleep, rebbe sent you back. And if you didn’t have breakfast, not only did rebbe make you go get… some years he would force you to accept his money to pay for it!

    (Another years there were probably too many hungry talmidim and not enough pocket money.)

    As for what Rav Yisrael would say today: Since so many people realize that the issues I tried to address are still going strong within the community, why are so few trying to use the tools I taught for curing it?

    Why do so many blogs discuss FFH (frum from habit), the consequent chumraization, the overlooking of much of bein adam lachaveiro, simply the lack of religiosity and yet don’t take the next step of teaching people how to awaken their own inherent idealism?

    -micha

    Reply

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