“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.
We are often referred to as ‘observant Jews’. ‘Observant’ is defined as:
paying close attention especially to details
quick to notice; showing quick and keen perception
law-abiding: (of individuals) adhering strictly to laws and rules and customs; “law-abiding citizens”; “observant of the speed limit” wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
I guess, it’s true. Compared to other groups of Jews, we, ‘Torah observant’ would fall into the above definition. I’d like to focus on the “quick to notice; showing quick and keen perception” aspect of being ‘observant’. The leaders of previous generations were not only Gadolim in terms of their Torah knowledge, but were extremely sensitive to the world and people around them. I admit, sensitivity to the individual within Yiddishkeit was one of the things that constanly blows me away. I humbly offer three examples for you to think about and maybe even discuss at your Yom Tov table:
In the last years of the great 19th-century thinker Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, he asked his grandchildren to take him to see the Alps. When questioned why at such a late age he wants to go sightseeing, he answered: “I am worried that after my life I will go up to heaven and Hashem will ask me, “Samson, warum hattest du nicht gesehen mein schonen Alpen?” Samson, why did you not see my beautiful Alps?” (Based on the Artscoll biography of RSRH).
Once, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Alter Rebbe’s son, was studying late at night, his infant son in a cradle nearby. Rabbi Dov Ber was so immersed in his studies that when the baby fell out of the cradle he did not hear the child cry. The Alter Rebbe was also studying in another part of the house. But he heard his grandson’s cry and quickly went to pick him up. “You must always hear the cry of a child,” the Alter Rebbe rebuked his son.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Bais Halevi, was once asked the following question: Can a person fulfill the mitzvah of drinking for cups at the Pesach seder with milk, instead of wine? The Bais Halevi answered no and then gave the individual who asked him the shi’lah a large sum of money. Later Rav Soloveitchik was asked why give so much money, if all the person needed to buy was some wine for the seder. The Bais Halevi replied, “Because he asked about using milk for the seder, that must have meant that he didn’t have enough funds for any meat, as well.”
We do observe. Hopefully it’s the right things. The beauty of Hashem’s world, a child in need, an opportunity not to embarrass someone is dire straights.
I was recently asked, what I found to be a difficult question. “What excites you?”
I was caught of guard and really didn’t have an answer at the time. It bothered me. I have a lot to be excited about. It’s stories like the ones above that excite me. It’s hearing good news about my kids being sensitive to others in school that excites me. It’s Lightning McQueen realizing that sometime you win even though you don’t come in first place that excites me. It’s the way I feel when my neshama know that I’m doing the right thing that excites me. It’s the smell of fresh ground coffee on a Sunday morning that excites me. I realized that it was difficult for me to initally answer that question because I really don’t take as much time as I should to be observant of my surroundings. This is something (along with several other things) that I am working on during this new year.
Sukkos excites me. After spending time in shul of a beis midresh davening we are commanded to leave our homes and venture outside into the world. We take our all of the feelings from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and bring our families outside the safety of our homes. The message of the above three stories is simply: Look around. See and listen to what is around you and show koved to all that Hashem as created. I wish you an inspiring Sukkos.
This year I am trying to remember the chessed and Tov that Hashem is constantly showing me. Here are a few highlights of my Rosh Hashanah…
- Erev R”H my family got a call from the Chicago Center for Torah and Chessed, as part of calling post, to remind us to make an erev tavshulin.
- Our neighbor brought us some amazing fried chicken from this place.
- A good family friend gave us a new challah knife as a “segulah” for parnasah in the upcoming year
- We shared the majority of our meals with very close friends
- My son joined me under my tallis for duchenning both days
- Our baalei tefillah used excellent niggunim on both days
- My shul’s Rav used a Reb Nachman story (the king’s wheat supply makes everyone insane, so he and his advisor mark their heads so they know they remember they are insane) on his first day drasha and based his second day drasha totally on an idea from Rav Soloveitchik.
- The following items made by Mrs. Uberdox: Challah, soup, stuffed chicken, Caesar salad w/ steak (better than Dougie’s), and the Chocolate Trifle
- Number of Kohanim in my minyan-6; number of Kohanim sporting velvet kippot-2; number of Kohanim sporting knitted kippot-3; number of Kohanim sporting a seude kippah-1; Number of Kohaim rocking a kittel-1; Being blessed by representatives from Klal Yisrael-PRICELESS
- Shabbos Mussaf also was way beyond what I expected with a great kiddusah. And I got to make a l’chaim with this.
- Motzei Shabbos my wife found that we had a flat tire in the Ubervan. I took it, along with my copy of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, to Sam’s Club to get a new tire on Sunday. So, I admit, I had a Bilvavi moment when I started telling myself, “Ribbono shel olam, I know clearly that when I buy this new tire, I do not have control at all as to which tire I will end up buying, but it is all by Your decree.” In then end I ended up with a “Goodyear“. Hopefully this will be a “siman” as well.
Please daven for a Refuah Shelayma for Sara Malka Bas Chana Golda.