Two of my favorite stories

Story number one:

A regular preppie teenager walks up to a punk rock teenager with a Mohawk and asks him ‘What’s Punk?’.
So the hardcore-punk teen kicks over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’. The preppie teen proceeds to kick over another garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’ The punk kids looks at him, smiles, and says ‘No that’s trendy!” (Overheard during a late night high school party way back in 1988)

I love this story because it shows that it’s not only our actions that define us, but our attitude when we perform those actions.
We, Baruch Hashem, can give meaning and emotion to what we do. Mitzvah performance or our level of external frumkeit isn’t meant to be something ‘trendy’. To follow the crowd without thinking about what or why you’re doing something isn’t always the best plan. Plenty of people, myself included, fall into the trap of doing mitvah-related actions by rote or as another trend once in a while.
To put on Tefillin, make a bracha, hug your kid, learn a pasuk, say a kind word, clean for Shabbos, or braid a challah can be an empty action…or a meaning experience. It’s all about what you do and how you doing. By “how you do it”, I mean what kavanah you ascribe to your actions. Do do something with a sense of simcha is a wonderful thing. It’s actually pretty punk these days.

Story number two:
When Rav Dessler came to America in 1948, he met up with his son, Nachum Velvel in New York. Rav Dessler asked his son who had help him during his years alone in America? His son mentioned several people in New York along with Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the head of Agudah Israel and the rav of Cincinnati. Rav Dessler said, “We must thank him.”
His son offered to place a telephone call to Rabbi Silver, but Rav Dessler wanted to show personal hakaros hatov to Rabbi Silver. Nachum Velvel and his father then took a nine hour train ride to Ohio, arriving at 5:00 am in Cincinnati. Then went to Rabbi Silver’s home and waited on the porch to meet Rabbi Silver as he left his house for davening.
Rabbi Silver met his two guests when he woke up and they all went to shul and then back to the Silver’s for breakfast. After a bite to eat, Rabbi Silver said, “So, Rav Dessler, what brings you to Cincinnati?” Rav Dessler said that he had only come to show appreciation to Rabbi Silver for all he had done for his son.
Rabbi Silver thought about this and again asked, “So, Rav Dessler, what really brings you to Cincinnati?”
Rav Dessler said that he had no other purpose that to show hakaros hatov. Rabbi Silver asked, “Rav Dessler, what can I do for you?”
Rav Dessler, for a third time, repeated that he only wished to show gratitude to Rabbi Silver in person.
Rabbi Silver finally gave up and muttered, “This must be mussar.”
(Paraphrased from the Artscroll biography of Rav Dessler, by Yonoson Rosenbloom)

This is one of my favorite Rav Dessler stories. It embodies, what I think is the best of the mussar movement. I’m not even on the same radar screen as Rav Dessler, but I can relate to this story. My actions need to be in sync with how I live my life. This is what Rav Dessler (or any Adam Gadol) is all about. A simple “thank you” isn’t enough sometimes. We need to go out of our way (in Rav Dessler’s case he went nine hours out of his way) to do the right thing and put your money where your mouth is.
To show gratitude or do a chesed to a spouse, parent, teacher, or even a child who needs to be acknowledged is the right thing. For Rav Dessler, he felt he had no choice but to travel to Cincinnati. For me, walking across the street or just to the livingroom can make a big difference to someone. We have know idea what effect our actions can have on others. Have a great day!

8 thoughts on “Two of my favorite stories

  1. Pragmatician

    that’s got to be mussar too:)

    Great message, I’ve always believe that performing a Mitsvah is the essential part f it.
    Nevertheless I agree that the kavanah behind our performances play a large role.
    We can do something with a smile or a sigh etc…

  2. Ezzie

    That’s awesome.

    I’ve always been very happy – and proud – to have gone to the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland for elementary school. R’ N.W. Dessler (the one in the story) was the principal, and not only spoke at my Bar Mitzvah but was able to attend my wedding and make the first bracha under the chuppah. He always epitomizes class and manners, and that was passed down well to all the students.

    I could go on and on about the Desslers. 🙂

  3. Neil Harris

    The Pragmatician said:
    “I’ve always believe that performing a Mitsvah is the essential part of it.”

    You’re, of couse, 100% correct. The essential part is actually performing a mitzvah. And, as chazal teach, there is a level of reward for just doing a mitzvah. But we also get a whole different level of reward when we do a mitzvah b’simcha (with happiness). It’s a completely different level, as I’ve been told. The best example I can think of is going online with dial up vs. dsl/cable. It’s a completely different experiece.


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