by Rabbi Mottle Wolfe
Ready for a loaded question?
Who is a good Jew?
So I would never say something like this myself…. (Out loud) But I heard this statement from a very big rebbitzen here in Israel. I am not going to say who it was, less for her, because I know that she stands by it, but more for her husband who wouldn’t probably be doing back flips if it were made this public. Never the less, I am glad she said it.
Ready? She said, “better a taxi cab driver in Eretz Yisrael than learning in Kollel in America.” Pshhhhh. Sound crazy? I wondered about it until one night, I stepped out of a rainy Jerusalem night and into a holy taxi.
Whenever I get into a cab here in Israel, I always try and speak with the driver. You want to get to know Israel? Speak with the cab drivers. Between their own experiences and the ones that they have heard first hand from their parents, it is amazing the stories that you can hear about life in Israel, the beauty of the people and triumph and tragedy of the wars, the insights into the culture.
So one night I got into a cab with my son and started my usual conversation. I asked him his name and told them ours. He said, responded with the typical Sephardi, “Ma zeh Mottle? Oh Mordechai!” (Mottle is a Yiddush nickname for Mordechai) Then he went on to tell me that Mordechai appears nowhere in the Chumash (the Five Books of Moses) but Shaul on the other hand is mention in several places and then proceeded to tell me each and every place where the name appeared. Obviously a learned guy, I asked him what Yeshiva he had learned in. He replied that he never had. He keeps his Chumash next to him and memorizes it at red lights. He said that he had committed to memory so far all of Sefer Bereishit and half of Sefer Shemot. He said his goal after Chumash was to go on and memorize all of Mishnayot. IN A TAXI! What a Holy People this nation is. What an unbelievable Neshama.
The Izbitser Rebbe on this weeks parsha brings a midrash based on the verse from tehillim, eso enai el haharim… I lift up my eyes to the mountains… The midrash says do not read it as mountains (harim) but rather as parents (horim). Says the the Midrash, when Yaakov Avinu looked back at lives of his fathers, he felt very small, and sad.
I mean think about what the lives of Avraham and and Yitzchak were bigger than life! One of my favorite teachers Rabbi Raz Hartman once said to me, Avraham Avinu taught the world there was only One G-d, Yitzchak Avinu taught the world there was only G-d. Big shoes to fill indeed. And what was Yaakov’s life filled with? Small seemingly insignificant detail. Avraham was welcoming Angels and fighting world wars, mounting rescue missions, and taking on world leaders. Yitzchak offered himself completely as a perfect unblemished sacrifice. Yaakov raised sheep. Yaakov had to deal with problems with his brother. Yaakov had a boss he could not stand, That tried to cheat him at every turn. Oye, my shveer! (father-in-law) Yaakov was always buried in the details, going back for some little jars. Yaakov lived most of his life outside of Eretz Yisrael, and yet Yaakov it is said by our Holy Rabbis was the “choicest of all the forefathers.” In the end we are known not as Bnai Avraham, or Am Yitzchak, but we are the Children of Yisroel. The Children of Yaakov.
And maybe it is from Yaakov Avinu that we learn the deepest secret of being a Jew. God is in the details, and love is in the details.
So much of Jewish life is detail, so much of it seems on the outside so small and petty. But when you think of the people that you love the most in the world, what you think of is detail. The face of utmost satisfaction mixed with complete contentment and concentration she makes she when she is eating frozen yogurt. The way she brushes her hair away from her face, the way she looks at our children while they are sleeping. You do not love someone for the big package, you love someone for the details. The small seemingly insignificant details that no one else in the world would notice, and it is these very details that set you on fire.
This was our father Yaakov, and this is what it means to be a Jew.
It is easier to see God in midst of war or among the angles or bound on an Alter than it is to see God day after day working for a boss that is always trying to cheat you. Basically watching wool grow.
The greatness of Yaakov is that he taught us to see God not just in the grand scheme of the universe, but also in every minute detail. There is no place I can go were I can not connect to him. God is with me even in the most mundane moments, and If God is with me in my most mundane moments, can there really every be such a thing as a mundane moment. Rather every moment, Yaakov teaches us, has the potential to be the utmost in an encounter with God.