June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

At first, Yoni didn’t notice his phone vibrating. He was too focused on Rabbi Rayler’s parsha shiur, which was about to begin. Yoni’s rebbe cleared his throat and began to speak. “Parshat Tzav contains one of the most important pesukim in the Torah. The kohanim are commanded to keep the fire on the mizbeach burning at all times. The pasuk states ‘Aish tamid tukad al hamizbe’ach lo tich’beh, A constant fire should be kept burning on the mizbe’ach.’ Living a life of Torah and mitzvot requires that we keep our inner fire burning constantly. To grow, to improve, to keep going strong, our inspiration must be constant. What exactly does the word—” Just then, Yoni felt his phone vibrate; it was a text message from his mother. He checked the time. “Oh no! I forgot to change my clock!” Yoni didn’t need to read the text to know what it said.

Yoni stood up quickly and quietly and headed out of the back door. As he left the shul, he called his mother. “Mom! So sorry! I forgot to change my clock, so when I headed out to the shiur I didn’t realize it was an hour later! Rabbi Rayler must have scheduled his shiur an hour later, so I was actually on time!” Fortunately, Yoni’s mother knew where Yoni would be if he wasn’t at home. She was already waiting outside to take Yoni to the dentist. He hopped in her car and off they went.

Sitting in the waiting room, Yoni texted two of his friends, asking them to take notes and catch him up tomorrow on what he missed. Just then, he was called by the receptionist to head inside for his cleaning. Yoni wasn’t usually the best dental patient, and today was no different. “ah! ‘at ‘urt! ‘op ‘urtin ‘e!” And, as usual, the dental assistant cleaning his teeth returned the criticism. “Well, it wouldn’t hurt so much if you actually flossed and brushed properly. Now, can I continue?” Yoni, out of fear of the scary lady holding sharp tools in his mouth, nodded and decided to keep his complaints to himself the rest of the way.

Yoni’s appointment continued with X-rays, followed by the typical dentist and assistant looking over the pictures of his teeth with “tut-tut”s and disappointed sighs. Yoni just looooved listening to two strangers discussing the deformities of his mouth as if he wasn’t lying in a chair, two feet away. “Mary, what are we going to do with this guy?” Dr. Farber asked his assistant. “He’s gotta floss better,” the assistant responded. “Hello! I’m right here! You can talk to me directly!” Yoni thought. But he was still scared of Mary and her tools, so he kept it to himself. Also, his mouth was still full of tubes and two trays full of goo that tasted like some combination of bubble gum, pineapple and spoiled milk.

Unfortunately, Yoni had four cavities that needed filling. Cavities weren’t a new thing to him, but this time felt different. Maybe it was having four at once. Maybe it was the pain of the cleaning, or his fear of Mary. Maybe it was Rabbi Rayler’s words still ringing in his ears—“To grow, to improve, to keep going strong, our inspiration must be constant.” At that moment, Yoni decided it was time to start taking care of his teeth… constantly.

Taking his rebbe’s advice as seriously as possible, Yoni asked his mother to buy him a pack of toothbrushes, six tubes of toothpaste, four rolls of floss, a package of dixie cups, and three miniature bottles of mouthwash. Yoni took the supplies and split them up into a few different bags. He put three in his backpack—one for his locker, another to keep in his bag for emergency use, and a third to give to his cousin Emma to take home (Yoni went to Emma’s house twice a week after school to do homework together). What was the purpose of all this? To take care of his teeth constantly, of course.

For the next week, Yoni brushed and flossed EVERYWHERE! Teacher ended class five minutes early? Enough time to brush. Playing soccer in gym class? Legs to run, feet to kick, hands to floss. Fifteen-minute ride home from school? Brush then floss then brush then floss then brush then floss (make sure to bring a bag to spit into). When the week came to an end, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that Yoni’s teeth felt as clean as ever! The bad news was that he fell down five times while playing soccer, he failed two quizzes because his answers were covered in dry toothpaste, and he spilled mouthwash all over two different people during carpool. It also seemed like Yoni’s friends didn’t really want to hang out with him during school. He tried asking why, but he couldn’t get the words out. His toothpaste, on the other hand, ended up all over his best friend’s shirt.

That Monday morning, Yoni went back to Dr. Farber to get his cavities filled. After sitting down in the waiting room, he pulled out his siddur and began to recite Tehillim. “Yoni, is everything okay?” Asked his mother, who looked concerned. “I’ve never seen you daven like that before.” Yoni looked up with a grim look on his face. “I’m praying that I don’t get Mary as the dental assistant.” Yoni’s mother chuckled. She can’t be that bad. She is probably just trying to scare you into taking care of your teeth.” Yoni disagreed, and was about to explain, when his name was called. Yoni put his siddur down, looked up to shamayim one last time, and headed inside. “Wish me luck, Mom.”

Fortunately, Yoni’s prayers were answered; no Mary! Just kidding—of course she was there, looking as scary as ever. “Yoni. We’ve been waiting for you. Have a seat.” Yoni sat down slowly—now just thinking words of tefillah—lay back and opened his mouth. Mary took out her mirror and looked inside for 30 seconds that felt like an hour. “Yoni, it looks like you’ve been doing a great job keeping those teeth clean. Great job, kid!” A big smile spread across Mary’s face. “Sorry for scaring you last week, but I was doing it for your own good. Doctor Farber will see you in a moment.” Yoni felt relieved but still concerned about how much work it took to keep his teeth clean. Doctor Farber entered, offered his usual greetings, and got in position to start working on Yoni’s teeth.

But before he could start, Yoni interjected. “Doctor Farber, can I ask you a question?” Doctor Farber smiled. “Of course, Yoni, what’s up?” Yoni told Doctor Farber how much time he had put into keeping his teeth clean, and how much it had cost him. Was this really what he was supposed to do? Doctor Farber listened intently and responded. “Yoni, I’m not sure why you think you need to do all that. As long as you brush twice a day and floss after every meal, you should be fine. You should also use the fluoride rinse your parents bought for you. As long as you do all that correctly, your teeth should stay cavity-free!” Yoni wasn’t convinced. “Are you sure that’s enough?” Doctor Farber looked surprised. “Yoni, I didn’t become the most popular dentist in all of Rockland County without knowing my dentistry. Take my advice and you’ll be okay.”

By the time Yoni returned to school, he had missed Rabbi Rayler’s class, so he made a note to find him later on. Then, once the novocaine wore off, he went off in search of his rebbe. He found Rabbi Rayler in the beit midrash reviewing the Haggadah for Pesach. “Yoni, we missed you this morning! Welcome back! What can I do for you?” Yoni explained his predicament to Rabbi Rayler, and included how he missed the parsha shiur because of the daylight savings mistake. “Oh, how I wish you would have been able to stay just a few minutes longer!” exclaimed the rabbi. “Right after you left, I explained that the word tamid does not mean ‘constantly’; it actually means ‘consistently.’ There is a big difference. Tamid usually means to do something on a regular basis, not to do something non-stop. This is why the pasuk adds the word ‘lo tichbeh—don’t extinguish them.’ If it had to be constant, of course don’t extinguish them. Through this pasuk Hashem teaches us that mitzvot—like the korbanot—must be done regularly, but not every second. Only the inspiration for the mitzvot—like the fire that activates the korban—must be constant.”

Well, this made Yoni feel much better. He knew he could follow Doctor Farber’s advice safely. However, to keep the inspiration constant, Yoni printed out “take care of your teeth” stickers and posted them in places he’d see throughout the day. Just not on his friends or over his quiz answers.

(Pesach, the holiday of questions, is the way. So let’s leave off with a question: What can Yoni’s story teach us about the upcoming chag?)


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at [email protected].

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