May 20, 2024
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May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Dr. Yosef Bernstein was coming around the corner, but he suddenly stopped when he heard his name mentioned. “I’ve never learned so much from one teacher as I have from Dr. Bernstein. His class is really interesting, and he’s very nice.” This brought a huge smile to the veteran science teacher’s face. “But he definitely isn’t my favorite teacher, not even close.” And there went the smile. In truth, this wasn’t the first time Dr. Bernstein had overheard such comments from students. Dr. Bernstein could see the way students interacted with more popular teachers, and he could tell he wasn’t anyone’s favorite. However, he didn’t understand how students could find his class so interesting and how they could accomplish so much, and yet he wasn’t their favorite teacher.

So, that Shabbat, Dr. Bernstein went to visit his mentor, Rabbi Leiber, for advice. After lunch, he headed out for the hour-long walk to Rabbi Leiber’s home. As he arrived at his rebbe’s, he saw that Rabbi Leiber was already standing outside. “Ah Yosef, I’ve been waiting for you.” Dr. Bernstein was taken aback. “Wait, what? Really? How did you—” Rabbi Leiber started to chuckle. “Oh Yosef, you always thought too highly of me. I’m kidding. I was just checking on the weather. Come inside.” So, the two men entered the house to talk.

Once inside, Rabbi Leiber offered Dr. Bernstein some tea and cake, which they enjoyed while catching up on life and discussing the parsha. Eventually, the conversation hit a lull, during which Rabbi Leiber took the opportunity to get serious. “So, Yosef. Do you have something specific you’d like to discuss?” Dr. Bernstein sighed and began to explain what had been worrying him. After he finished, Rabbi Leiber asked a few questions, and then paused to think. “Yosef,” began the wise man, “you need to learn to keep Shabbat.” Dr. Bernstein was not surprised by this mysterious answer, as Rabbi Leiber often gave such responses, but he wasn’t in the mood for riddles. He took a deep breath. “Rebbe, are you sure you don’t want to give me the answer straight? Please?” Rabbi Leiber closed his eyes and seemed to be debating with himself whether or not to be more direct. “I’ll tell you what, Yosef. How about a hint?” Dr. Bernstein’s mouth said “Sure,” while the look on his face said “As if I have a choice!”

Rabbi Leiber went into a drawer, pulled out a small piece of paper with writing on it and handed it to Dr. Bernstein. “Tomorrow, go to this address. There you will learn how to keep Shabbat.” Dr. Bernstein took the address, asked no further questions, and put it in his pocket. The two men remained standing, talked a little more, and then it was time for Dr. Bernstein to leave. “Thank you, Rebbe. I’ll be in touch.” Rabbi Leiber smiled, patted Dr. Bernstein on the back and headed back inside.

As Dr. Bernstein walked home, a thought suddenly occurred to him. “Wait, did he say to go tomorrow? He must have meant next Shabbos.” But then he looked at the address. “This is around the corner from my house! I’ll just go right now!” So, instead of heading home, Dr. Bernstein had a new destination. He walked right past his house, and to the address on the paper. He didn’t know exactly what to do when he got there, but that didn’t matter in the end. As Dr. Bernstein arrived, the sight that he saw stopped him in his tracks. A group of around 10 people were in the backyard listening to music and eating barbecue food. Dr. Bernstein checked and rechecked the address three times before shaking his head and walking back home.”Well, I guess tomorrow it is!” said Dr. Bernstein to himself, not exactly sure what to expect.

So, the next morning, Dr. Bernstein headed back around the corner and once again stopped in his tracks. This sight was different from yesterday’s, but just as confusing. This time, the backyard was full of people, just sitting. No music, no barbecue, not even one word uttered. Dr. Bernstein just stood there, staring at this curious scene. A minute later, he started to pay attention to the faces in the crowd. He recognized every single person who silently occupied a chair as an extremely successful member of the community or a person famous for being rich. What were all these people doing here? And forget “here,” what were they doing?!

Fortunately, Dr. Bernstein had arrived as the session was coming to a close. The men and women arose from their chairs, said their goodbyes and began to file out of the backyard. As Dr. Bernstein watched them leave, he noticed a man whom he did not see earlier sitting next to the swing set. It was his Rebbe, Rabbi Leiber! Dr. Bernstein ran over and greeted his teacher. “Rebbe! What are you doing here? What is this?” Rabbi Leiber gave his student a big hug and stepped back to look him in the face.”Shabbat, of course!” Dr. Bernstein just stared, waiting for an explanation. “The people who come here are some of the busiest in the world. They all get major enjoyment from building, producing and accomplishing. This is all meaningful, but it’s not all life is about. Like your students, all people need to take time off from being productive, and to use that time to focus on just being. No accomplishing, no discussing, just happiness to be alive in Hashem’s world. This is the lesson of Shabbat, and this lesson can be lived every day of the week, and even during class.”

With this, Dr. Bernstein learned three things. One, his students need a break once in a while. Yes, they gain a lot from working hard, but happiness comes from being satisfied with life besides what one accomplishes. Two, now that he understood why he wasn’t his students’ favorite teacher, he didn’t care. They get enough breaks from other teachers. Third, and most importantly, he learned that mitzvot aren’t just a list of things to do or not to do, but actions that are meant to teach us how to live beyond the mitzvot.

Going through this week’s parsha, we come across the phrase “u’shmartem et ha’matzot,” commanding us to make sure matzah doesn’t turn to chametz. However, the word “ha’matzot” is spelled like “hamitzvot.” Rashi quotes the midrash that this pasuk is also teaching us not to let mitzvot turn to “chametz” by letting the opportunity sit there. Instead, we should do mitzvot right away. At first, the connection doesn’t seem to fit. When it comes to matzah we DO sit there watching it. How does that fit with saying not to wait with mitzvot?

The answer is that this connection is not direct. The midrash isn’t telling us to read it as if it literally means mitzvot. Instead, there is a lesson here that the Midrash uses for mitzvot. Like Shabbat, which has a lesson that applies in all places and at all times, the mitzvah of matzah has an important lesson for us, and this lesson is, “when it comes to important matters, time is important. Use your time wisely.” This lesson from matzot works for mitzvot, and for many other parts of life. What does this idea mean to you?

By Yair Daar

 

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