July 12, 2024
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July 12, 2024
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Vayeishev: The Garbage Man and the Chochom

Once, in the town of Kearny, there lived a garbage man named Moshe. People had other names for garbage men, of course: sanitation worker, sanitation engineer, public works official or trash collector. But Moshe was comfortable calling himself a garbage man. He picked up people’s garbage and threw it in the back of a truck, and he was a man, so garbage man worked for him.

His brother Daniel was a heart surgeon. He called himself a cardiothoracic specialist, but he was a surgeon, and he worked on people’s hearts, so everyone called him a heart surgeon.

His sister Lilly was a rocket scientist. Technically, she was an aeronautics engineer for NASA, but everyone found it easier to call her a rocket scientist. She was a scientist, she worked on rockets. You get the idea.

For the first few years that Moshe was a garbage man he felt fine about his work. He liked being outside, and he liked his fellow garbage men. The pay was good, and he got to wear a really cool green jumpsuit. Everything was okay.

But as time went on, Moshe saw the respect with which people treated Daniel and Lilly, and he started to wonder if being a garbage man was really for him. He started feeling sad. Although he still liked his green jumpsuit, he wasn’t throwing the garbage into the back of the truck with as much gusto as before, and pressing the compactor button to compress the trash just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.

Moshe decided to speak to his father about his worries. Moshe’s father was none other than Rav Yonah Slushenberger, also known as the Chochom of Kearny.

Moshe went to his father during his morning tea and All Bran.

“Dad, what do you think of me being a garbage man?”

Rav Yonah, of course, would have preferred that all his children were talmidei chachamim and talmidei chachamot, wise Torah scholars, but he encouraged each of his children to follow his or her own course.

“Being a garbage man, as you call it, is an honorable job, my son,” said Rav Yonah. “Where would we be without you? Up to our noses in stinking trash.”

“But Dad, Daniel is a heart surgeon and Lilly is a rocket scientist.”

If there was one thing the Chochom had learned from that week’s parsha, Vayeishev, it was not to play favorites among his children. Look at the trouble it got Yosef into!

“Nu, so your brother’s an MD and your sister’s a PhD. Nobody’s perfect.”

Moshe smiled.

“Each person has a place and purpose in this world, Moshele,” Rav Yonah said. “In this week’s parsha, when Yosef is sent to find his brothers, he gets lost and comes upon a man who is just called an “ish,” a man, by the Torah. He directs Yosef to where he finds his brothers, and then disappears from the parsha.

“Now, Rashi suggests that this man was the angel Gabriel, but the Ramban states that he was just a man. He was just some dude whom Yosef happened upon. And this man’s purpose in life was to direct Yoseph toward his brothers so that he would be sold into slavery and brought to Egypt, where Jewish history would be fulfilled. By this small act of directing Yosef, this anonymous man fulfilled the destiny of all of Israel.

“So?” asked Moshe.

“So?” asked Rav Yonah. “Don’t you see? We all have our roles to complete in life. Who knows what small action we do will change someone else’s life, or perhaps even lead to the ultimate redemption, bimheira biyameinu.

“And if that’s the case, then why shouldn’t the actions of a garbage man be just as important as those of a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon?”

“He’s a heart surgeon.”


Moshe thought about what his father said, and smiled.

And so, Moshe went back to being a garbage man, and he did everything he could to be helpful to others and to be a good Jew.

His brother the heart surgeon developed an ulcer and took to noshing on Tums like they were candy. His sister the rocket scientist retired early to become a full-time mother, and Moshe remained the happiest garbage man in all of Hudson County.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

By Larry Stiefel

Bereishit 37: 15-17

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