On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Scarecrow and the Tinman

In this past weeks Jewish Press there was an excellent article by Carl Guzman about the importance of saying “Good Shabbas” which was taught to him by his late father.

When I first started becoming observant, I was living in center city Philadelphia.  I lived about a mile or so from the closest orthodox synagogue.  On my long walks to shul on Shabbas, I hardly ever ran into another Sabbath observer.  There just weren’t that many religious Jews in the city at the time.  When I did spot someone, whether it was a friend or a out of town visitor, I was excited.  I gave them a big smile and a nice “Good Shabbas” and usually got the same in return.

As I started exploring other communities, I came to a realization, the larger community and the more frum from birth (FFB) people there, the smaller the chance of getting a “Good Shabbas” greeting in return.  And even if you got one, it typically didn’t have much feeling behind it.  If you travel to places packed with observant Jews like Israel or Brooklyn, it’s almost a guarantee to be ignored.  The exact opposite was true in smaller and more Baal Teshuvah dominated communities.  I always found this strange, but never thought that much about it.

About 3 years ago, my family and I went to the Philadelphia Zoo with some friends over Chol HaMoed Pesach.  I’m not sure if the Zoo officials knew it in advance, but it was clearly Jew at the Zoo day.  There were frummies every where.  Typically when there was a frum out of town visitor to Philly, they would always be happy to return a d Good Shabbas or a Gut Moed.  I guess that was because there weren’t so many Jews around.  In their same neighborhood, they may have been less friendly, but when they were on the road, they’d turn the smiles on.

As my friend and I walked around, we would say Gut Moed, or Chag Sameach to the Jews that we passed and most gave us a blank look or a very under their breath return greeting.  After a several rejections, I started to not say anything.  After sometime, I started reconsidering.  Is not greeting a fellow Jew the proper thing to do? 

Ethics of Our Fathers teaches us that it’s commendable to greet everyone warmly.  When it comes to Shabbas, saying “Good Shabbas” isn’t just a nice greeting.  It’s remembering the Shabbas which is not only a Torah commandment, it’s laid out as part of the 10 statements in the Torah portion, Yisro, Zachar es yom HaShabbas. (Remember the Sabbath Day.)  Should we blindly walk through our Judaism and not engage our fellow man with love and affection?

Among, FFB circles, Baal Teshuvas are often stereo typed as not being knowledgeable enough about the Torah, but passionately following what we don’t understand… bumbling around like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.  There is probably some truth to every stereo type, but if BT’s are the scarecrow, then FFBs could be characterized as the Tinman whose knowledge is sound, but whose heart and emotions aren’t always behind their actions.  BTs should continuously try to learn to our knowledge catches up with our desire to cleave the G-d, but we should all be inspired enough to desire G-d even when things supersede our level of understanding.

After thinking this through, to my wife’s embarrassment, I started to give even more direct “Chag Sameachs” or “Gut Yuntufs” to my frum looking out of town guests.  While most gave be cold return greetings, some started to warm up.  As we loaded the kids into the car, I saw a very frum looking couple unload a few spaces down in the parking lot.  I gave him by biggest “Gut Yuntuf” yet.  He turned to me, gave me a huge smile and gave me and even bigger one back.  We spoke for a few minutes before I got into by car.  My wife said something like, are you happy that a frum person gave you such a greeting.  I replied that I was pretty sure that he wasn’t a Baal Teshuva, but to give a greeting like that, he must have been Lubavitch.

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