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The Systems of the Jewish Year

When Different Isn’t Done

By Rabbi Sender Haber

I met a frum pirate the other day.

He has never boarded a ship with intent to plunder, but he will be following a full size pirate ship from port to port for the next few months. He gives tours, exhibits cutlasses and puts on a pirate costume every now and then.

When I first saw the yarmulke on his head, I assumed something was wrong with him. Guys with black velvet yarmulkes don’t sign up with Long John Silver. They certainly don’t keep parrots. They don’t dress up. It just isn’t done.

There are other things that aren’t done.

When I was learning in the Mir there was a guy called The Tie. Other people also wore ties, but they were all old (above 35) or on staff. The Tie was one of us, except that none of us showed up daily with a clean shave, an attache case, and a Tie. It just wasn’t done.

One day, The Tie tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to learn with him. He was one of the best Chavrusos I ever had. People would identify me in the hallways as the guy who learned with The Tie. I remember visiting The Tie at home, fully expecting to meet a Mrs. Tie and a bunch of Little Ties running around in diapers (they weren’t).

One day a random fellow walked over to our seat and popped the question:

“Why do you wear a Tie?”

It may have been my imagination, but I think I heard all 5,000 students in Mir hold their collective breath and move forward in their seats. Why Did he wear a tie?

“Well”, The Tie said simply, “If I worked in a bank I’d wear a tie. Learning Torah is more important than learning a bank”.

Oh.

I’ve often thought about The Tie. He went on to bigger and better things, but he taught me an important lesson: Don’t be a wimp. If it isn’t done - do it anyway.

A special man that I knew turned around his entire life to become frum. Holy things were dear to him and he filled his life with holy things. He built a beautiful household, grew a beard and peyos, and sent his children to the best yeshivos. He even moved to Yerushalayim.

Fifteen years later, his Yerushalmi son came home from Yeshiva with some news.

“Dad”, he said, “I want to cut my Peyos off. The good guys in the Lithuanian yeshivos don’t have long peyos. It just isn’t done.”

Dad’s answer should be in the textbook of every father:

“You can do what you want”, he said, “but I want you to know that those peyos and the holiness of the mitzvah that they represent inspired me to turn my life around. I gave up my lifestyle for those peyos. Those peyos inspired me to raise you to be the frum Jew and Torah scholar that you are. That isn’t done where I come from - but I did it anyway.

That son kept his peyos, but so many of us aren’t unique and special because “It just isn’t done”.

When I was a youngster in Buffalo, I was one of a handful of boys who wouldn’t walk four steps without a yarmulke. My classmates would take advantage of my limitations and grab my yarmulke for a game of Kipah-way while I stood helpless in the sidelines.

One day I went home and cried. My father shared with me that in his day he was the only boy his age in Buffalo with a yarmulke. Even his teachers would politely “remind” him to remove his Kipah. Keeping that Kipah on was tough, but it made him strong. That Kipah would never come off.

My father made me feel good about my Yarmulke. He also gave me some father-to-son strategy. The next day in school I didn’t just stand there with my hand on my head. I reached nonchalantly into my right pocket and took out a backup yarmulke. I walked away smugly while my oblivious friends continued to hoot and toss the Kippah to and fro.

I had a third yarmulka in my left pocket, but I never needed it. I don’t know whether my friends felt like losers because they had been outsmarted or they began to respect my conviction. I do know that they never played Kipah-way again. When Rosh Hashana came they asked for forgiveness and we all ended up a little bit smarter.

Avraham Avinu lived in an age when the whole world gathered together to build a tower and fight G-d. Avraham went in the other direction. He built a tent and taught the beauty of Monotheism. He did what wasn’t done.

Lech Lecha - Go for Yourself:

If you have convictions, stick to them. If someone knocks you down because you are a little bit different, just ignore them. Put on another Kipah, wear a nicer Tie, grow your peyos longer, be a pirate.

It’s done. And it’s the only way to get anything done.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated by my friend Dr. Jeff Zucker in the memory of his beloved mother, Ita bat Shalom, A"H, who shares her Yortzeit with Rochel Imeinu.  May her neshama have an aliya.

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