| Parshah |

Don’t Throw in the Towel

Torah encapsulates this concept of yashar, requiring us to be trustworthy and honest


“And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to Bnei Yisrael…”

(Devarim 31:19)


The Gemara (Sanhedrin 21b) explains this is the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah. So why refer to it as a song? Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (Haksav V’hakabbalah) writes that the word shir (song), is connected to the word yashar (straight). If the notes in a song are not “straight,” the music will be cacophonous. Torah encapsulates this concept of yashar, requiring us to be trustworthy and honest. (Rabbi Oizer Alport, Parsha Potpourri)

This past summer we tried to play the yearly game of Musical Homes in Israel. My kids wanted to go anywhere, so long as it wasn’t home. I found a tzimmer not far from Yerushalayim that boasted a private pool. The pictures the owner sent were stunning and we excitedly paid for a week’s vacation. Packing was a chore. Food, clothes, books, toys… I wasn’t sure why we needed to get away from home when we were bringing so much of home with us. But all the technicalities fell away as we drove into the rugged hills outside Yerushalayim. The sky seemed to shine more brightly; the image of that bright blue pool was beckoning.

The Smag (Mitzvas Asei 74) writes that we must be honest in our interactions with others, above and beyond the strict letter of the law, so when Hashem sends Mashiach to redeem us, the nations of the world will acknowledge that we’re worthy, trustworthy people. Otherwise, they’d question why Hashem chose a nation of thieves and cheaters.

We arrived at a villa surrounded by a tall iron fence. My first inkling that something was wrong was when we opened the gate to a yard filled with garbage. Then I saw the pool. Instead of the indigo of the photo, the water was a sickly algae green with dead insects and leaves floating on top.

Swallowing hard, I opened the front door. The floor was gritty, the counters dusty, the refrigerator leaking. While the photos did show the home, it was clear they must’ve been taken a long time before. Gingerly, I opened a kitchen cabinet… only to escape outside when I saw the dead bugs on the shelf.

“We can’t stay here,” I gasped to my husband who was cheerfully unpacking the trunk. “There are dead roa—”

I couldn’t even get my words out.

Hero that my husband is, he insisted on inspecting. Macho guys that my sons are, they followed. I opted to stay a healthy distance from any other surprises, alive or dead, that the house may have had to offer. The inspecting team returned, their faces grim. We were going home.

The rest of the week I tried convincing my kids that Clean Camp Mommy was way better than any vile villa vacation. It was a tough sell.

To top it off, the owner of the place, who was abroad for the year, refused to believe that his home was not in as pristine condition as he left it.

“I’ll hire a cleaner!” he insisted. “It’ll be fine.”

I didn’t care if he sent in a disinfecting team. I wasn’t going back, and I wanted my money back.

Rav Frand points out that much of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy revolves around asking Hashem to rule over the entire world and send Mashiach. There’s a simple formula to ensure our request is granted. If we follow the yashar ways of the Torah and become people who are recognized around the world as honest and straight, Mashiach will be on his way.

Days later, we still hadn’t come to any financial resolution. I was folding the laundry from our non-vacation when I came across a dish towel I didn’t recognize. Could it possibly have come from that villa? We were there only a few minutes! Yet when you have toddlers along, a few minutes is a long time.

But I didn’t want to call them or arrange to return their dish towel. I didn’t want to talk to them at all! I wanted them to do me a favor and return my money they owed me ASAP. I didn’t want to do them any favors! They’d scarred my summer!

My conscience and my brain had an internal shouting match. But it was a no-brainer. It was only a dish towel, but it had to go home. I reached for the phone.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 759)

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