We do respect the law. But we live for the Law
A hachnassas sefer Torah doesn’t happen that often here in Montreal. It’s not an annual event or even a biennial event. We don’t have a special sefer Torah truck or rotating electric crown — just people who come out happily to share in the joy.
A few years ago, I was standing near a wise local rav at just such an event when someone asked him why the minhag is to dance so publicly and extravagantly, in a celebration unique to this mitzvah. Generally, our joy is contained, reserved behind closed doors. Even on Simchas Torah, our hakafos are held indoors, in the private domain.
Why is this different?
I will tell you what the rav said in a minute.
First, a drop about COVID, even though I know the oilam is done hearing COVID musings and you’ve all moved on to your (baruch Hashem!) fully reopened lives, but you can only write what you know, and here in Canada, we’re still shut in, locked down, curfewed, unvaccinated, and polite.
There has been a long, protracted game of cat and mouse taking place here in Canada between the police force and frum community. The police have to enforce the 8 p.m. curfew and we have to daven Maariv. The high school boys have to get home from night seder. The Jewish home runs on a very precise calendar and the time of day drives various halachos that are not super negotiable.
(Before the dina d’malchusa dina task force starts bemoaning the bad chinuch and chillul Hashem inherent in breaking curfew, I beg you to consider: When the regulations were rooted in health and science, our community was more stringent than the rest of the population; our shuls, yeshivos, and mikvaos were shut. For months. But once it became less about health and more about politics — i.e., theaters are allowed crowds but shuls are not, and dog-walkers can break curfew but minyan-goers cannot — then we went with our definition of essential and they went with theirs.)
So our reality right now is that police cars circulate every night while gleeful teenage bochurim duck and sprint into driveways. The police officers can’t do much and they aren’t sure what to do, so they stand there miserably. It’s a terrible situation, because our law-enforcement personnel deserve a better fate.
If in America, there’s a movement to defund the police, the Canadian equivalent is to turn dedicated, professional police officers into hapless little substitute teachers with darting eyes. Suddenly, skilled officers trained for sharpshooting and high-speed chases are clambering up chairs to peer through little windows and count heads of shul attendees.
They hate it. Recently, they were doing the nightly curfew-intimidation thing and an overly excited frum homeowner shouted them off his property, calling them Nazis and Gestapo. They are none of those things and it takes a tremendous amount of obliviousness to our own history to use that term in this context.
It bothered me, and the next day, a friend and I went to the local precinct. I’m not a macher, not a liaison of anyone to anyone, not Hatzolah or Chaverim (my wife is the one who removes splinters in this house) and I never even dressed up as a policeman on Purim. I didn’t come with rugelach and appreciation cards. It wasn’t a PR visit. I just wanted to schmooze.
e got a meeting with the sergeant herself, and we schmoozed. We wanted her to understand that our community’s respect for the police hasn’t changed and that we haven’t become scofflaws. We will continue to go daven, taking tickets every night if we have to, but with the exception of the few things we consider non-negotiable, we will bend over backward to respect the law. (Double-parking is non essential.)
She got it. And appreciated it. And pointed out that it would be easier if we all carried ID, so that the ticketing process would go faster. And if we reiterated to our children that which I was telling her: that one can be noncompliant but also respectful.
Then she said something else. She’s been working the frum neighborhoods for close to 20 years and has never had a call to deal with a murder, drug bust, brawl, or even spousal abuse, baruch Hashem. No shoplifting or vandalism. Nothing.
And it’s not because we’re frightened little wimps, but because we choose a different way. V’haraya, when we’re forced in to head-to-head combat with the law, we know how to play (and win, baruch Hashem. I will never again underestimate the resourcefulness, calm, and creative legal lomdus of our people, the ones who borrowed dogs to be able to walk to Maariv or the factory owner who switched his essential production lines to a night shift, before which his staff happen to daven Minchah and Maariv).
It was a great conversation. We talked about a follow-up in shul, an honest conversation about how we can get through this trying time with mutual respect and appreciation on both sides. They’re trying to do their jobs and we’re trying to do ours. We see them as dedicated, selfless, and courageous and they see us as a bit strange, perhaps, but dedicated, selfless, and courageous.
As we were leaving the precinct (I don’t even know how to pronounce the word, that’s how little of a macher I am), she said one more thing. “If it was after curfew, and my mother called me that she needs help badly, I would break curfew and hurry over. I understand you.”
Her mother is important. Our Father is important.
Back to the rav and his answer at that long-ago sunny hachnassas sefer Torah, at a time when we could talk to other people in public and gather under one canopy without distancing.
The rav thought for a moment, then said, “I think the reason for this very public display is because we’re dancing for the Ribbono shel Olam, we’re happy for Him.”
People who invest in a sefer Torah, he explained, are generally doing so as a zechus for a neshamah that has left This World.
You know how we create eternity?
We invest in ink and parchment, letters that tell us that shatnez is assur and you can’t cook a goat in its mother’s milk and the sister of Lotan was Timna because in a hundred years, in a thousand years, when the people dancing today will have moved on, these letters will still be here, still relevant, still alive.
We dance in the streets for You, Ribbono shel Olam, as if to say, “Look around, check out the scene, and see who You ended up with.”
Soon, im yirtzeh Hashem, my town will also reopen and maybe there will be a hachnassas sefer Torah once again. Perhaps there will be a police escort, as in old times, and maybe, just maybe, it will be that friendly sergeant at the wheel, thinking about how we’re a people who respect the law.
We do respect the law. But we live for the Law.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 860)
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