| Voice in the Crowd |

What Will You Tell Him?          

     Back to routine, back to our mission


The back porch looks forlorn and desolate: just plain wooden slats covered in a dusting of fallen leaves. Not so long ago, it sagged under the weight of holiness and joy, feet stamping in the succah and song rising up through bamboo slats to the sky — but now it’s just a deck again.

The whole Cheshvan feels kind of like that: darker, colder, and just kind of empty — was it really just Tishrei? But the Jewish calendar, we know, is not just random stuff happening at intervals, but a process. Each month, each day holds its avodah, and each one connects like puzzle pieces with the days before and after.

There is a custom in Lubavitch dating back to the Rebbe, Rav Sholom Ber, that on Motzaei Simchas Torah, the chassidim call out the words of the pasuk, “V’Yaakov halach l’darko.”

The Jew returns to normal life.

The stuff you were pushing off until after Yom Tov comes at you like an avalanche — emails and applications and bills — and the echoes of Yom Tov start to fade.

(Side rant: There needs to be one month in the Jewish year free of having to apply for stuff. Note to all the camp operators and Lakewood day care people: one measly month, 30 days, that’s all we ask for. Let people take down the succah and figure out how to store plastic lulav holders so they don’t get moldy and see their sons off for a new zeman in yeshivah and catch their breath, and then you can start up the anxiety parade again.)

One of my side hustles is sending out the emails for the shul in which I daven. It is not actually a paying job, but it is rewarding in other ways, because I get to be the first to know who is sponsoring kiddush or what time Minchah will be held on Asarah B’Teves.

During Tishrei, this ended up being more time-consuming than usual, zmanim, updates, details… and a deluge of auto-responses, too. In a shul in which most of the members are working people, every innocent email was met with a similar sampling of replies.

“I will be out of office…” “During the dates of…” “Please excuse  the inconvenience, but…”

Whatever the nusach — some were crisp and professional, others a bit more informal — the message was the same.

All those out-of-office messages were really pointing to the words of Rashi in Shir Hashirim (5:8). Klal Yisrael is addressing the nations of the world with a question: Mah tagidu Lo? When the end of days arrived, we tell the umos ha’olam, you will be summoned to testify about us, about how we acted in galus, how we acted when were around you.

Mah tagidu Lo, what will you tell Him? Shecholas ahavah ani, will you tell Him that we were sick with longing for Him?

The nations around us, the suppliers/customers/IT guys/tellers/brokers we dealt with every day, will be summoned by the Ribbono shel Olam to say eidus about us.

Let them talk about the deal not concluded, the shipment not sent, the item not located, the conversation not had because once again, the Jew had to take off from work for the fourth time in a month. Let those auto-replies be printed out and shown, a megillah of lovesickness and loyalty.

In Tishrei, our relationship was all about being close to Him with our shofar, arba minim, and hakafos, wrapped in talleisim and apart from the world.

In Cheshvan, the auto-reply is off. We are in the office, available and accessible, and our job description changes: It is to create a new dimension to “What will you tell Him?”

This week, a friend of mine traveled deep into a red state on business. The job involved visiting a factory and speaking with many of the workers, one on one. His inclination was to wear a baseball cap, but then he made a quick calculation.

For many of those people, in a state with a tiny Jewish presence, he would be the only religious Jew they would ever meet — so why not make it a positive experience for them?

He wore his yarmulke into the factory, proud of what it represented and proud to represent it.

What will you tell Him?

Montreal used to have a legitimate “ordinary” tzaddik, a Yid named Reb Hershel Schecter. If you knew him at all, in any capacity, you know that I do not exaggerate.

Reb Hershel was one of the few religious Jews who worked in the office of the Steinberg company, Quebec’s largest supermarket chain. He was expected to attend the annual holiday party, and at one such event he was standing feeling sort of forlorn, amid the lights and music and revelry.

He described feeling so uncomfortable that he fled the party to the safety of his car, where he sat down and turned on the engine. There was a cassette in the tape deck, and the sound of Avraham Fried singing “Acheinu Kol Beis Yisrael” filled the car for a few minutes. He inhaled it deeply and all was right again. He felt connected, safe, immersed in Yiddishkeit.

Then, newly fortified, he squared his shoulders and headed back into the party.

The image stayed with me because of its symbolism: an erlicher Yid forced to experience and encounter situations that don’t reflect his choices, but doing so with dignity and strength… going out for oxygen, then reentering a party with people not like him, a Yid in galus.

What will you tell Him?

If life were Tishrei all year round, the non-Jewish witnesses would never be able to tell Him anything, because they’d just see us as figures swinging chickens around our heads and carrying lemons and palm trees.

But Tishrei is over. Yaakov has gone on his way. We’re out there again interacting with the wider world, giving them the stories, the encounters, the moments that will shape their testimony when the day comes.

Tishrei reminded us who we are, and now that we know it, our future witnesses will know it too.

What, we ask, what will you tell Him? 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 934.

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