Friday, July 25, 2008

Promises, Promises

Dedicated to the memory of my father Dovid ben Eliezer (yahrzeit candle this coming Monday night)
To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

[NB – speaking schedule below]

Someone who studies with me via telephone asked this week how to explain the fact that some people seem so careful about some mitzvot – such as keeping kosher – yet so lax about others, such as not gossiping or embarrassing others.

That reminds me of an old yeshiva joke...

So this student brings a small bottle of milk to enjoy with his coffee. He writes on the bottle, “Use but please save some at the bottom” and places it in the coffee area.

When he goes for his 10:30 cup of java, to his dismay, the bottle is empty.

The next day, he brings a new bottle, and writes more specific directions:

“Use – but please don’t use the last 1/2-inch of milk.”

At 10:30, once again, he finds an empty bottle.

(Between you and me, I don’t much see the point of milk in coffee. All that it does is cool it down faster. If it’s bitter coffee, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. My 2-bits, as my grandfather would have said.)

The next day, he comes with a new bottle, this time he writes in large bold letters:


Guess what? At 10:30, the bottle is completely empty.

Now, this is a yeshiva, where boys are taught to think logically and creatively and to control their base emotions. Our hero does not get angry, nor upset, nor even frustrated. The next day, he shows up with a bottle of milk with a new sign that reads:

“Caution - milk from unsupervised source”

At 10:30, he comes to get his coffee and, sure enough, the bottle is full.

+ + +

The reason that the joke is funny is because this problem is real (albeit somewhat exaggerated in our minds).

(It also reveals that yeshiva students who tell it are aware of the problem.)

The fact is, some of us excel at some mitzvas, some of us excel at others. Some of us are contented to do the mitzvas that we are doing well, and some of us are trying to improve our shortcomings.

Some of the time.

Do you know anyone who is consistent in the mitzvos they are doing well, all of the time?

Next Tuesday is the 3rd anniversary of my father Dennis Seinfeld’s petira. That’s the Talmudic word for “passing’. It literally means “exemption” - because when a person passes away, he becomes instantly exempt from all mitzvot.

During this past year, after the second yahrzeit, the flood (not an exaggeration) of accolades for my dad started to trickle down. Looking back at the past three years, I see that the common denominator to what everyone remembers about him is that anyone who knew my father was struck by his integrity. He was good for his word, period. If he made a promise, and forgot about it but was reminded later, he never challenged it – he never claimed, “I never said I would do that!”

Rather, he would reply, “Did I say that? OK, then I’ll do it!”

Shabbat Shalom

PS – here’s one my dad would have liked:

Speaking schedule:
July 28 – Baltimore – Judaism & Hinduism: Hidden Connections?
Aug 4 – Baltimore – A Jewish View of Buddhism
August 11-12 - Vermont (CAJE Conference) - 2 sessions

For details, send an email.

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