NEAT IS GREAT | Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

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By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

I was born in another age, I accept that and try to compensate for the ever growing list of new mores that may jar my older sensitivities. I don’t want to be seen as some old crank that just doesn’t want to move with the times, however the current wave of brashness seems to be coming from a place that goes beyond normative cultural changes. I copied a few such misdemeanors from a recent secular study and think they may ring a bell or two;

  • Flat-Out Rudeness,
  • Cell Phone Conversations in Public,
  • Crowding the Person in Front of You at the Checkout Dressing, Inappropriately,
  • Being Unkind to Disabled People,
  • Letting children misbehave in public spaces,
  • Exhibiting Terrible Table Manners While Dining Out,
  • Not Taking the Time to Show Gratitude,
  • Disregard to the Spatial Needs of Others,

Ok I hope you get the gist of where I am going with all this. Common decency and plain old ‘good manners’ are at a premium today, although they speak to any positive interaction we may have between one another.

We Yidden have a higher set of rules that we live by, and having good manners, derech eretz, is primary to them.

As a young man I had the zechus to live in close proximity to the astounding derech eretz shown by the Gedolim who rebuilt Torah life after the Churban. One such exemplar was The Bobover Rebbe Rav Shlomo Zt”l who was a giant in Torah, and personified daily, what a Prince of Hashem’s Nation should be.

In that post war America, Torah Yidden were a decidedly small minority. Chassidishe Bochurim were a rarity and most of our mentors were holocaust survivors. Where were they supposed to learn the niceties of living in this new land of little empathy for Torah values? The Rav taught by example daily. Every meal was a lesson in proper etiquette, every walk in the street a master class in shmiras einayim coupled with a reverence for all Hashem’s creations. Every morning the Rav would smile and say Good Morning to each and every one of the maintenance workers of the Yeshiva. He would give a friendly nod of his head at passers-by whilst still immersed in talking in Torah. I travelled with the Rav in taxi cabs across the teaming New York City streets, and his courteousness to the drivers, and the manner in which he carried himself whispered Kedusha in every setting.

As a young asken, I had the merit to sit at meetings with HaRav Moshe Fienstien Zt”l and heard how deep his regard for chilul Hashem went, especially when it came to how the wider world would see us. Hashem gave me the merit to visit so many of that generations leaders, and with each occasion one left with a freshly embedded memory of warmth and concern. Visiting the Satmer Rebbe Rav Yoel Zt”l took ones breath away, his face glowed with holiness, yet he offered a quip and a smile to this American stranger.

I share these memories for a purpose. To illustrate the importance of proper daily interaction that these great leaders personified.

Let me just describe one more snapshot. The Voidislover Rav Zt”l may well be remembered by some here in England. He was a son in law of the Shotzer Rebbe Zt”l, and lived in Britain during the war. I met the Rov whilst living in Boro-Park Brooklyn and davened in his minyan for a number of years. The Voidislover Rov incorporated a brilliance of mind with the elegance of “Old School” Rabbonim. One Motzei Shabbos minutes after the zman the Rov disappeared from the Shtieble, only to return a few minutes later dressed in his week day clothing. He always dressed with perfection, wearing a unique rabbonisha tie that was popular in Poland, a well pressed bekitsha, and shoes that glistened.  The Rav was carrying a small leather suitcase, “Where is the Rav going?” “I had a call just at the zman telling me they need me in the Oregon to check a wheat field that hopefully can be used for Shemurah Matzah.” What stuck in my mind was his perfect dress despite the challenge of a late night drive to the airport, the uncomfortable flight to who knows where, and the prospect that it may be all for nothing. The Rov was then chairman of the Hisachdus Harabonim, a prestigious position with great responsibility. There could have been any number of younger people to send, yet, this regal figure, suitcase in hand was ready to travel in the service of Klall Yisroel, creating Kiddush Hashem with each dignified step.

In Parshas Tetzaveh the Torah goes into great detail describing the clothing created for the Kohen Godol.

“You shall make the Robe of the Ephod entirely of turquoise wool. Its head-opening shall be folded over within. It shall have a woven lip around its opening… it may not be torn. On its hem you shall make pomegranates of turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool, on its hem all around. Between them, there shall be gold bells all around… It must be on Aaron when he ministers; so that its sound is heard when he enters the Holy before Hashem.” (28:31-35)

The Torah instructs the Kohen Godal to wear a Me’il (Robe), a four cornered blue-wool garment worn like a sandwich-board. The hem of this majestic robe was adorned with an alternating array of 72 functioning gold bells and small pomegranates.

Unlike most of the vestments, where the Torah just commands what to sew, the Torah explains the purpose of the Me’il. (Shemos 28:34) “Its sound (i.e., the bells) shall be heard upon entering the Sanctuary before Hashem.” The Torah continues to tell us that if the Kohen Godal dares enter the sanctuary without that bell adorned garment, he is subject to a decree of untimely death.

It is nearly impossible to understand divine reasoning for each garment. The written Torah does not give an explicit explanation as to why the Kohen must wear the belts, tunics, and turbans. Yet when it tells us about the bells at the bottom of the Me’il it justifies their existence with a very mundane reason.

“its sound shall be heard upon entering the Sanctuary before Hashem.”

Chazal tell us that the Torah is teaching a moral lesson: one should announce himself before entering any room.

This is amazing.  Does Hashem, who knows every mortal’s move, have a “knock before entering” sign on the doorway of His Mishkan?

Our Tzaddikim explain this as an eternal lesson for us all. Yes, it is obvious Hashem knows where and when the Kohen Godal is about to enter His Sanctuary, but that is not the point, proper derech eretz is for one to knock on the door before entering, even in one’s own home. Hashem makes this point so that we can have an inkling of how vital it is to have good manners.

Too many of us have forgotten how vital it is to show derech eretz in our daily lives. We allow elderly to stand as our little ones sit it a busy doctor’s office, we eat in public without proper neatness, some wear clothing that is unsightly, this and unfortunately so much more. I don’t have to go any further, I am sure my point has been made.

Those stately Rabbonim of old, with their neat appearance, and smiling faces stand as a lesson we should all learn from. Be we in Brooklyn, Manchester, or Yerusholayim.

Let that special Rav with his suitcase show us the way, so that we may be zoche to new generations that understand what it is to be a Prince in the Court of Klall Yisroel.


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