Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – On Your Marks

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Operation Inspiration

I think that all of us, at some point, have pivotal moments which change the trajectories of our lives. Maybe it’s a tragic accident we’ve seen which makes us want to follow a career in medicine. Maybe it’s a kind teacher who makes us want to work with children. These memories stay with us and leave an indelible impression upon our psyches. Sometimes they profoundly change our characters, and sometimes they just leave us creeped out by Brussels sprouts.

In my case, it was witnessing a Yeshiva bochur with the shakes. He used to drink ten to twelve cups of coffee per day. That’s muddy, Yeshiva, drip coffee. Nasty stuff to begin with, but worse in volume. His rebbi found out about his habit and made him stop cold turkey. When the boy went through caffeine withdrawal, he walked around trembling and nervous, it really affected me. I decided I never wanted ANYTHING to control me like that. (Don’t worry, I got married anyway.)

Because of that, I never got into the habit of drinking coffee. Unlike those who need coffee to get moving in the morning, I rarely consume it. Now, they do say that holding a warm beverage makes you feel more positive about the person you’re looking at, meaning a conversation over coffee can breed good feelings, but, again, I don’t feel a great draw to drink it.

That doesn’t mean I never do, and some mornings I find it helpful to have a little coffee in order to get out to davening, especially when I’m really tired. When I was traveling not too long ago, I took a cup of coffee from the hotel and brought it with me to shul to sip along the way. As it was Winter, and I didn’t want iced coffee, instead of leaving it in the car, I brought the cup into shul with me and set it on the table. [I didn’t drink it during Tefilos. I’m not sure that’s allowed or at least a preferred thing to do.]

Looking down at the cup, I reached for my pen to write my name on the lid and then it hit me: nobody else in this small shul in Upstate New York would have a coffee cup from that hotel. I didn’t need to write my name on it because the cup itself was an identifier.

I began to think about the fact that quite often people seek to “make their marks” on the world. They try to run successful businesses, mingle with the upper echelons of society or politics, and stand out. What they fail to realize is that, as Torah Jews, they already stand out!

Like my coffee cup, Torah Jews are identifiable even without any extra effort from the person. There’s a built-in perception about them and what they do makes an impression on the world. Simply going about their lives, they are “marked” men and women, who are noticeable and noticed. This is both quite a responsibility and quite an opportunity.

We have to realize that we can’t simply fly under the radar and go unnoticed. It’s not our lot to simply go about our daily lives “like everybody else.” We are under surveillance at every moment. When some of us sadly do things that are not proper, it gets noticed more than when anyone else does it. It starts to reflect on all of us, and worse, on Hashem! Therefore we must be much more careful to do the right things and make Hashem proud.

When we do the right thing, though, that can also make a big impression. Remember the man who found a large amount of cash in a used desk he bought? He returned it and said that as an Orthodox Jew he was obligated to return that which wasn’t his. The world stood up and took notice and he made his mark even bigger.

These days, branding is quite important. Companies have “brand ambassadors” whose job it is to make the company look good and help sales. Social Media has proven that these people are effective even in the Jewish world, as companies clamor to have bloggers promote their products. “Use ¼ cup This-brand olive oil” and “add a pinch of That-brand salt.” The oil and salt are just like any other brand but since the ambassador uses it, we feel we need to do the same.

The Jewish People are the brand ambassadors for Torah and Hashem. When we do something it should be because Hashem told us to, not just because it’s the right thing to do. It may be proper to treat an elderly person with deference, but mention the mitzvah in the Torah and you take things to a whole new level.

The world is watching. What we do matters. We’re already on our marks. Now it’s time to get set and go.

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