Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – A-Maze-Ing Truth

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Operation Inspiration

Those of you who know I publish several weekly Parsha sheets may also know that they are very near and dear to my heart. The reason is not because of the fame and fortune (yeah, right) but because if someone picks one up and is inspired to come closer to Hashem, then I’ve fulfilled my goal. In one of them, started by a dear friend who passed away, I usually include jokes or pictures and colored fonts. I’ve noticed those getting picked up quite often. The hope is that after someone reads the joke, he’ll continue and read the rest of the Torah.

It also means that I appreciate the nuances of how to get people attracted to reading the sheets. To give credit where credit is due, there’s a newcomer to the block in my shul which has managed to get a lot of attention. Geared towards kids, it is very colorful, includes stories, riddles and games, plus it gets a number of local kids to write in it. I must tell you that I see many adults gravitating towards this sheet and hopefully they benefit from reading the stories of great Jews and the interesting Torah thoughts therein.

Well, one Shabbos, the boy next to me had this lovely publication open on the table in front of him. I don’t think he gets the rabbi’s speeches all the time, and he doesn’t take as long to daven as some of the adults, so I can’t blame him for reading. On the contrary, a kid who can read offers his parents and teachers a great opportunity to teach him by ensuring he has the proper material to soak up.

As he sat there looking intently at one of the games, I glanced over and noticed him tracing his finger along the slender lines of a maze. The idea is to get from the starting point, through the maze, without hitting a blockade or a dead end, and make it safely out the other side. If you hit a wall, you need to backtrack and try a different choice, hoping that this time you’ve made the right one.

I leaned over a bit, and with a mischievous smile, put my finger on the starting point. I then moved it in a broad arc around the maze, in the margins of the sheet, ending up at the goal, having avoided all obstacles because I didn’t actually go through the maze. The boy just looked at me with a blank stare.

When his father looked up, I repeated my maneuver, putting my finger on the start and sweeping it around the maze to the end. The father smiled as he understood my joke. But the boy remained stoic as ever. It struck me that the boy simply didn’t get the joke. But then it struck me that maybe he realized it wasn’t a joke at all.

He understood that the idea of the maze is to test your directional skills, your hunches, and to see how well you learn from your mistakes. You need to follow the rules in order to be able to take pride in reaching the goal because it isn’t the destination that is important, but the journey.

I was shocked to realize that the father and I were able to laugh at my breaking of the rules because at our ages, we’ve seen how people often ignore the rules and find ways to achieve their aims without playing fair. We’ve become jaded to the concept of doing the right thing and were actually able to laugh at bending the rules so far that they were shattered. But not the boy.

He was bewildered by my attempt at humor because life is a serious thing. We don’t just get to play fast and loose with the rules. If you do, then you haven’t really accomplished the goal, have you? If you take a basketball, stand on a ladder, and drop it through the net, did you do anything worth being proud of?

I’m reminded of a fellow who would come to the Shiur of R’ Shalom Schwadron zt”l, but one week he didn’t come. When asked why, he explained that it was the week of the World Cup and he had been watching the soccer matches. The young man explained how exciting it was when someone scored a goal. R’ Shalom asked, “What’s so exciting about kicking a little ball into a big net?”

“You don’t understand,” said the youth. “There’s a goalie blocking him.” “So?” asked R’ Shalom. “Surely, he goes home at some point. Wait until he’s not there and then kick it in.” “But rabbi, the whole challenge is scoring when he’s trying to stop you!”

R’ Shalom paused a moment as he let the boy’s words sink in to his own head. What was the big deal of coming to the class when there was no World Cup trying to make him miss it? The next evening the boy attended the shiur.

And that’s what this young man’s simple wonderment at my “joke” reminded me. The lines are there to guide us and help us learn how to get it right. It’s not about getting to the other end at all. Those crooked lines set a lot of things straight. I was simply a-mazed.

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