Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Driven to Excel


Operation Inspiration


I try not to be jealous of the cars people have. I know that what we have is what Hashem wants us to have and it is perfect for us. Sometimes it’s more difficult than others, like when you see someone with a really nice ride which sort of drips with comfort, technology or luxury, and maybe your car drips with coolant or oil.

Whenever I fill up with gas, I take the time to thank Hashem for our cars which look good, drive well, and get us where we need to go. I then thank Him for the gas that makes the cars go, and the money to pay for gas, and the jobs that enable us to pay for the gas. But it’s hard not to notice the others.

Well, one day I was in someone else’s car and the difference between it and mine was painfully obvious – literally. I have a remote starter installed in my car so I can cool it off in the summer and heat it up in the winter before I get into it. I recall one brutally cold day when I started it but it was still very cold inside. I immediately turned on the seat warmers, which of course I thanked Hashem for, and it wasn’t all that long before I was able to sit there without shivering.

But let me tell you about the other car. It, too, has a remote starter. It, too, has seat warmers. But listen to this: When you start that car, it senses the temperatures inside and not only runs the engine and blows air through the ducts, but it turns on the seat warmers and the steering wheel warmer for you! That way, when you get in, you are already sitting in a cozy seat that doesn’t crunch like permafrost and your fingers don’t freeze like fishsticks.

I’m sure you can imagine where my brain went when I experienced that. How this car was so much better than mine and how nice it would be to have this feature myself. But that’s actually NOT where my mind went, at least, not entirely.

What I actually thought about was how amazing it was that this car anticipated my needs more than my car does, and did what it could to make me more comfortable. Of course, I thought about it in terms of human behavior.

When I encounter someone else, do I do the maximum I can to help them or benefit them? Am I just trying to fulfill my obligations, or am I really trying to help them?

Often, we will be willing to do chesed for others, but then something comes up that makes us wish we hadn’t offered. Maybe they ask for something more than we anticipated or they’re somewhat less than grateful (which is not a good thing) and we regret it.

Maybe those are the times to remind ourselves of the car that goes the extra mile in more ways than one and makes sure that we feel pampered and cared for. People enjoy that feeling and it shouldn’t just come from a machine. Ideally, we should all be “luxury vehicles” for others.

There’s a well-known story about R’ Elchonon Wasserman, HY”D, who visited America in the 1930’s. The fellow who was driving him around pulled up to the curb in Brooklyn, and told R’ Elchonon that the home he was staying at was four houses up the block on the right. “I would take you to the door,” he explained, “but it’s a one-way street.”

R’ Elchonon insisted that the man drive around the next street, turn down the block, and leave him off at the door. Far from being demanding of honor, he was trying to teach the man that when you do a chesed, you don’t do it halfway. You need to give it your all and do it in the best possible way. When you do that, not only do you fulfill the mitzva properly, but you also make the person feel very valued.

Consider this story: R’ Binyomin Lifton, who served as a rebbi in Yeshiva of Central Queens for many years, retold the story of his “farher,” his entrance exam, to join R’ Shimon Shkop’s yeshiva in Grodno.  He prepared a “shtikel Torah,” a Torah discourse, to repeat to the Rosh Yeshiva to show his aptitude.  After a grueling journey of several days, the boy arrived and was startled to be greeted by none other than R’ Shimon Shkop himself.  He was prepared to say his shtikel Torah when R’ Shimon stopped him.

“I have two questions for you,” said the sage.  The teen was frightened as he wondered what he would be asked.  He hadn’t known he would be tested on something he hadn’t prepared.

“First, when was the last time you ate a proper meal?” asked the Rabbi, “and second, when was the last time you slept in a bed?”  R’ Shimon then took him home, fed him, and prepared a warm bed for the boy so he could have a good rest. Only then did they discuss R’ Binyomin’s scholastic ability.

R’ Binyomim survived the Holocaust and many other sorrows and said, “What kept my Judaism alive all those years were those two questions that R’ Shimon asked me as my entrance exam to the Grodno Yeshiva.”

It’s just like the luxury vehicle. When it pampered me, I recognized it and felt like a million dollars. However, this was just a machine programed in a thoughtful manner so though I may have felt like I HAD a million dollars, it’s not the same as what we can do when we treat people in such a manner – make them feel like they’re WORTH a million dollars, and then, who knows how much further they will go?

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