Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – What’s a Meta For?


Operation Inspiration

If you ask me, a world without similes would be like… a world without similes. OK, so those of you who didn’t get the great Yeshiva education that I did might need a refresher course in literary devices. A simile, pronounced SIM-ih-lee, is a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid. Examples would be phrases such as “He was as brave as a lion” or “His humor was dry, like the bottom of a dusty gulch on a hot summer day in Oklahoma.”

Similes are easy to differentiate from their cousins, the metaphors, because they use the terms “as” or “like,” while metaphors don’t. A metaphor can be confusing if you’re not paying attention. For example, if someone says, “His muscles were watermelons,” they might mean that he had bulging biceps, but they may also have meant that he stuck fruit in his shirtsleeves to make himself look larger. If you don’t realize that it’s a metaphor you might pick a fight with the wrong guy.

The joke in my opening line is that without similes, you’d have no frame of reference to compare what that world would be like and thus shed light on the potential situation. This ability is a very important and powerful tool in learning about life and the world around us.

If we weren’t able to compare and correlate, then every time we faced a challenge, we’d be starting at square one looking for a solution. Like the proverbial goldfish with the 3-second memory span, you’d be starting from scratch each time. The ability to find similarities, or be ‘medameh milsa l’milsa’ empowers us to find solutions to new problems based on solutions we found to old ones even if they’re not identical. The same thing goes for understanding concepts and knowing how to deal with them.

In Tehillim, Dovid Hamelech says, “Nafshi LaShem MiShomrim Laboker, Shomrim Laboker, My soul yearns for Hashem like night watchmen waiting for the morning.” How are we supposed to understand this if we’re not watchmen?

I gained a new perspective on this when I actually WAS a night watchman. No, I didn’t become a security guard. When I was 22, I went with my grandparents to visit a philanthropist who was not well. He had a hospital bed set up in his home and nurses around the clock cared for him. We visited as best we could, sleeping overnight at a local hotel, and then returning in the morning. As we prepared to leave in the early afternoon, the fellow passed away. Suddenly, things changed.

As the only Jews in town, my grandfather and I took turns guarding the body until the Chevra Kadisha came from a city three hours away. When they left at 11PM, and my grandfather was in the hotel, I was left to watch the body by myself until family members would come and relieve me. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a scary situation, to be in a strange place in a cold, empty shul, (the windows were left open so the winter air could keep it cold in there) providing shmira for a corpse.

When the family members called and said they would not be coming to take over, and I realized I was there for the night, I was truly awaiting the morning when people would come. That night I gained a new perspective in yearning for Hashem – like I was yearning for that morning to come which couldn’t get there fast enough.

Another time I’d forgotten to turn the light off in my refrigerator. In my area, we have a great system for such things. The organization “Chaveirim” arranges for a non-Jew to come around the neighborhood and when he sees a sign hanging on my neighbor’s door, he stops and asks who needs help. Immediately after davening when I realized the problem, I went to my neighbor.

During the hour or so it took before the fellow came around, I was anxiously awaiting his arrival. Every sound I heard, I thought it might be him. I went to the door numerous times and even walked to my neighbor to make sure the sign was still there. As I did, it struck me. THIS is what waiting for Moshiach is supposed to be like! We should be so anxious that we keep checking our watches, making sure we don’t miss him or the sounds of his approach! It was as eye-opening as a blind man suddenly able to see.

There are so many things that we encounter all the time which can teach us lessons on how to improve ourselves and our approach to the service of Man and G-d. The important thing is to take note of them and see how we can apply them to other situations. They are our express train to both Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba – if you know what I mean.

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