Making Little Things Count and Big Things Better
By Avi Shulman
Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
I was invited to spend a Shabbos as the guest of the Seattle kollel, a kollel which was the fruit of four Torah Umesorah S.E.E.D. programs.
There is much to be said and written about the unique Seattle Jewish community in general, and the accomplishments of the kollel in particular. There are lessons of lifelong friendship, organizational shalom bayis, and dedicated people. I want to share a lesson I learned from The Mountain.
Seventy miles to the south of Seattle lies Mt. Rainier, one of the tallest mountains in North America. It stands 14,410-feet high, and its yearround snowcapped peaks can be clearly seen for miles around. Mt. Rainier is a dominant force in the state of Washington; in fact, its picture is featured on the license plates. When a house is built on a hill in Seattle, the architect tries to position the major living areas to face south, and will often include floortoceiling glass walls to view The Mountain.
We drove to Mt. Rainier and were overwhelmed by the beauty the Almighty vested in the Northwest. All around the base of the mountain, for a fifty-mile radius, there are tall evergreen trees that flourish in the mild climate and snowfed streams. Magnificent lakes, rivers, and miles of trails make this area one of the most desirable in the country for camping and hiking.
After an exciting day at The Mountain, we came back to the city and I went to Minchah. After davening I was sharing my excitement with a group of local residents and another guest also from back east. After briefly listening to my description, the guest said, I wonder if I could get a Coca-Cola sign on top of The Mountain. That would be a great advertisement!
Suddenly the group, which had been talkative and congenial, became quiet and cold. The out-of-towner immediately realized he had said something inappropriate and apologized by saying, I was only kidding about the sign. It was just a joke.
One of the locals looked at him, and, after what seemed like a very long time, quietly said, Sir, we dont joke about The Mountain!
That caught my attention. It meant that because we recognize the unique beauty of this gift, because we appreciate the quality of life we enjoy because of the income from the lumber and tourist industries, The Mountain is too special to joke about!
It set me thinking about the phrase, Its just a joke. We all enjoy an appropriate joke, and a good kibbitz has become a matter of routine. These oil the wheels of social interaction and inject a light touch to otherwise weighty conversation.
There was a time when certain people were considered too prominent, and certain subjects too sacred for jest. Over the past fifty years, the media has eroded respect for anyone or anything to the point where, in Western culture today, there is nothing about which we cannot joke.
Yet we, as Torahobservant Jews, have to realize that our values are different. There truly are people and subjects about which any joke is inappropriate. Our parents; Torah, its teachers, students, and yeshivos; mitzvos and those who observe them -- all are unique gifts from the Almighty. They enrich our quality of life, give meaning, purpose, and eternity to our actions, and afford us the opportunity to live a fulfilled life . . . all too special to joke about!
We dont joke about The Mountain is a good reminder that even jest has its limitations.