A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking my children to see “Disney On Ice.” I parked in the garage attached to the arena. After the show, my kids and I made our way up to our car, prepared to spend some time getting out of the parking lot. I turned on my engine and waited my turn to exit my parking space and get in the line.
In my experience, at a moment like that, cars take turns letting each other in, knowing full well that everyone is anxious to get home. The first two cars would not let me in. Neither would the next two or the next two. After about a dozen cars prevented me from even moving out of my parking space, I have to be honest, I was in tears. My kids asked me why I was crying. I explained to them that I was frustrated with how selfish all of the other drivers were being. I wondered out loud how it is possible to teach children to take turns, to be kind, to be part of a community, without modeling it for them. I was embarrassed by the behavior of the other drivers, upset at the preponderance of selfishness.
And then I saw a man, a couple of cars back, wearing a kippah. I said to myself, and to my children, that a car was coming and the driver was wearing a kippah. Maybe it was wrong of me to assume that wearing a kippah would make someone a mentsch, maybe it was just na ive, but I know that when I wear my kippah I am extremely sensitive to the way I behave in the world. I assumed the best of this stranger, assumed that his commitment to a religious life would extend beyond the synagogue to this parking garage.
But he would not let me in either. Not only that, he looked at me, with tears rolling down my cheeks, wagged his finger and said, “No! No!” Now, I know that he wanted to get home, too. But seriously. ... A kippah has to stand for something.
In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we read about the installation of the priests. As part of the ceremony, we are instructed, “And you shall offer … a regular burnt offering throughout the generations, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before the Lord” (Ex. 29:41-42). Acc-ording to Rav Kook, “Until now, holiness was manifest only occasionally and sporadically in the world. Once Israel received the Torah, the world would know holiness on a regular, daily basis. The daily offering was to represent this” (cited in Etz Hayim Commentary on 29:42).
Holiness, religiosity, should not be reserved for particular times or particular places. It is meant to be
expressed on a “regular, daily basis.” I do not excuse any of the other dozen drivers not wearing kippot from their selfish behavior. But for me and for my kids, what happened that day was a startling reminder that we must strive to be sure that “tocho k’varo,” that our inner commitments are matched by our outer behavior.
The holiday of Purim will be observed next Wednesday night and Thursday, March 7-8. It is known as the “Festival of Lots.” The word Purim means lots and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre of the Jews in ancient Persia. Purim is preceded by a minor fast day, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.
Rabbi Miriam Cotzin Burg is director of educational engagement at the Center for Jewish Education.