The Rabbi and The Taxi Driver

HumbleThe position which baalei teshuvah [penitents] occupy cannot be occupied even by tzaddikim [completely righteous].

-Berachos 34b

A surgeon once encountered difficult complications during an operation and asked his assistant to see if there was anyone in the surgical suite who could help. The assistant replied that the only one who was there was the chief of the surgical staff. “There is no point in calling him,” the operating surgeon said. “He would not know what to do. He never got himself into a predicament like this.”

As far as people’s own functioning is concerned, it might be better not to have made mistakes. Still, such perfection makes them relatively useless as sources of help to others who have made mistakes, because they have no experience on which to draw to know how to best help them correct their mistakes.

A perfect tzaddik may indeed be most virtuous, but may not be able to identify and empathize with average people who need help in correcting their errors. The “position” to which the Talmud is referring may be the position of a helper, and in this respect the baal teshuvah may indeed be superior to a tzaddik.

Today I shall…

…reflect on how I dealt with the mistakes I have made, and share my experience with others who may benefit from them.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Shevat 8”

I love stories. I suppose you know that if you’ve been following these “meditations” for very long. I like the stories the Rabbis tell. Many of them are very inspiring without being particularly schmaltzy.

I like stories that tell a lesson or impart a moral, and one of my favorite movie lines about this comes from an unlikely source:

But there’s a bright side to this, and a moral. I think morals are good for you, I love morals, and the moral of this story is: If you’re walkin’ on eggs, don’t hop.

-Jack Braddock (played by Warren Oates)

I didn’t include that quote randomly. Mr Oates, who sadly passed away in 1982 at the age of 53, often played tough guys and other character roles rather than the “leading man.” In that way, he could be much more relatable to the audience than the handsome and always capable hero-type. The above-quoted line was delivered with his usual Kentucky drawl that, in spite of him playing a rather intimidating character, was like the advice you might get from your father or favorite uncle.

I think that’s what a life of holiness is supposed to be like.

Now I suppose that last statement requires an explanation. After all, how can a tough guy character actor delivering a line in a 1983 action film remind me of a life of holiness?

Time for another story.

I once had this exact conversation with a taxi driver. He was Catholic, and asked me if rabbis marry. I told him that not only are rabbis allowed to marry, they are obligated to marry. “Be fruitful and multiply” is a command to all, regardless of career or position in the community.

The taxi driver shook his head and said, “You Jews have got it good. In my community, when someone is dating and confused, or is going through a rough patch in his marriage, or needs guidance on how to discipline their kids, who should we turn to? Our celibate priest? He wouldn’t have a clue what it means to argue with your wife, he’s never been dumped, and certainly doesn’t have a kid that pokes other kids’ eyes out. If I have a question in theology, or need to know which prayers to say, then sure, I’ll go to him. But real-life issues—he can’t help me!”

This taxi driver’s comments brought home for me an important truth. Judaism does not differentiate between “clergy” and “laymen.” Whether you are a rabbi or a taxi driver, you are expected to live a “normal” life, to be involved with the struggles and pleasures of the mundane world.

But it works the other way as well. Whether you are a taxi driver or a rabbi, you are expected to make your everyday mundane world a home for G‑d. The Torah’s ideal is to create a society of holy people. Sanctity and morality are not the domain of rabbis alone: every individual must live to the same standard, and each one of us can engage in direct dialogue with G‑d and Torah.

The rabbi is there just to help others bridge the needs of the spirit with the realities of life. But he has to do the same in his own life.

Perhaps that cab was a microcosm of an ideal world. What could be more beautiful than a society in which taxi drivers share spiritual wisdom, and rabbis change diapers?

-Rabbi Aron Moss
“Can a Rabbi Get Married?”

taxiRabbi Twerski and Rabbi Moss are almost telling the same tale. In the first story, we have a picture of two “experts,” two surgeons, one who is “ordinary,” and one who is “chief of the surgical staff.” In this instance, although the first surgeon has encountered a problem and needs help, no one believes the “chief,” or in the case of a moral dilemma, the “perfect tzaddik,” will be much help, because they’ve never encountered the problems of an ordinary person.

Rabbi Moss adapts that to the relationship between a married Catholic who has children and a Priest. How could the celibate Priest possibly understand the problems of a husband and a father, at least by direct experience?

But the Rabbi can. Further, not only can the Rabbi relate because he is not only allowed but commanded to marry and have children, but he is, in many ways, no greater keeper of holiness or wisdom than the taxi driver.

What could be more beautiful than a society in which taxi drivers share spiritual wisdom, and rabbis change diapers?

That’s a life of holiness we can all live and pursue. In some ways, maybe that’s the only way we can understand God and other human beings, by being immersed both in a world of spirituality, and in a world of going to work every day, taking out the garbage, and changing diapers. Life has many troubles, but a journey of faith does not serve God if it is undertaken in some ivory tower or study hall where you never encounter pain, frustration, or tears.

In these days especially, when by G-d’s kindness we stand at the threshold of redemption, we must make every conceivable effort to strengthen every facet of our religion. Mitzvot must be observed b’hidur, with “beauty,” beyond minimal requirements. Customs must be kept scrupulously, nothing compromised. It is a Mitzva and duty of every Rabbi in Israel to inform his congregation that the current tribulations and agonies are the “birth-pangs of Mashiach.” G-d is demanding that we return to Torah and mitzvot, that we not hinder the imminent coming of our righteous Mashiach.

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Sh’vat 8, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

The baal teshuvah and the tzaddik both live inside of you, and you will see the return of Mashiach, may he come soon and in our day.

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