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Monday, 27 July 2015

Display your diplomatic license plate

Daf Yomi Nedarim 62


A lot of people pass through Edmonton during the summer en route to the Canadian Rockies.  A few years ago, a well-known rabbi came through and popped into the shul for Mincha-Maariv (evening prayers).  It was so out of context to see him come in with his polo shirt and ball-cap.  But I was very excited at the opportunity to hear a good vort (piece of Torah) – we’re a little off the beaten track and it’s not often we get to hear from big rabbis.  I asked him to share some Torah between Mincha and Maariv.
“Sorry,” he chuckled, “I’m on vacation!”

It was taught: Once most of the trimming knives have been put away for winter, one may enter a field and freely partake of the fruit.
A farmer once discovered Rabbi Tarfon eating in his field after the time of the trimming knives.  He threw him into a sack, took him, and ran to throw him into the river. 
Rabbi Tarfon began screaming, “Woe is to Tarfon who is about to be killed!”  Hearing him, the farmer dropped the sack and ran away.

Rabbi Abahu quoted Rabbi Chanania ben Gamliel: The rest of that righteous man’s life he regretted the matter, saying, “Woe is me that I utilized the crown of Torah for personal benefit!” 
Indeed, Rabbah bar bar Chanah quoted Rabbi Yochanan, “Whoever utilizes the crown of Torah is uprooted from the world.”

Rava taught: A Torah scholar may, however, reveal his identity in a place where he is unknown, as Ovadiah said to Elijah, “Your servant has feared G-d since his my youth.”
The Gemara asks: Why then did Rabbi Tarfon get upset for having revealed his identity?
The Gemara answers: He was wealthy and he should rather have appeased his kidnapper with money. 

Why may a Torah scholar reveal his identity where he is unknown?  So that people have the opportunity to learn from him and ask him shaylos (halachic queries).  A rabbi is never on vacation.  He must always be available to ‘rabbinate’ wherever he finds himself. 

A friend of mine, when asked where he is a rabbi, responds, ‘Wherever I go!’ That’s the right attitude.  A talmid chacham (Torah scholar) is never on vacation.  One of the things I love to do, personally, is to teach Life Yomi wherever I travel.  Some of the more exotic places I’ve taught include Singapore (at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue), Thailand (Phuket Chabad), Trinidad (Chanukah gathering at the Hilton). 

But of course, you don’t need to be a rabbi or a talmid chacham to teach Torah.  You are here on earth on a Divine mission!  You never get a vacation from your mission.  Every place you go, you have the opportunity to be a Kiddush Hashem – a Heavenly ambassador.  You never know why the Almighty has directed your footsteps to a certain place at a certain time.

Ever been bagel’d?  Take off your ball-cap and proudly display your yarmulke – I guarantee you’ll be bagel’d in no time at all.  Bagel’ing happens when a complete stranger starts whistling Hava Nagila nearby.   They’ve seen your yarmulke and their pintele Yid (soul-spark) is reaching out to engage with you, but they have no idea what to say.  Your job is to pick up on those tiny yearnings and open the conversation with them.  But you can never do it if you’re on vacation and you look just like everyone else.


You are an ambassador of Hashem.  Be proud of who you are and wear your mission on your sleeve.  If they don’t summon up the courage to whistle, know what an impact you’ve made just by proudly displaying your ‘diplomatic license plate.’  May you merit being a Heavenly ambassador wherever you go!