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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

What's your symbol?

Daf Yomi Gittin 87


In our family, we love nicknames.  Every kid has at least a couple of nicknames and as occasions arise, names may be added.  And so, one day, Ella Bracha – a.k.a. Bree Elle, a.k.a. Stacey, a.k.a. goddess, a.k.a. Ella B. – comes home from preschool and proudly displays her symbol, a fish.  Since two year olds cannot read, they assign them symbols to recognize their property.   Hers was a fish and they had labelled everything from her schoolbag, to her chair, to her coat-hook, with the fish symbol.  And so a new nickname was born, ‘Ella the Fish’! 

When signing a document, Rav would draw a fish; Rabbi Chanina, a palm leaf; Rav Chisda, the letter ‘samech’; Rav Hoshaya, the letter ‘ayin’; Rabbah bar Rav Huna would draw a ship’s mast.

I was teaching this piece of Gemara in shul.  Judge Zalmanowitz was sitting there and so I asked him if today one could legally sign a document using a symbol.  He responded, “No problem.  But, in the twenty-first century, it’s called an Emoji!” 

Why did these rabbis use symbols for their signatures?  Clearly each felt that his particular symbol embodied his character and was a good representation of himself to the world. 

And so Rav would draw a fish.  Why?  Our Sages tell us that the ayin hara (evil eye) has no power over fish.  That’s why we eat fish on Rosh Hashanah.  That’s why we recite tashlich at a pool of water containing fish.  And presumably, Rav felt that the most important character trait to model is one that negates the ayin hara.  In other words, his life eschewed any form of jealousy or ill-feeling.    And so too with each of the rabbis, they would choose a symbol that represented how they wanted to be perceived by the world.

What’s your symbol?  What emoji best characterizes you?  How do you want the world to perceive you?

When I was in yeshiva in Melbourne, I was eighteen years old.  At one point, another yeshiva bochur, Mendy G., decided to hold an awards ceremony.  He drew up a list of all the yeshiva boys and gave them each an award for outstanding merit.  One bochur received the award for diligence; another for generosity; another for intelligence.  What award did I receive?  The tucked-in-shirt award: apparently, my outstanding merit was that I was the only boy in the yeshiva, who you could guarantee would always have his shirt tucked in. 

To tell the truth, deep down I was a little offended.  What about my wittiness?  My creativity?  Helpfulness?  My most unique trait was my tucked-in shirt?!  Seriously?!

But as time went by, I began to appreciate the profundity of the award.  And I started taking pride in the recognition.  Here I had been acknowledged as the most orderly person in a sea of chaotic, untucked, unkempt yeshiva bochurim.  My symbol was order in amongst the chaos!

And today I wear that symbol with honour.  I take pride in being a source of order in a chaotic world.  Whether it means bringing spiritual meaning into people’s crazy lives; or as simply as Mendy G. originally intended – being the best-dressed person in the room and demonstrating that being a ‘yeshiva bochur’ does not contradict being presentable.  Indeed, our Sages tell us that a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) is forbidden to go out with a stain on his shirt – after all, he represents the ways of the Torah!


Every individual has their unique symbol in life.  May you discover your special purpose and mission, and be able to present yourself to the world succinctly and powerfully! 

Yours,

Necktie on Apple iOS 9.3