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Jewish World Review /Feb. 2, 1999 /16 Shevat, 5759

Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura Rituals, icons remind us of our obligation to G-d

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) "I WAS DEFINITELY READY to steal those yo-yos."

No one in the synagogue was prepared to hear the venerable rabbi admit to such an intent. After all, aren't holy people perpetually and perfectly holy? Aren't those who preach free from sin and sinful thoughts? If they aren't pure in thought and deed, how can we "civilians" consider, much less aspire to, such lofty ideals?

Interesting questions all, but sorely missing in insight and understanding of the truth of the human psyche and soul.

The rabbi spoke of being a small child from a long line of Orthodox rabbis originally from Lithuania. He was being raised in a seriously religious home and was schooled at the Yeshiva. One day he came upon a group of three slightly older non-Jewish children who usually harassed him.

This day was different -- they wanted to include him in their group because they had something "special" planned.

He was thrilled! To finally be included and accepted by these older boys was a joy past rational comprehension.

They had a plan. They were going to a small mom-and-pop store to steal yo-yos. One boy was the lookout in the back of the store, another in the front. The third boy was assigned the task of distracting the store owner. And since our small rabbi-to-be was wearing a heavy coat with lots of large pockets, he was assigned the job of actually stealing the yo-yos.

The truth was that he was being set up to do the deed so that he would be the one in trouble if anything went wrong.

He remembered knowing it was wrong to steal --- stealing was one of the Ten Commandments, basic tenets of decent, religious people. He knew it was wrong, but he wanted so much to be accepted by these older boys, to be one of them. He hesitated, anguished and worried. Should he reconsider? He finally decided to do it because, after all, it was only a few wooden toys with strings --- not something that would truly hurt the shop owner to lose.

Just before he reached into the bin to liberate the yo-yos, he nervously brushed some hair from his face. As he pushed his bangs to the side, his fingers touched his kippah --- the yarmulke or skull cap religious Jews wear as a sign of respect to G-d. At that moment, his fate was sealed. He ran out of the store without the yo-yos and in fear of being beaten up by those disappointed, would-be thieves.

What happened? He realized that he could rationalize right and wrong by minimizing the impact to the shop owner. He realized that he could do something illegal and perhaps not get caught and punished. He realized that he had it in him to compromise his very soul in order to gain acceptance into a group.

But when he touched that symbol of respect for G-d, he realized he could not do something sinful and not have G-d know and be disappointed in him. That accidental touch reminded him of his obligation to more than his popularity, impulse, ego and curiosity. He was reminded of his obligation to walk with G-d, to be holy, not because he was "the preacher's kid" but because he was a child of G-d. That's what the kippah "told" him.

The moral of that story is that even a religiously drenched rabbi's kid needs reminding --- we all do. That's the point of religious services, religious rituals, religious objects around the house, prayer and Bible study, and religious symbols around our necks, and hats on our heads. They are to educate, inspire and remind us of our ultimate obligations --- which are often difficult to remember or care about once we are absorbed in our personal, narrowly focused terrestrial existences.

I was listening to a radio talk show recently in which the host took the position that folks using ethnic and religious names for children instead of anglicized versions were clearly separating themselves from the American concept of "one nation." One caller agreed, but said that he gave his daughter the Hebrew version of Elizabeth not to separate her from America, but to separate her from what he perceived as the mainstream's lack of coherent morals and values.

By giving her a traditional, biblical name, he hoped she would be reminded of the values that "used to be" and "ought to be" still.

He hoped that her name would be to her as the kippah was to the rabbi: a reminder of the goodness and morality that is expected of a decent human being.

We mortals constantly require reminders --- even though we defensively rail against them.


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©1998,Universal Press Syndicate