(Picture - A Chasid praying in his holiday dress)
We were sitting at the Kotel just before Shabbos was over. It is a sweet time of the week. Relaxed, no one pushing to get anywhere, no pressure to do anything… a very enjoyable hour. An American-looking Jewish man walked by with his son. I could see how the father was dressed, but someone was sitting in front of me, blocking my view of the son. The father was wearing shorts and tennis shoes. I wondered if his son was dressed like him. They walked further and I could see that, yes, as it often goes, the boy was dressed like his father.
A friend sitting next to me said, “Look at the way that guy is dressed. Wouldn’t you think that he would want to come to the Kotel on Shabbos dressed a little nicer than that?”
I have been around a lot more than my friend, and I can remember very clearly when I would not have known to get dressed-up to come to the Kotel on Shabbos. “At least he brought his son to show him the Kotel, and not a bar in Tel Aviv,” I said.
The man put his arm around the boy and walked on. I could see that he loved his son and wanted to share the significance of the Kotel with him.
After davening maariv (evening prayers) as I was leaving, I saw the man and his son sitting right by the entrance. (Everything is for a reason.)
“Where are you from?” I asked the man.
“Upper West Side,” He answered.
He saw that I did not know where he meant, so he added, “Manhattan.”
“Is your mother Jewish?” I asked the boy.
He said, “Yes.”
I looked at the boy with one of my “Old Man of the Kotel” looks, pointed my finger at him, and gently said, “You came all the way from America just to learn what I am going to tell you now. This is why I walked over here, just to tell you this. You remember what I am telling you.”
The boy’s eyes widened. I can look pretty serious to someone who is not used to seeing me, especially to an 11-year-old, non-religious, Jewish boy from America.
“When you grow up, and you start to look for a wife, you have to marry only a Jewish girl. Do you understand?
The boy nodded his head.
“We are not a religion. We’re a people. Religion goes according to a person’s belief, but the people you belong to goes according to the mother. And you want your children to be Jewish people, just like you and your mother and father, so they have to have a Jewish mother. You have to marry a Jewish girl.”
I asked the father, “Do you agree?”
The father looked at the boy, and held up both his thumbs.
“Tell him,” I said.
The father said, “He’s right. Only marry a Jewish girl.”
The father stood up and shook my hand. Wanting to be sure that he understood how important this was, I tried to frame what I said in a way that he was sure to understand. “I just gave you more than a million dollars.” I smiled and walked on.
You know, I could have left them alone sitting there. After all, the way they were dressed, I could have felt like my friend felt. I could have even scolded the father in front of his son (G-d forbid) for not being sensitive enough to come to a holy place at a holy time, when everyone was wearing their finest clothing, dressed like he was going to a park….
But the truth is that we are all obligated to look after one another. Because of my extreme good fortune, I have been placed in the world in a position where I can help people. I would be a selfish boor if I did not fulfill what I have been given to do. But you know what? So, too, have you been blessed, and so, too, have you been put in a position to help others.
Keep your eyes open. Don’t let the people you have been sent to help stay stuck in their pit any longer than they have to.