“It’s the little things in life that are the big things” is a saying that proves its verity over and over again. Consider my recent experience on a trip to Israel. Upon landing, I collected all my belongings (carry-on case, sheitel box, food supplies, etc.) in preparation for exiting the plane. Then I decided that it was time to put on the boots that I had removed during the flight. There was no problem with the first one, but the second boot refused to zip up. As many times as I tried it was to no avail. The kind stewardess offered to help but her efforts were also in vain.
Meanwhile, the wheelchair pickup for my husband, who had recently hurt his back, had already arrived. The gentleman who was pushing it scurried off with my husband, leaving me to straggle behind, oblivious to my plight, one boot up and the other hanging down. I’ve noticed that the airport personnel who push wheelchairs are invariably robust, strapping guys with long legs, and keeping up with them is like running a marathon in the best of times. Now the situation was exacerbated by my open and flapping boot, threatening to trip me every step of the way.
Additionally, as Murphy’s Law would dictate, it was davka in this humiliating state that I met countless people who recognized me and asked, “Aren’t you Rebbetzin Twerski? I read your articles all the time and I’ve heard you speak…” Then they looked down at my footwear and shook their heads in sympathy. Some even offered to help zip it up. Suffice it to say that I was embarrassed. What made it worse was that my husband was unaware of my dilemma, miles ahead of me. He kept looking back from afar, his expression confused, clearly wondering why I couldn’t keep up.
Fortunately, I was able to keep a lid on my growing frustration. I calmed myself down and focused on the good fortune of having landed safely. I said nothing and didn’t vent my annoyance. Sure enough, I was able to finally zip it up on the next attempt.
An old memory flashed through my mind. Forty years ago, when I was living in my first apartment in Milwaukee, my parents, of blessed memory, came to pay me a visit. In the course of their stay I complained to my father about the tiles above my stove that had warped and curled from the intense heat. My father replied, “Dear daughter, don’t fret. You’ll see, soon your friends and neighbors will assume it’s the new style, and they’re going to want to install them in their own kitchens!” In my mind’s eye I could see him there with me in the airport, saying, “Tayere tuchter, it is totally conceivable that before long, the style of choice will be one boot zipped up and the other hanging down charmingly!’”
This was immediately reinforced as I observed a young woman wearing a long undershirt hanging out of her sweater, sporting an even shorter jacket on top of the whole ensemble. Years ago, my mother would have called her a “schlump,” and urged her to tuck in the protruding items of clothing and look like a “balebatishe” human being.
Indeed, styles and fashions, as ridiculous and outrageous as they initially seem, quickly become the norm when they are widely embraced. The Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel, zt”l, used to lament the fact that someone in Paris decides on a particular style and the whole world conforms, no questions asked.
The struggle for self-control in my embarrassing situation reminded me of an anecdote about the great Rebbe, Reb Mottele Neshchidzer. The Rebbe had always dreamed of having a tallis katan made from the wool of sheep that had grazed in the pastures of our Holy Land. One time, a devout chasid of the Rebbe was traveling to Israel and asked him if there was anything he might bring back for him. The Rebbe shared his desire with the chasid and the latter was more than happy to accommodate him.
Upon his return, the chasid presented the Rebbe with a piece of woolen fabric, and the Rebbe immediately summoned his tailor and asked him to cut out the requisite opening so it would serve as a proper beged. The tailor was ecstatic to be of service to the Rebbe and eagerly set about the task. In his great zeal, however, instead of folding the cloth over once to make one opening for the head he folded it twice, and alas, the result was two neck holes!
He was mortified and afraid to face the Rebbe with the “tallis katan” he had ruined. After not hearing from the tailor for a while the Rebbe called him in and asked for the garment. With great trepidation, the tailor handed the “beged” to the Rebbe. The Rebbe unfolded it and beheld the grievous error that had been made. The tailor fully expected to be excoriated, but the Rebbe said nothing.
After a few moments, a big smile broke out on the Rebbe’s face and he declared, “It’s perfect! Other tallis katans need one hole, but mine required two openings.” The tailor couldn’t believe his ears. “But Rebbe!” he stuttered. “It’s ruined!” “Not at all,” the Rebbe protested. “Don’t you understand? The first hole was necessary to make it a tallis katan. But the second hole was just as necessary, to see if I, Mottele, would get angry. Don’t you see? Nothing in life is arbitrary or accidental.
Everything is orchestrated from Above. Yes, I yearned for a beged made out of wool nurtured by the soil of our Holy Land; it certainly would have enhanced the mitzvah. But getting upset and losing my cool would have been an unfortunate lapse. Therefore, my dear fellow, a tallis katan with two holes is precisely the perfect garment for me.” I have always received great chizzuk and inspiration from this anecdote.
More than anything, it puts one on notice to watch for seemingly insignificant mishaps and occurrences. While these things may seem random and barely worthy of notice, in reality each one is tailor-made to test our mettle and provide us with an opportunity for growth. I have not as yet plumbed the kabbalistic implications of arriving in Israel with one unzipped boot. Hopefully, the insight will be forthcoming.
I do, however, appreciate the comment of the philosopher who said, “Look down when you walk, not off into the distance, for people stumble on little clods of earth rather than mountains.”