Thursday, July 05, 2007

Meet the Beadle

Once upon a time, there was a beadle, who worked very hard on behalf of his shul. His job was to open the shul in the morning and lock it up at night. In between, he would choose people to daven for the amud, call up the aliyos to the Torah, and assist the occasional wandering Jew with saying Kaddish and donning tefillin.

But this beadle was not satisfied simply fulfilling his duties. Because he is so special a Jew and so dedicated to his shul and its mission, he would look for opportunities to make a good shul great. And one fine day, when he noticed that a particular member had missed services several days in a row, rather than ask around after his well-being, the beadle decided to pick up the phone and find out first-hand how he was feeling.

He dialed the congregant’s number, and the congregant's wife answered the phone. The beadle explained why he had called and inquired as to the welfare of the absentee member. The response was not what he had expected. Rather than thank him for his concern, Mrs. Congregant rebuked him.

“Now you ask how he’s doing?” she said. “A member is sick and you wait three days to call? What kind of a shul is this?!”

The beadle backpedaled. Stammering, he offered that he hadn't been worried up to that point, noting that missing a day or two of shul was not necessarily an indication of ill health or trouble. But no explanations or apologies would mollify this woman. She was incensed.

The beadle felt terrible, and slumped glumly in his chair. “You try to do a good thing…,” he muttered, shaking his head, and then summing it up: “Calling people isn’t even part of my job.”

Poor fellow. It’s the hardest combination in the world: being sensitive to others while being a sensitive person yourself. Here he is: a thoughtful, caring person—and those very traits turned on him; he was accused of the opposite.

I weighed this for a moment before recognizing that the beadle had actually accomplished something rare and difficult: he had performed a mitzvah lishmah. Lishmah—for its own sake—is a term that gets tossed about effortlessly, when in fact it is a very tough standard to achieve. Every mitzvah we do is usually tainted by some ulterior motive—we keep the Sabbath, but enjoy the relaxation it provides; we study the Torah, but take pleasure in our newfound knowledge; we give to charity, but bask in our reputation of being charitable.

Even when we believe that we have achieved this lofty level, the pride we feel in its accomplishment diminishes its purity. So how is one to achieve lishmah?

I often joke, half seriously, that the only people learning Torah lishmah these days are the young men at Yeshiva University. There once was a time when admitting you were a yeshiva bochur brought insult and scorn. Those days are, thankfully, gone. Even those who believe that one should eventually earn a living accept the notion of a young man's learning full-time for several years beyond high school.

But with the stigma gone the lishmah aspect has disappeared as well. People take pride—and are given honor—for studying Torah. So when people ask a 21-year-old, “Where are you learning?” and he responds, “Mir. Brisk. Lakewood,” his answer is met with smiles and nodding heads.

But if the young man answers, “Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan,” the questioner might look at him quizzically and say, “Oh. So what’s your major?”

YU bochurim are the Rodney Dangerfields of the yeshiva world. They could be learning day and night off in their corner of Washington Heights and never receive so much as an acknowledgment of their efforts.

Now that’s studying Torah lishmah.

And our beadle, too, I believe accomplished this goal. By being insulted for his good will, by having his fine intentions backfire, he was actually performing a mitzvah that was pure. After explaining my position to him, I concluded, “Therefore, you should celebrate.”

He smiled wanly, proving that even my valiant efforts at making him feel better were not going to sully the purity of his mitzvah.


Blogger Sara with NO H said...

I can't say I have a hell of a lot to say, but I do welcome you back. Nice to see you blogging again. :)

Thu Jul 05, 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger Miriam said...

hi clooJew,

Nice post. It makes me remember someone I know who made a chessed wedding, but then the kallah and chosson accused her of withholding money!

It takes a bit to really appreciate the chance to do a mitzvah lishmah.

Sat Jul 07, 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger Lakewood Venter said...

wow, you are back?!

Sun Jul 08, 12:10:00 AM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

glad to see you again

It's hard to do something lishmah. It feels so good to be appreciated. I guess the thing to remember is that at least G-d appreciates it.

Sun Jul 08, 02:53:00 AM  
Anonymous rebelwithacause said...

Nice post on YU bochurim and mitzwa lishma. That's okay if people don't appreciate what they are doing, people who critize are not G-d and they are not in a position to judge other Jews.

Tue Jul 10, 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

So in other words, if you do a mitzvah and you get dissed, it transforms into lishmah? Cloojew, admit're really the beadle, right?

Tue Jul 10, 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

I'm the Fifth Beadle! But this really did happen to the shamas of our shul.

Tue Jul 10, 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger Miriam said...

mata hari-- that's what I thought too.

i'll admit i was the wedding planner.

Tue Jul 10, 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Mata Hari said...

miriam - you know what they good deed goes unpunished. but seriously, if you planned a wedding for someone, that's a BIG deal. the accusations were probably just a test so you could get extra credit. when people lash out at you like that, it's generally because they're unhappy with themselves.

cloo - you already are one of the beadles. George :)

Tue Jul 10, 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Miriam said...


You've been tagged! Please see my blog for details.

Tue Jul 10, 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

You have, lulei demistafina, been tagged. :) Check my blog!

Wed Jul 11, 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger aoc gold said...

Boats Sail On The Rivers


Boats sail on the rivers,

And ships sail on the seas;

But clouds that sail across the sky,

Are prettier far than these.


There are bridges on the rivers,

As pretty as you please;

But the bow that bridges heaven,

And overtops the trees,

And builds a road from earth to sky,

Is prettier far than these.

-----by runescape gold

Fri Aug 22, 10:46:00 PM  

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