It’s the year 1950. You board a train in the frigid Russian winter headed to an important meeting you have in Poland. One of your gloves falls off your hand to the tracks below. You could get off the train to get your glove, missing the meeting and losing whatever you spent on the ticket. Or, you could stay where you are seated, taking a journey of hundreds of miles in an unheated train without one of your gloves.
What would you do?
When Rabbi Yisrael Salanter faced this dilemma, he took off his second glove, and tossed it onto the track by the first. He reasoned, at least this way, whoever finds the glove will have a matching pair and get some use out of it.
How did he have the sensitivity to make this choice?
There are a lot of details in Judaism. Details of details even. How do I cook this meat? What other foods and vessels can I mix with the meat? What days is it a mitzvah to eat the meat? What times am I not allowed to eat the meat? It goes on…
This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is all about the details. Many mitzvos are introduced and their details explained in depth. The amount of Talmudic literature (not to mention later rabbinic commentary) derived from our Torah portion is tremendous.
Why does G-d ask that we delve into such detail? Why not just paint in broad strokes like “be a good person”?
Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair suggests, that G-d is reminding us that every detail of our lives is important, not just the broad strokes. Every single thing that you do, can be done in a better or worse way. G-d puts every event in your day, every object in your path, for a reason, as part of your journey. Each of those seemingly little things are significant and can have larger results than you realize at first.
But mindfulness of these details takes practice. You have to be constantly thinking about details to remember that the details matter. Perhaps G-d gave us a book of a thousand details so that we would also come to dissect every word we said before we say it and every act we do before we do it. Not just what I say and do, but what tone do I use? When is the best time for it? Where is the best place?. Who should I do it with or for?
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was such a master of moral details, that when he dropped his glove, he wasn’t just concerned for his own personal benefit. He saw this as yet another opportunity to do good with a small act that G-d was putting in his path.
Rabbi A and the JET Team