I was meant to be in Manchester running the finale of the Yehudi year 6 programme at King David. Unfortunately, late Wednesday I received the news that my uncle had been taken to hospital and it was serious. So, I had to cancel Manchester and book last minute flights and a car rental for Dublin.
Baruch Hashem it was a good day for my uncle and I flew back last night with him stable and hopefully on the mend.
However, the trip provided me with a very powerful lesson which I wish to share with you.
I travel quite a lot, both nationally and internationally. I therefore have to hire cars which is far cheaper than getting taxis everywhere. I pretty much always used Hertz, as that is who I have loyalty with and mainly because in Israel (where I travel the most) you can pick up the car in the Terminal and not have to shlap to and from the car rental place – saving a lot of time.
I also happen to have a Hertz Gold account, no idea what I did to qualify and no idea what the benefits are…until yesterday (as you will see!).
So Wednesday night, I quickly went online and booked, through the Hertz website, as per usual, a one day hire of a car.
I had been to Dublin a few months before to visit my uncle, so I remembered that, like Israel, Hertz cars are picked up in the Terminal and not in the car rental office which is a 10 min bus journey away.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I went up to the Hertz Gold counter and gave my details, that they told me to go outside and get the bus to rental area. Being in such an emotional state, due to my uncle, I didn’t say anything to the Hertz guy and went to get the bus, but I was sure that the previous time, I didn’t have to get a bus for Hertz.
Fifteen minutes later (bus ride and queues) I was in front of a Hertz assistant.
‘Can I ask you a question?’ I said.
‘I am sure with Hertz, you can pick up and drop of cars in the Terminal and don’t have to come here?’
‘Yes’, she said ‘But that is only for Gold Card holders’.
I looked at her ‘I am a Gold Card holder’ and gave her my membership number.
She looked at me incredulously, ‘Then why did you not book with your number? You could have got your car so much faster! What is the point of having a Gold Card – if you do not use it!’
It suddenly struck me that many members of the Jewish people has a similar issue in terms of not realising or maximising or even using what we have been given.
It reminded me of a wonderful story I once heard from Rabbi YY Rubinstein.
Viscount Tonypandy, George Thomas was once the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner for a Jewish Charity many years ago.
Viscount Tonypandy told the tale of the first Jew he ever met. It was in his hometown of Tonypandy in Wales at the beginning of the 20th century.
A Jew named Issacs approached little Geordie Thomas and asked him if he would be willing to come in and light the coal fire on Friday night and Shabbat morning. If he would do this every week, he would receive a twopence!
Little Geordie eagerly agreed and returned home proudly holding his fortune in his hand.
He came into his mother’s kitchen where he found her washing dishes. She observed him out of the corner of her eye and carried on at her task. When she finished, she turned to him and asked, “Where did you get that, boy?” “The Jew Mr. Issacs gave it to me Mam! If I go into his house on his Sabbath and light his fire Friday night and Saturday morning, I get a Twopence!” His Mother looked at him sternly, “Take it back boy!” Little Geordie was stunned, “But Mam, he said I could have it!”
Again, his mother told him to take it back. The future Peer of the realm looked up at his mother and his lip started to quiver and tears filled his eyes, “But why Mam?”
His mother looked at him and explained, “You don’t take money from a man, to help him serve his God!”
Geordie Thomas trod back to his benefactor still clutching his Twopence and told him that he could not accept the money and why. The Jew would hear nothing of it and marched him straight back to his mother. Then Mr. Issacs and Mrs. Thomas started a debate, which ended in a compromise. Geordie could keep his Twopence on that occasion but from now on would light the Shabbat fires for free.
Then Viscount Tonypandy turned to his Jewish audience and declared,
“You Jews; you’ve forgotten who you are! When we in this country were still running around in animal skins, you had already built your golden temple in Jerusalem. While we were still living in caves, you had already written the book, which would go on to inspire the whole world. Never be ashamed of being Jewish. You’ve forgotten who you are!”
Never forget who we are and what we have given to the world.
Never forget the rich traditions and customs of our people.
Never forget how Judaism is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.
We have the Gold card – but we don’t use it, we don’t reap the stunning benefits of living a lifestyle connected to Torah and Halacha. And our heavenly agents could well turn to us incredulously and bemoan the fact that we had access to this incredible gift and we didn’t even use it.
Our second Parsha this week gives us another example of this idea:
Balak contains the famous verse: Bamidbar 24:5
Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaacov, Mishkanotecha Yisrael – How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
A verse in stunning praise of our people, as Rashi reminds us, of our modesty, of our sense of community and collective responsibility. A verse we say every morning, when we enter shul for Shacharit, a very special verse indeed.
That was spoken by a non-Jew.
Sometimes we need to be reminded of our uniqueness by others- and be inspired by it. The wonder and pride that others have for us – we need to remind ourselves as well.
As Roman Catholic Paul Johnson said:
Certainly, the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might have eventually stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But we cannot be sure. All the great conceptual discoveries of the human intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they had been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of human person; of the individual conscience and so a personal redemption; of collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without Jews it might have been a much emptier place.”
So yes, the purpose of my visit to Dublin was to look after family.
Yet I also gained a perspective on our wider family. If we really want to have a meaningful Judaism and a relationship with Hashem, we must realise what we have, be grateful and strive to continue learning, growing and striving to make sure we are always present and not God forbid failing to realise who we are or what Hashem created us to be.