You know those stories from Europe where a rabbi acts just like he really should but he does it in front of a goy, and later the goy remembers the rabbi and saves the day for the Jewish community? And you always wonder if the story was made up in order to prove that rabbis are holy? Anyway, this story is about Denver.
Every week I check the east Denver eruv. An eruv is a symbolic boundary around a community that permits Jews to carry stuff on Sabbath. Roughly, every other week there is some problem that requires some repair. This can require blocking traffic. The repairs usually take just a few minutes and traffic resumes it’s normal flow with relatively good grace. But the repairs have to be done in order to carry on Sabbath.
One Friday we had a problem on Leetsdale. And that is a big problem. (Of course, there was a big bar mitzvah that week.)
You see, Leetsdale is a state highway. When you block traffic on a state highway you need a permit and a traffic control plan. (I agree wholeheartedly with the need for the rules. I have personally witnessed attempts on Leetsdale to break the land speed record, but I digress.) If we are caught doing the work without the permit, they can revoke permission to ever do any repairs on the eruv on state highways. So I went to get a permit.
When I went to the State Highway Department office, the secretary said there was a two-week wait. I think about the bar mitzvah. Oh %#&%.
“Ma’am, is the manager in?” I ask.
“There he is, on his way to lunch.”
“Sir,” I said stepping into his path, “I’m Jim Watkins with the East Denver Eruv and……”
“Do you work with Rabbi Teitlebaum?” He asked.
Who is Rabbi Teitlebaum? Is there a Rabbi Teitlebaum in Denver? If this guy knows a Rabbi Teitlebaum in connection with the eruv then I probably should know him too. But who is he? I can see that if I know Rabbi Teitlebaum it will help. Yeah, right. Here I am representing the eruv and I am supposed to lie? On the other hand, I really need to get the eruv up because of the big bar mitzvah and if there is no eruv it will screw things up for the celebration and maybe I probably am working with Rabbi Teitlebaum even if I have no clue who he is. Boy I hope that reasoning works! Yeah, right. Who is Rabbi Teitlebaum?
“Yes” I said.
He asks me what we need to do to Leetsdale and starts walking around pulling pieces of paper out of file cabinets, filling them out, telling me what to write and where, and talking about what a holy man Rabbi Teitlebaum is.
Who is Rabbi Teitlebaum? I am beginning to admire him. Obviously, this state bureaucrat was really impressed. I would like to meet Rabbi Teitlebaum whoever he is. It is now 30 minutes into his lunch hour and we are almost finished. (The bureaucrat’s lunch hour, not Rabbi Teitlebaum's) Who is Rabbi Teitlebaum?
Then I read the signature on the application for a prior permit: “Isaac Teitlebaum.” Isaac is a doctor and he was the first president of the eruv. He must have come into the office when the eruv was first built. Isaac is Rabbi Teitlebaum?
Then the manager makes a donation to the eruv!
As I drove away, I realized. Isaac came into a State Highway Department office to do a mitzvah and brought with him sanctity of purpose. He came representing the east Denver Jewish community and ended up representing G-d. Years later someone who is not Jewish was still impressed enough to work through his lunch hour and make a donation to the eruv. Wow.
Whether you call it a kiddush-ha-shem or being a “light unto the nations” or whatever; it is what Jews are here to do. Wow.
The bar mitzvah came off without a hitch.
And I started thinking that maybe if I tell the story and somebody hears it and 100 years from now some teacher will be telling the story of Rabbi Teitlebaum to bored middle-schoolers who will be wondering if any of this stuff is true.
Maybe some of the stories are truer than I thought.
I remember telling the story to Isaac and his wife. He barely remembered the event. He was just trying to get one more thing done on his list.
Every day that we publicly appear as Jews we are either an inspiration to the world, or an embarrassment to the Jewish community. Or, neither. And we rarely find out which. And we get to choose. Even if we cannot remember it later.
Kind of makes walking out the door in the morning a real adventure.
Anyway, thank you Rabbi Teitlebaum for the original eruv, for saving the bar mitzvah, and for the example.