Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 94-Cent Yahrzeit Candle

We are constantly being tested, and with each test we pass, our character becomes more refined and pure. Most of the tests are small, but from small things come much larger ones. The rabbis taught, "Mitzvah goreret mitzvah" one mitzvah leads to another... and the same goes for sin.

My father, a renowned cantor, was a moral mentor to me, although he died very young. Perhaps in part it was because he died at the most vulnerable time for me, just as I was starting rabbinical school, that his imprint has been so lasting. Click here to see what I wrote about him on his tenth yahrzeit, way back in 1988. He was the consummate mensch.

So last week I went to Fairway (the new one in Stamford) and bought a cartload of items, including a small candle for my father's yahrzeit, which falls Thursday night. After unloading my bags into my car, I handed the shopping cart to a parking lot attendant. A moment later, I heard him shout, "Hey you forgot this."

He was holding up the candle. Immediately I realized that I had forgotten to pay for it and had left it in the cart. I took the candle and, for an instant, my mind went through all the machinations that you go through when you are trying to figure out the consequences of the moral decision you are about to make. Yes, it was a bother to go back into the store - and I was i a hurry. Yes, I could "get away with it" by simply leaving, and no one would ever know. And how much was this little candle worth to Fairway, after all? What difference would it make?

But when I thought about what this candle is for, it really was no contest. How could I even think of lighting a stolen yahrzeit candle to honor Mr. Mensch? Or anyone?

I ran into the store as if I were holding hot coals. No, I hadn't stolen intentionally, but until it was back inside the store, the candle was contraband. I ran to the nearest cashier. The value of this near grand-theft: 94 cents.

Some mitzvot come cheap.

A few weeks ago a significant percentage of our seventh graders told me they've at times lied when going into the movies, in order to get the under-12 discount. Most were prompted by their parents to do that. At the local Majestic Theater, it costs $8.50 for a matinee showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." The cost of a child's ticket?


If your child has just turned twelve, think of how much value you will get by instructing him to walk up to the window and tell the truth. Talk about getting bang for the buck!

A moment of honesty could buy a lifetime of integrity. That's the gift that will keep on giving.

And it's the gift my dad gave me once again last week, in the parking lot at Fairway.

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