(Note from the author: unfortunately a combination of sick patients, homework for the kids, Yeshiva week and a very prolonged case of writers block have contributed to my delinquency in contributing to this blog. I thank all the friends (DA, DM etc) who encouraged me to pick up the pen and get back to it)
I think my earliest awareness of technology was circa 1974 when my dad brought home a new Chevrolet Caprice Classic. It was a pale yellow color consistent with the refrigerators and other appliances of that era. What made it unique in my five-year-old mind was the fact that it had something called an eight-track tape player.
Up to that point I understood that you turned on the car radio and listened to whatever music was playing. To be able to choose music in the car was a new concept for me. Of course we heard the same eight or nine songs over and over and over again- “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles stands out.
The Caprice was a company car, and the company happened to be owned by my grandfather, Grandpa Jake and his brothers (Oleh hashalom)
Don’t be impressed; the company wasn’t a conglomerate or multi-national, rather it was a small garment factory operating in the deep South. It stood as the remnant of a classic dry goods store typical of those owned by Jews living in south in the late 19th and early 20th century.
At any rate, every few years the company would lease a small fleet of the same model car for the owners, managers and salespeople.
My grandfather drove this Chevrolet to work every day up until and including the day he died.
Nana, my grandmother, on the other hand, was a bit fancier. She drove a Cadillac- something called a “Fleetwood Brougham” which even at age 5 I could tell was high style with its pinstripe seats and electric windows.
One day, on the way to work with my grandfather, (I liked to go because they had a Coca-Cola machine with real glass bottles of Coke or Fanta Grape) I asked him why he didn’t ever drive the Cadillac to work.
“There’s no reason for me to show off in front of the workers” he exclaimed.
At the time I wasn’t sure what he meant.
Why not show off? I wondered. After all, he was the boss.
( Note: my grandfather was a man of warmth, intelligence and most of all integrity. His name was his word and a handshake was stronger than a paper contract. He was a man of means but yet he was at home among everyday people. He knew everyone by name weather they were the gas station attendant, the cleaning lady or the doorman at the building.)
However, as I read this weeks’ Parsha , I think I understand what he was trying to tell me all those years ago.
In parsha Miketz we find Yakkov/Jacob and his sons in the midst of a severe famine. Everyone else is literally starving and yet, Jacob and his family apparently have food. Despite this, Jacob insists they journey to Egypt and buy food like everyone else.
“ why make yourself conspicuous?” He adjures his sons.
Rashi and another commentators discuss what is meant by this description. It seems to be that the prevailing opinion is that despite having food, The sons should still go to Egypt and purchase additional provisions. The sentiment implied is not to appear any better off than their neighbors.
The Rednecker Rav would suggest that this is a lesson that we need to be mindful of in every generation. On the one hand, there is no Jewish antipathy toward success. However it should be measured and not ostentatious. Yakkov/Jacob understood the concept of איבה (emnity) clearly from the hatred expressed toward his overwhelming success during his years as an outsider in Laban’s house.
He understood that non-Jews would always denigrate our success and would only hate us more out of jealousy toward our material gains.
Yakkov’s approach throughout his years of amassing his fortune was to accentuate his reputation not as a man of wealth, but as a man of integrity and faith.
We see this with clarity when Jacob meets Pharoah. Here we have arguably the wealthiest, most poweful man in the world, paying homage to a leader of Jews, a group typically abhorred by Egyptians.
The Rednecker sees this as the fundamental message of the parsha- recognition of ones spirituality can be more awe inspiring that seeing a person only through a materialistic lens.
In retrospect, I think what grandfather Jacob was trying to teach me with his choice of automobile was in the same vein as what Yakkov Avinu was trying to teach his children, namely that character, integrity and our concern for others makes us who we are.
And that my friends, is more important than any hood ornament you could ever put on a car.