On Friday, I was in line at the kosher deli in Winn Dixie. The gentlemen there have come to know me as I used to work as a vendor in the store and have shopped there for about 3 years. I’ve shared with them my trip to Israel, we’ve exchanged pleasantries, and they’ve helped me with food choices.
On this particular day there was no one in line as I was perusing the offered fare. You see my granddaughter wasn’t with me, so I could eat anything I wanted this Shabbat – things I like but she doesn’t. And since it is Shabbat, I normally want us both to enjoy every morsel of food. I want nothing to detract from the joy of the day. So I usually seek out her favorite foods.
But this Shabbat I could choose something different, something I liked without regard to anyone else’s preference. And coming to the close of a stressful week at work, I didn’t want to cook. So here I was in line at the deli, searching for what would bring joy to my palate.
As I perused, three people came up and asked for help. The man behind the counter suggested I was first. Having just read the Torah portion about Abraham’s graciousness with his nephew, Lot, I knew God was calling me to step back and let the others be served first.
This seemed to surprise the man behind the counter, but he joyfully assisted the others. Even when his co-worker came up to assist, and he told him I was first, I passed it on to the next person. To be honest, I just needed to stop for a few minutes and breathe in the family of God preparing for His special day, to disconnect from the crazy pace of the week and slow down to the peaceful pace of Shabbat.
As I stood there soaking it all in, an elderly gentleman came up sporting a kippah and tzitziyot. He asked, ‘Are those tzitzit?’
“Yes sir.” I responded.
“Can you explain?” he demanded, as he spied the Star-of-David on my neck.
I suddenly realized he was offended that I was wearing tzitzit. Now I have to stop and share that lately I’ve been wondering about my decision to wear tzitzit. For those unfamiliar with what this is, they are the fringes worn on the corners of the garment to remind us to obey God’s commandments. (Numbers 15:38-39) They are also the fulfilled promise that the Messiah will have healing in his ‘wings/corners’ (Malachi 3:20; Matthew 9:20, 14:36)
The rabbis say women are exempt from following this commandment because it is a time-bound commandment and women’s time is consumed with raising children and tending to the family, which is an honorable vocation.
So I prayed for guidance and answered, “Yes sir. All my children are grown and I just want to obey the commandments of Hashem.”
He nodded his head, said ‘okay’ and proceeded to shop for his needs.
This is the second conversation the tzitziyot started in the kosher section of Winn Dixie with older Jewish gentlemen. The first was very pleasant. This one, however, left me wondering. Was this gentleman satisfied with my answer? Or was he still offended but pursuing peace?
So I’ve been puzzling over how to accomplish what I believe my Father wants me to do (wear tzitziyot), but at the same time not cause offense. In other words, how can I be like Father Abraham (who let Lot choose which parcel of land he wanted instead of taking the best as was his right – Gen 5:13-11); or like Paul who said ‘do nothing out of rivalry or vanity, but, in humility, regard each other as better than yourselves’. – Phil 2:3
On the heels of this encounter, I got my food order. And for the first time in three years the man behind the counter wished me ‘gut Shabbos’. Did he hear my response? Was he satisfied?
So I’ve been thinking, maybe when I come into an area where there are a lot of Jewish men, I should tuck in my tzitziyot. After all, this is what I intend to do when I go to Israel in order to keep from being an offense to those living in the land.
But on the other hand, like the two conversations this has started, does God want to use these to show our older brother, Israel, that the nations are pursuing their God? That all their faithfulness these millennia are bearing fruit? That the nations are coming to their God in obedience to His Torah?