I was on my way into the Bed, Bath, and Beyond in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, when I encountered a young orthodox Jew. He was sporting a beard, yarmulke, and tzitzit, the fringe at the bottom of his prayer shawl.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Are you Jewish?”
“Yes, I am,” I said. “How’d you know?”
“Oh, I had that sense.”
Ah, Jewdar is a many-splendored thing!
“My name is Ari,” he said. “Would you like to perform a mitzvah with me?”
“But why here?” I said. “Is there some special religious significance about a Bed, Bath, and Beyond?”
“It’s where the bus lets off.”
Mitzvahs are acts of kindness or reverence generally thought of as “good deeds,” which may benefit individuals or the world at large. There are 613 formal mitzvot in Judaism.
I haven’t even performed the Top Ten yet. I’m way behind on my mitzvah bucket list.
“Yes, I would,” I said. “But I should tell you that I’m a reform Jew. Frankly, if we had ‘instant Judaism,’ ‘quick Judaism,’ or ‘mix-and-pray Judaism,’ like speeds of Cream of Wheat, I might be one of those too.
“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” he laughed. “We’re all Jews.”
I liked his attitude!
“Now what we’re going to do,” he said, “is wrap tefillin and say some blessings.”
No, tefillin is not a kind of fish.
Tefillin are two small leather boxes containing Hebrew prayers attached by leather straps which very observant Jewish men wrap around their head and left arm.
Many of my grandfather’s generation used to do this.
This “mix-and-pray” Jew hasn’t wrapped tefillin since his bar mitzvah.
I began to wonder if Ari had an ulterior motive. Was he using tefillin to tie me up to prevent my escape while he tried to sell me timeshares, futures in a matzo ball mine, or …
OMG, what if he’s a ….
“Ari,” I said. “You’re not a Jew for Jesus?”
Jews for Jesus are “Jews” who believe Jesus is the messiah, even though they generally practice Jewish customs. Most of them try to convince you that, without Jesus, you’re headed straight for the boiler room in the basement.
If there is anything after life, I’m sure we’re all going to the same place, although I hope I’m not sharing a room with Ivan the Terrible.
“No, I’m a Jew,” he said. “No worries.”
Ari guided me through a number of Hebrew prayers, culminating in the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism:
“Sh’ma Yisraeil, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.”
Which — roughly translated — means: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”
The mitzvah only took about 30 seconds to perform, and then Ari unwrapped the tefillin. As Ari probably intended, I felt a bit more in touch with my Jewish roots. I also felt like I wanted to perform a mitzvah for somebody or group of persons in particular, not just for the planet.
I had a few ideas.
We took a selfie, and I said goodbye and entered the store. Although a mitzvah is not necessarily supposed to provide a tangible benefit for the person performing it, my mitzvah did.
“I’m sorry, I forgot my 20 percent-off coupon,” I said to the sales associate, as I stood in line with a food processor in hand.“No problem, sir,” she said. “I’ll get you one!”
How about that?
Not only did I help repair the world, I wound up with a Bed, Bath, and Beyond blessing too.
Perry Block is a humorist living in Havertown, Pennsylvania. He has just published his first book about Baby Boomer life, “Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute.” He respectfully requests you put your life on hold while waiting for his second.