By Rabbi Dennis Beck-Berman
Congregation Brith Achim
On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the birth of American independence. As Americans we are blessed with the freedom to attain our deepest aspirations. But this requires a person to be true to one’s deepest self.
A story. Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, one of the greatest sages of Eastern Europe in the 19th century, was the head of the famous Yeshiva in Volozhin. When he was young, he was very poor. His father was a tailor and was preparing him also to become a good tailor. But he didn’t want to be a tailor.
So one day when he was about 11 years old, he ran away from home and went to a Yeshiva to study Torah. Soon afterward, he had an amazing dream. He became a tailor — a good tailor. He died and went up to heaven. But he was told that before entering Paradise, he must see something. Then angels came and wrote all the holy books that he could have written if he would have gone to learn Torah.
They told him, “Look at what you missed out on. See what you could have achieved.” And he felt so very hurt. “Look what I could have been! I could have been a light to Israel for all generations to come. So, I was a good tailor instead.”
Then he awoke and vowed that if God someday gave him the privilege to be a Rabbi and to write a great holy book, he would make a feast. On the day that he published his most famous work, Ha-amek Davar, a commentary on the Torah, he made a great celebration in fulfillment of a childhood vow.
And in order to follow our own dreams we must be free to overcome the expectations of others. A parable: There was once a tailor by the name of Zombach who was quite famous. A man came into his shop for a final fitting for a custom-made suit. He was helped into the jacket by Zombach, and then exclaimed, “Zombach, what’s this?! The right sleeve is two inches shorter than the left! For all that I’m paying …”
“My good man,” said Zombach, “It’s not the suit. It’s the way you’re standing. If you stand like this, it fits perfectly.” And Zombach hunched up his right shoulder. The man did likewise, and sure enough, it was a perfect fit.
Then the man cried, “But Zombach, look at all this material in the neck. My wife won’t like that. This is supposed to be a fancy suit.”
“No problem,” Zombach reassured him, “All you have to do is bend back your neck and lean over – like this. It’s not the suit, it’s only the way you’re standing.”
By now, the man could hardly breathe in his contorted position. But the suit really fit beautifully. He paid Zombach, left and went out and on to the subway. A stranger stared at him and remarked, ‘that suit you’re wearing is beautiful. I bet Zombach the tailor made that suit.” “Why, yes. But how did you know?”
“Only a tailor of the quality of Zombach could make such a suit for a cripple like you!”
May everyone appreciate the blessings of freedom and continually embrace our individual destiny.