It’s Wednesday – September 10, 2014

Boker Tov.

In the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah I share some stories and sermon ideas that will not make it to the big time. I was about to begin on that last week when I had my encounter with traffic court.  Many of you had parallel stories, with similar outcomes, but you told them better. Now back to the business of the high holidays, which is in essence looking back on the past year and setting our sights on some behavorial upgrades for the new one.

It is so tempting to talk about priorities, keeping our eyes on the target. It is so simple also. We know that on our deathbed we will never say, “I wish I had spent more time in the office.” Or, “I wish I had responded quicker to tweets that came in during family dinner time.” So here’s a true incident in the life of a colleague, which teaches a lesson that I recommend especially to young professionals – doctors, lawyers, business people. You know who you are.

The story comes from Rabbi Danny Teplitz, a colleague living in New Jersey. He says that when he was a child, he loved to visit his grandfather, Dr. Max Arzt, who happened to be a great Jewish thinker and the Vice Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.  One day he was playing with his grandfather in his office when the secretary came in and said, “Chief Justice Warren’s office is on the phone”. Without missing a beat, Dr. Arzt said to her, “Please tell him that I am busy right now. Tell him that I have someone very important here in my office, and that I will call him back as soon as I can.”

Danny Teplitz says that he never got over that experience, and I was quite struck by it. I think that Dr. Arzt had his priorities right. I don’t imagine that Chief Justice Warren was calling to ask for his guidance on a major court case. He was planning to come to the Seminary for a weekend to study Torah, together with Harry Truman, and I imagine that his office was probably calling to work out some of the arrangements. But still – Dr. Arzt was right. He understood that the working out of the details for the Chief Justice’s visit could wait a few minutes. Paying attention to his grandchild was more important. And that is my simple lesson that I would have you learn now and apply in the coming year(s). In case you are not sure it applies, ask yourself: how many of us would have declined to take that call?  How many of us put our cellphone away when we have time with our spouse or kids?

Ponder this and have a good Wednesday. Two weeks from tonight is Rosh Hashanah and it’s not too soon to consider some changes in the way we live our lives.   Bill Rudolph

P.S. I could easily have made this entire column into a PSA, not the kind that men worry about but announcements for three big events this weekend: Shabbat with the visiting Israeli Masorti Rabbi, the Israel Media Series kickoff, and the rededication of the Bender Family Sanctuary. The listserv has or will contain all the information, as does our website Only dinner Friday night, after the Kol Haneshama service and before the first Rabbi talk, requires a reservation; today please.