What is Essential?


torahBy S. Friedman

A number of years ago I went to the Philadelphia Department of Motor Vehicles to take my permit test.  I entered the crowded room too see that all of the seats in the waiting area were occupied.  All except for one.  I spied a prototypical “Biker” in the corner of my eye.  Leather jacket, gloves, skull and crossbones etc… and his helmet was resting comfortably on the seat next to him.

Just as I took notice, he lifted the helmet onto his lap and looked in my general direction for someone to take the seat next to him.  Instinctively, I turned around to see whom he was inviting, only to see that I was standing all by my lonesome.  I turned back to the “Biker” and he was emphatically nodding “Yes! You!” and beckoned me and pointed at the now vacant seat for emphasis.

As I settled down next to my unexpected “host” he opened the conversation right away.  He was from Wilmington, Delaware and was raised as a marginally traditional Jew.  His grandmother made great potato kugel, but that had been about the extent of his exposure to his rich heritage.  He told me that he recently embarked on a journey to Israel where he and some of his other young friends had for the first time began to connect to Yiddishkeit.  Now feeling more a part of the broader “Jewish Nation,” he wanted enjoy my company once he saw me walk in with the yarmulke on my head.

He then proceeded to tell me that he was at the DMV to renew his motorcycle license for a cross-country trip he planned with his buddies.  “Know what I named my bike?” he asked rhetorically.  “Mayim” came the proud answer to his own question.  “Because it’s smooth, and runs like flowing water?” I volunteered when he obviously thought I should understand the significance of the name.  He responded in the negative and then told me one of his experiences in Israel.

His group had gone on a hike in the desert and they came to an oasis.  They dipped their canteens into a fresh spring to replenish their water supply.  As they were filling up, some began to playfully splash each other.  Soon they were all filling their canteens and using them as weapons in an all out water war.  As my Biker friend recalls, he was in middle of dipping is canteen into the water to reload his ammunition when a hand seemingly darted out of nowhere and gripped his wrist firmly.  He looked up and saw an IDF soldier who was giving him and all his friends a stern look.

“We are in the desert, and in the desert we need water; we don’t waste water,” said the soldier harshly.

Upon concluding this episode from his Israel journey, my new DMV friend explained the origin of his motorcycle’s name.  “Mayim– water, is essential.  You can’t live without it.  My bike is essential.  I can’t live without my bike.”  I complimented him on his creative and witty name and we parted ways as we were finally called up to take care of our respective auto-related chores.

Having just closed the Yomim Norayim and Simchas Torah, it is all too easy to settle in for the doggy dog days of winter and get immersed in our monotonous routines.  The inspiration from the awe of Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur climax and intertwine with the boundless joy we express on Simchas Torah.  As we begin it anew, we are reminded of the singular importance of Torah, which Chazal say is akin to mayim, in our lives.

Rather than letting the poignancies of the uplifting Yomim Tovim slowly disappear in the proverbial rearview mirror as we speedily cruise along ahead towards Pesach, let us try to cling to the messages and the priorities which the Yomim Tovim conveyed to us.  Let’s not waste and throw around the time we have to seize opportunities to learn Torah and fulfill its’ mitzvos.  After all, in the world devoid of spiritualism that we live in, like water in a desert, it is essential.      

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  1. to #4
    I think he meant the dog days of winter but the expression is the dog days of summer which is July-September, days of inactivity due to the heat.