Black crocheted kippah.
The guy across from me on the train, here in the reserved car, is davening. He holds a big siddur, mouths the words under his breath, with passion. Expertly, the way Israelis do.
He doesn’t have to daven, of course. There are dozens of people on the train, all around him, who aren’t davening. Turning on their laptops, listening to music. Even with the kippah, they might just assume he davened earlier, at home or at shul.
Still, no big deal. He has a ring in his nose, a little silver loop. A heavy silver-and-onyx ring on the middle finger of his left hand, and an ostentatiously chunky men’s watch on his left hand. Another fine silvery ring pierces the cartilage of his left ear.
Dark and handsome, with cropped hair and a Middle-Eastern five o’clock shadow even at 8 in the morning, he’s wearing a casually rumpled black henley top, unbuttoned and a little askew at the neck,
He doesn’t look like a “srugie,” your typical collared-shirt dati (religious) guy, but then, this country is full of surprises.
You can’t judge people based on their shirt or the kippah they wear. Right? I know that much. Probably you do, too.
He puts away the siddur, pulls out a book of Tehillim, psalms. It’s smaller than the siddur, bound with white leather, and obviously well-loved and well-used. Like most Israelis, he finds the place instantly, flips to it, and mumbles the verses he’s opened the book to say.
He probably knows them by heart, but the book is important anyway. I used to tell my older kids, “Rabbi Hoch probably knows the benching very well by now… but he still probably uses a bencher most of the time anyway.”
We always see Israelis davening on buses and trains, and more and more often, saying Tehillim not from leather-bound volumes but from smartphones and tablets. You can get a siddur on there, the Tanach, probably the entire gemara. This is clearly an old-fashioned guy, shlepping around these well-loved bulky leather volumes.
He’s finishing his Tehillim, whichever ones he has chosen to say, based on the date or his situation or the country’s or a friend’s. Who knows?
He closes the book, tucks it away in his white leather sport bag. Then pulls off the black crocheted kippah, folds it neatly, and tucks it in, too, to sleep the day away beneath newspapers, books, the brand-new shirt wrapped in plastic that I can see peeking out the top.
In my not-judging, I have misjudged him after all. He's not dati, might not describe himself as religious at all.
Or is he?
How many times, I wonder, have I seen the exact opposite situation?
How many times have you been in a setting where everybody is davening, where people are expected to daven with kavannah and sincerity, so they show up on time, look the part, dress the part, go through the motions and either get the job done or pretend to. Or even take it farther, throw themselves into the davening, trying hard not just to look religious, but super-religious. Out-davening everybody else.
Are they really feeling it?
I'll admit: I ask myself this sometimes. I judge, even though there’s absolutely no way to tell. I literally have no idea. But I suspect, as much as I want to think this doesn't happen, that I have witnessed it more than a few times.
But honestly, seeing how fallible my own judgment can be, I’m glad there’s no way to tell. Only Hashem knows for sure what’s in people’s hearts.
Today is the fourth of Tishrei, a brand-new year. We spent the first two days proclaiming Hashem as king, judge over the whole world. And that’s a great relief, because it means that the burden is off us.
It’s not for us to judge people and their relationship with Hashem. What good does that serve, anyway? The distinctions may be important when eating food someone has prepared or considering a shidduch with their family, but in most cases, they are all superficial.
The guy across from me on the train, with the nose rings, short hair, rumpled shirt, pulls out a fat pink lollipop, sticks in his white ear buds. Licking contentedly, he looks just like everybody else on the train, which is crowded now, full of people entertaining themselves … getting started, in whatever way they can, on an ordinary morning in Israel.
We find ourselves now in the middle of a ten-day period of judgment. but the only one we should be judging is ourselves. About anyone else, we are almost certain to be mistaken.
We are almost certain to judge them by the wrong things. By their piercings, their haircut, their jewellery, their kippah, their watch so thick and heavy it just might preclude the use of one hand. Their sticky pink lollipop, bursting with exquisite strawberry flavour, and the promise of unbearable sweetness in the year to come.
For him, for me, for you, and for all of bnei Yisrael.
Tzivia / צִיבְיָה