Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | July 25, 2018

The Borrowed Talis and Other Stories

The title of this article may seem like a children’s book, but it’s really an appropriate one.  You see, the stories and anecdotes I will relate here truly are connected and convey a deep message.

Story #1: One day, I got to shul without a Talis.  I had sent my weekday Talis to the dry cleaners and forgot to take my Shabbos one.  I walked over to the Rabbi and asked if I could make a blessing on and wear a shul Talis.  He was already davening and couldn’t speak but he nodded his head, then swiftly shook it side to side, and motioned for me to wait and he pointed to his head as if to say, “I have a better idea,” whereupon he took out his Shabbos talis and lent it to me.


I was able to make a bracha on it, but I noticed something else.  When I was wearing that Talis, I felt that I could not betray the trust of the Rabbi who had given it to me.  I didn’t want to do anything wrong in it, and I even decided not to look at a sefer during Chazoras HaShatz, but to listen carefully instead.  I didn’t know what he would have thought of it so I played it safe.

I wanted to make sure that I returned the Talis with the same sanctity it had when he gave it to me.

Story #2: My wife’s car needed warranty service so I took it into the dealer for her.  I got a loaner car, and it was quite a fancy one.  I guess they want people to drive it to entice them to trade up and get the new model of the more expensive vehicle.  I began to wonder what people might say if they saw it in my driveway.  “Whoa… look who got a fancy new car!”  Then I realized that wouldn’t happen.

Emblazoned across the back window in big letters were the words, “Courtesy Loaner Car from…”  Clearly, people would know it wasn’t mine and I wouldn’t be showing off in any way, nor would anyone get the idea that I splurged on a new toy.

Of course, even if I wanted to get a little glory out of it, I wouldn’t have been able to because people would know it wasn’t mine.  And, every time I looked in the rearview mirror, I got a stark reminder that it was just on loan from the dealership that owned it because the message appeared in big letters which were reflected from my back window and clearly readable to me in the driver’s seat.

The common thread between these two stories is that I was using something that wasn’t mine, and it got me thinking.  When we go about our daily lives, we’re using a “borrowed Talis.”  Our bodies, our minds, and our talents are on loan from G-d.  That being the case, how can anyone be prideful of their looks, their money, or their brains?  These are emblazoned in big letters, “Courtesy Loaner Body, Property of HaShem” so who do we think we’re fooling?

Of course, when I’m in the loaner car, I understand that I’m responsible for all damage, and they check it carefully before and after to see what condition I returned it in, but you can follow that storyline on your own.

Story #3: A fellow took an apprentice into his business.  He taught him everything he knew and trusted him with business secrets.  When the young fellow came into his own, and had learned everything he could, he left the man and struck out on his own, taking numerous clients along the way.  He even turned on his benefactor and undercut him and badmouthed him.

Worse than just taking credit for the things HaShem has gifted us with, we often do inappropriate things in this borrowed Talis.  Here, HaShem has granted us the tools to serve Him, and we turn around and use His tools to rebel against Him!

He gives us hands, but instead of helping others, we raise them in anger.  He gives us a tongue to pray and speak kind words, yet we use it for gossip and hurtful verbal abuse.  HaShem gives us the power of imagination to be creative, and we waste it (or worse) with schemes and fantasies.

When we use our eyes, we must remember that we’re looking through HaShem’s eyes, and we should consider what they will look like when we return them.  Will they be clear and beautiful from looking at the right things and finding good in others, or will they have cataracts and blind spots from looking at the wrong things or seeking out the negative in other people?

As I thought about this, I realized that there is a way for us to take pride in the things HaShem has given us.  Sure, I can’t impress anyone with the loaner car, but if I were to give someone a ride, or stop to let someone cross the street ahead of me, that’s my own decision on how to use the loan, and that’s something I can be proud of.

If I look away when a woman is dressed inappropriately, or change the subject when people start speaking about others or using vulgar language, I have the right to feel good about the fact that I’m using G-d’s gifts properly and not giving back a worn and dirty garment.

When I chose to use the Talis as I thought the Rabbi would want me to, I was taking his feelings into account.  Do we owe G-d any less?  Everything in this world exists at HaShem’s behest, not only what we have, but our very beings.  I can’t think of a bigger ingratitude than taking what HaShem gives us and using it in a way He doesn’t want.  And I thought of something else.

Maybe the Rabbi wouldn’t mind if I learned during Chazoras HaShatz.  Maybe he wouldn’t care if I read my e-mail on my phone while wearing it.  It’s unlikely, but possible.  I really don’t know what he thinks.  But HaShem lets us know what He wants from us.  He gave us the Torah as a user’s manual for everything He gave us.

It tells how we can repay the trust the Creator has placed in us by using the tools as He would like.  Like anything else that is borrowed and must be returned in good condition after using it for a purpose, we must take care with the body and soul that G-d has entrusted to us, and all the midos and attributes He gave us as accessories.

In order to be good borrowers, who faithfully care for the items loaned to us and deserve the trust placed in us, we must learn the Torah to find out what G-d wants from us, then take the learning a step further and put it into practice.  That’s the obligation when you use a borrowed Talis, and how you can live happily ever after.


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