The Music of Halacha: The True Meausre of A Life: Introduction
Whenever our grandfathers, the Gedolim, or great sages of the generation, would gather for a meeting, we, the grandchildren, would carefully observe everything they did, to determine for ourselves whose grandfather was the most honored of the gathered sages.
We were debating the respective greatness of each grandfather, when we realized that Reb Yaakov zt”l was standing close by and listening. We were all embarrassed, but no one as much as his grandson, who had been describing his grandfather’s great righteousness. We were tempted to slink away and avoid further humiliation, although we all felt that if any of the rabbis had to hear our ridiculous discussion, it was best for it to be Reb Yaakov, but we had too much awe of the great Tzaddik to leave.
He asked us for a thermometer. “A thermometer,” we responded, “we don’t carry thermometers around with us.” “So,” he responded, “how can you measure the wisdom and righteousness of the people here, and even the people who are not with us, who may be far wiser and more righteous?”
“Kinderlach,” he said in his inimitable sweet way, “don’t go around measuring others, not even yourselves. It will never give you a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. Numbers don’t matter. Only God can measure.”
Reb Yaakov’s wise and masterful words helped us forget our embarrassment and apply the no thermometer rule to our lives in general. While other people were preparing for the judgment of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with scales and calculators, we remembered that we cannot possibly measure our spiritual development and failures.
There are different forms of measurement that are prohibited on Shabbat, each with different reasons, and each with different lessons. I would like to explore these laws and lessons over the next few essays in The Music of Halacha series.