the schmooze
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

*The Yiddish word for “details” is “protim.”
The singular detail is “prat.”

How important are details?

Many years ago when I was teaching at POB/JFK High School in Plainview, New York, another member of my department, Marvin Hazan, was giving a lesson in his Business Law class.

He was teaching a 42-minute lesson on “eyewitness testimony.”  This term refers to an account given by people of an event they have witnessed.  This includes identification of perpetrators, details of the crime scene, etc.

Mr. Hazan “staged” a robbery in his classroom
(“klastsimer”).  Then each student was asked to describe the criminal (“der farbrekher”), the crime, and the weapon——a gun.  The youngsters soon discovered that honest, well-meaning people often simply misremember or misreport what they have seen.  Factors such as fear (“moyre”), poor lighting, the presence of a weapon during a crime have all been shown to cause mistakes in identifications.


The following story, which I found on (2016/01/15), deals with a Rabbi named Chaim who did not reply to an email that he received.  (NOTE:  The Yiddish words have been added by the writer.)

For the last few days, the first thing I did when I got home from school was to open my email, but I have been disappointed every time.  I don’t understand why Rabbi Chaim, the school rabbi, didn’t send me a reply, like he promised to do.

A week ago, I went to see Rabbi Chaim and asked him a question (“frage”) about something that really bothers me. “How can it be that the great and mighty Holy One, Blessed be He, who created heaven (“himl”) and earth (“erd”) and is all-powerful, cares about what I do (small and puny that I am) when I wake up in the morning? What difference does it make to Him whether I wash my hands and which shoe (“shukh”) I put on first, the left one or the right one?  What is the point of all these nitty-gritty DETAILS in our lives?  Does the Master of the Universe really care how I make a glass of tea (“tey”) on Shabbat? I really don’t understand (“farshteyn”) why all of these tiny points are so important.  The main goal (“tsil”) is that we should be good to each other, help our friends, pray (“daven”), and study Torah.  Why do we need all of this DETAIL??”

Rabbi Chaim listened carefully to my questions and wrote down my email address, and he promised to send me an answer soon (“bald”). But a whole week has already gone by, and I am disappointed to say that no answer came.  So I decided to go to his house, pound on the table (“der tish”), and demand (“fodern”) an answer.

Rabbi Chaim greeted me warmly, and showed me respect (“derekh-erets”) as an important guest. He told me to sit in the living room, and hinted to his wife, Basheva, that he wanted her to bring us some refreshments.  He sat down next to me and waited for me to speak as if he had all the time in the world to meet me.  To tell the truth (“der emes”), the way he greeted me so warmly confused me a bit.  If he had so much free time, why didn’t the rabbi send me an email, I thought to myself.

However, Rabbi Chaim didn’t leave much time for thinking, and he turned to me and asked, “Why have I been privileged to have you visit me today (“haynt”)?”  I was very surprised.  I said, “Don’t you remember that I asked you a question?”  And he replied, “Of course I remember. The very same day I wrote you a detailed and reasonable reply.  Are you sure that you didn’t get my letter?”

I shook my head, and told him that I had NOT received any letter.  Rabbi Chaim took a piece of paper (“papir”) out of his pocket (“keshene”), where he had written down my email address:  “yoav@gmailcom”—and he showed it to me.  And I said, “Now I understand why your mail didn’t get to me.  THERE IS A PERIOD MISSING.  Here is how you have to write the address:—then I will get your email.”

But Rabbi Chaim look surprised.  “Oh, come on,” he said to me.  “What does it matter if there is a period in the middle of the address or not?  Don’t try to tell me that such SMALL DETAILS are important!  Doesn’t it seem funny to think that because of a missing period we can’t send mail back and forth between us?”  Rabbi Chaim said this with a big smile (“smeykhl”), to show me that he didn’t really believe what he was saying.  Rather, he wanted to teach me something about the significance of SMALL DETAILS.

“Do you se it now?”  He went on.  “The purpose of the mitzvot is to help us form a link to the Holy One. Blessed be He.  In order for the link to form properly, it is important to ‘key in’ the EXACT ADDRESS, WITHOUT MISSING EVEN ONE SINGLE ‘PERIOD.’”

I thanked Rabbi Chaim for the special way he answered my question.  He smiled and said, “It was not my idea. This is a well-known story that a friend of mine sent me. I am lucky (“mazldik”) that he didn’t forget to put the ‘period’ in my address, otherwise it would not have gotten to me.”

On the way home I thought about what the rabbi taught me.  Now I understand that the mitzvot make a connection between us and G-d.  The only way to form the link is to OBSERVE ALL THE PRECISE DETAILS OF THE MITZVA.  I realized that I still have a lot to learn about the mitzvot and about how to observe them in a precise way. I therefore took it upon myself to study halacha very seriously, and I decided that if I had any questions, I would turn once again to Rabbi Chaim.  And please pray for me to be successful in forming my link to G-d…

What do you think, my readers?  I am sure that you want to form a link with the Creator of the World.  So, from now on, always make sure to remember the ‘TINY PERIOD’ and where it must go.

MARJORIE GOTTLIEB WOLFE’S “vebzaytl” (website) also has a period.  It’s Feel free to contact her with your thoughts.


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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