“You don’t have to write much, just put something on the bio sheet so we can win.”
Lou Weiss, the self-appointed deputy for Pittsburgh’s original Wexner class, was urging all the class members (whom he affectionately called “geezers”) to complete their forms before the reunion in April. The first city to complete all the bios would be eligible for a prize.
In the late 1980s, when we participated in billionaire philanthropist Leslie Wexner’s elite, intensive course of Jewish learning, the entire group was treated to, not one, but two all-expense paid retreats, first to Aspen, and later, to Israel. We weren’t expecting this prize to be anything quite like that, but even a small incentivizing Wexner-style token was likely to be worth the minimal effort of filling in our names.
“So we just have to be yotzei,” I confirmed with Lou at a recent alumni meeting. I wanted to make sure I understood the Wexner Foundation’s directive.
“Yotzei?” Lou asked.
“It’s a great word,” I answered and proceeded to try to define it.
By definition, to be yotzei is to be “brought out.” One who is yotzei has fulfilled the minimum requirement to have done the mitzvah. Like filling in the name on the form, one has done what is necessary to “count.” Not necessarily more, but not too little either. When it comes to mitzvahs, at least much of the time, it all starts with just showing up.
Like the time not long ago on a late Friday afternoon when I delivered food to a friend whose mother had passed away. Since it was close to Shabbos, she wasn’t “officially” sitting shiva (the laws of mourning are interrupted for Shabbos). To fulfill the mitzvah of comforting a mourner, one visits and offers words of consolation (these words are the subject of another blog post–for now, let’s pray that we be done needing these words!). Would I be yotzei with my visit or would I have to return after Shabbos when she continued sitting shiva?
For this question, and so many more, I asked my rabbi, Rabbi Rosenfeld. (And, yes, I was yotzei with my Friday words.)
Did I eat enough matzah at the seder? Did I shake the lulav hard enough?
All this probably sounds like my life is full of anxious deliberation, and there was definitely a time when it was. I knew I didn’t know most of the rules and I wasn’t entirely sure I cared to learn. The fact that my ancestors withstood tremendous tests for being Jewish only made me feel pretty flimsy for feeling challenged when, in order to follow Jewish law, I was inconvenienced or uncomfortable.
The worst part was this little voice that told me I had only myself to blame for making my life so complicated.
But somewhat miraculously, I persevered, trying to learn, and never being embarrassed to ask if I was yotzei, no matter how much ribbing I took. I still try to be careful, not just because I want to collect mitzvos (even though I do), not because I believe that mitzvos matter (even though I do), but because I feel like a different person, that something has been “brought out” in me to make that internal opposition much, much quieter, sometimes even inaudible.
But it all started with wanting to be yotzei.
So, I filled out the Wexner bio sheet’s minimum requirements. (I haven’t heard anything yet about Pittsburgh winning the prize.) I recently got another email from the foundation, though, this one asking participants for words of thanks for the Wexners; for this, I was happy to be more than yotzei. After all, the Wexner course was where my husband Zev and I began our journey back to Jewish observance.
How could I say thank you for that?
I figured that sending a picture of us with our grandchildren would say it best, so that’s what I did.