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sivan 5764

A Tailors Task


Written by the rabbi

Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora

Hassidim are accustomed to repeating a certain story about a tailor which Rabbi Moshe of Kovrin used to enjoy telling. The story goes like this:
A tailor was employed to sew an expensive gown for the wife of a minister. The tailor made the dress especially narrow, and, as a result, was fired from his job. He then turned to the Rabbi Moshe of Kovrin for advice. What steps could he take in order to avoid losing such noble clients? "Return to the customer," said the Rebbe, "and ask to repair the dress. Then, remove the stitches and sew the dress again in the very same manner as you did originally." The tailor took Rabbi Moshes advice, and, with a broken heart, performed the same task which he had previously mishandled. Surprisingly, though, this time his work was accepted.

Our story is grounded in a real and actual portrayal. In those days, the wealthy class when employing simple tailors would generally provide a large piece of fabric. The tailors would labor thriftily in an attempt to leave over some of the cloth. At the same time, they were careful to produce a garment that befitted its owner. The tailors would put aside whatever was left over for themselves. In this manner they were able, in addition to their prescribed income, to gain some profit from the fabric they pocketed. Obviously, a narrow garment was bound to make the client suspicious. He was bound to assume that the sparing nature of the work had actually come at his expense, and that the tailor had succeeded in pocketing the excess fabric for himself.

In the above story, the tailor removes the stitches which he had sewn the first time around and then sews up the garment a second time in the same manner he had done originally. This time, though, the garment fits! How is this possible? The realist is bound to rationalize: In sewing the garment the second time the tailor managed to stitch a bit closer to the fringes of the cloth in such a way that the finished product was wider than the first.

Yet, our story does not allow for such an explanation. The Rebbe from Kovrin instructs the tailor to sew a second time in exactly the same manner that he had sewn the first, and, despite this, the garment is not as narrow as it had been the first time. This fact uproots our story from the realm of realism and places it in that of symbolism, bringing underlying conceptual elements into play.

Conceptually, the real difference between the first and second stitching lies in the intention of the tailors heart. When the tailor sewed the first garment, his heart was filled with arrogance over the fact that he had been chosen among all of the tailors to perform this task for the minister. It was this haughtiness which caused the "narrowness." When sewing the garment a second time, though, he did so with a humble heart. The garment was therefore transformed into a "wider" dress.

The above brings to mind a well-known Hassidic anecdote. The sages of the Talmud describe the manner in which the Jews would worship in the courtyard of the Temple on the Day of Atonement: "While standing it was crowded; when bowing there was plenty of room." Hassidism interprets this in the following manner: "While standing" - if each person stands on his own, arrogantly and self-importantly - "it was crowded," but "when bowing" - if each individual is willing to bow for the benefit of others and to identify with the "narrowness" and lack of space felt by his fellow - "there was plenty of space."

Haughtiness, then, was what caused the narrowness of the first sewing. Pride and arrogance are connected to envy. Such envy will not be satisfied even by many yards of fabric. Humility, though, is capable of containing everything. Humility provides the garment with ample space so that the one who wears it feels comfortable.

The state of the tailor the second time around recalls the personality of Chanokh. Chanokh, it is said, made a practice of stitching shoes, and with every stitch he would exclaim, "blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all of eternity." This sort of stitching, accompanied by submission of acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, is guaranteed to produce a comfortable shoe. In short, it is not the outfit that is narrow but the tailor. A change in the spiritual composition of the tailor leads to a change in the garment itself.

As a matter of fact, this very same point evolves from the wider implication of the vocation which is the subject of our story - tailoring. A tailor begins by cutting the material. Only after this has been done does he begin his true task: fashioning a fitting outfit from the various pieces of cloth.

The art of tailoring is to create a satisfactory whole out of an assortment of parts. Only after the complete and unadulterated fabric has been dismembered is it ready to be made into clothing fit for man. Breaking a proud heart is the essential stage on the road to attaining personal perfection, on the road to creating a garment which is fitting for man to adorn himself in.


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