You know you’ve finally made it in America when you sit down with an estate attorney to draft something called a Last Will and Testament. That’s the document detailing all kinds of things, large and small, that you leave as an inheritance to those who are near and dear. Usually it’s various sums of money, but most of us have enough insight to know that money isn’t necessarily what’s important in life.
I once received an interesting yerushah, of things large and small. But that was over a decade ago, when my father-in-law, HaRav Moshe Aaron Schur (of blessed memory) left this world to go sit and learn in the Bais Medresh Shel Malah. And although he never wrote it up in any kind of a will, the inheritance he gave me was a man by the name of Naftali Trop. “Rabbi” Naftali Trop, if you want to be strictly formal about it, but since Naftali Trop is the kind of man who knows what’s important in life, he’s not the kind of man who stands on strict formalities.
I know Naftali Trop understands what’s really important in life, because he once explained it to me. This happened to be the week of Chanukah, while my father-in-law was so terribly ill and in the hospital. We were all pretty gloomy and sitting around in Raizel Trop’s kitchen…and make no mistake about it, that kitchen belongs to Raizel Trop. Naftali may be the one who loves to cook, but a kitchen is the heart and soul of a house the way a woman like Raizel is the heart and soul of her family.
Naftali Trop was getting ready to fry up a pan of latkes, and that’s when he posed the big philosophical question:
“You want know what’s really important in life?” he asked, holding up a spud and examining it like it was some kind of exotic jewel.
And then he answered his own question, “It’s not anything large. In fact, it’s really quite small. For me, it’s something like…potato peels.”
Think about that for a minute. Now think again. If you still don’t get it, it’s because you didn’t spend your precious childhood years waiting out the end of World War II in a labor-camp in Siberia. Potato peels are what kept Naftali Trop alive when he was a kid. Then he went on to tell me, that if he was lucky enough to scavenge around and find a whole potato, he’d bench al-ha-nissim and make himself a feast. And I believe it. Because today, if you hand Naftali Trop any kind of a potato, he will mystify you with things that can only be described as culinary art.
When Naftali Trop eventually made his way to the United States after the war, he ended up in the same yeshiva high school as my father-in-law. They were the closest, the dearest of friends ever since. And for as far back as anyone in either family can remember, my father-in-law always had this little custom of calling Naftali Trop on Fridays to ask him the time of licht bentchen for shabbos. When cell phones finally came into being, my father-in-law would delay, not calling until late in the afternoon on his way home from work. But no matter where in the world he was on a Friday afternoon, he never forgot to make that call.
As it turned out, my father-in-law was niftar on a Monday, shortly after our Chanukah conversation about potatoes. The following Friday morning, I found Naftali Trop in the house where everyone was sitting shiva, but this time he was sitting alone in my mother-in-law’s kitchen with tears streaming down his face. What could I possibly say?
“Naftali Trop, you must be missing your dear friend.”
And he answered, “You think I wasn’t missing him these past four days? But today is Friday, and now I’m going to go home. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ll still be waiting for the phone to ring. But I know I won’t be getting that call today about the time for lighting candles.”
Then he got up and left.
So later on that afternoon, I made the phone call in my father-in-law’s place. And no matter where in the world I am on a Friday, I’ve been doing it ever since. Because sometimes you get your own private insight about what’s important in life. And that’s exactly what happened the day I got my father-in-law’s yerushah (of things large and small). You see, it’s such a “small” thing, to pick up the phone. But it is such a “large” thing….to inherit a friend.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.