It was simply appalling.
“Where the heck is the security?” I demanded, to no one in particular. My wife looked at me and shrugged.
It was a beautiful autumn afternoon in Washington, D.C., and I had taken the day off to spend some time with my wife. We decided to visit the Mint, and see how they made what I had been trying to earn all these years.
Being an avid follower of things like fighter planes and commandos, I eagerly anticipated seeing the elaborate security measures protecting our government’s currency. My imagination soared as we neared the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
“I bet they’ll have several platoon-sized forces in full battle gear guarding each entrance,” I said gleefully. “Not to mention squads of sharpshooters in key vantage points throughout the area of the tour.”
My wife smiled patiently at my attempts at military expertise. She had grown accustomed to the talk of this army wannabe who could stand to lose a few pounds.
We mistakenly tried the rear entrance first, and three very lightly armed security guards, “B.E.P.” emblazoned on their backs, told us in a bored voice to go around the block. They were used to this error, it seemed.
“I guess the main force is at the front entrance,” I said, somewhat disappointed at the puny display.
“Maybe,” my wife said politely.
Right before we reached the entrance, we saw a loading dock below, with an 18-wheeler being loaded with pallets.
“Wow. Must be millions of dollars being sent across the country,” I said in wonder. A second later, I noticed that not a guard was in sight.
“What’s going on here?” I said hotly. “What if the Mafia would send a squad of their own to take this truck down? These are our country’s assets!” I shook my head in disbelief.
We were about to walk through the doors of the main entrance, and saw five B.E.P. guards socializing, the same light weaponry adorning their belts. One guard guffawed at something funny as I pulled open the door. My wife and I exchanged glances. I couldn’t get over the rinky-dink security. They barely seemed to notice us as we passed through the metal detectors. The man guffawed a second time. I began to wonder if their pistols were even loaded. “Water guns,” I declared indignantly.
The tour was interesting, and we learned fascinating information, like the fact that the printing machines for U.S. dollars were made in Italy, and that it’s OK to do your nails on the job if you work at B.E.P.
We saw what seemed like millions being mass-produced. We tourists were on the floor above the production line, and the crew was at work below. At no point did I see one guard. Any employee could walk out with a year’s salary, for all the guards cared. This was just too much. I had to speak up. After all, didn’t my taxes pay their salaries?
As we exited, I noticed a mustachioed man in his forties wandering aimlessly in the lobby, a B.E.P. ID badge around his neck on a chain.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I have some questions, and I’m wondering whom I can ask about the Mint.”
“That’d be me,” said the man, his face expressionless. “And it’s not the Mint – we don’t make coins here. But what’s on your mind?” He turned to face me squarely.
“Well, for starters, I’m flabbergasted at the lack of security you have here. I mean, a couple of guys with submachine guns can walk out of here with scads of bucks.”
“How do you figure that?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow skyward.
“The guards have pistols. They’re deployed only where the tourists are. Nobody’s keeping an eye on the employees. The loading dock is unguarded. I can go on.”
He seemed rather amused. “Sir, can I ask you something?”
“Certainly,” I replied, confidently.
“What denomination were the bills you saw being produced?”
I looked at my wife. She shrugged. We couldn’t remember exactly.
“I…uh…think they were ones, maybe fives and t-”
“No sir!” he interrupted swiftly. “They were just ones.” He was clearly savoring the moment.
“Oh,” I said slowly, wary of something nameless. Why were his eyes glittering?
“Where are the higher denominations produced?” I said, not realizing the trap.
“Aha!” he cried. “That’s classified. It’s in a different section of Treasury.”
Almost sneering, he leaned closer and said, “That’s where the real security boys are. Ain’t no gangsters going to take them out.”
Trying desperately to recover, I said, “W-w-w-what about the employees? No one’s watching them!”
“Wrong again,” came the answer. “Cameras monitor their every move.”
“B-b-but what about the loading dock?” I spluttered. “An 18-wheeler was being loaded with stacks o’ cash, and not a guard in sight!”
“First of all, you saw the loading dock for shipments of stamps, which are also made in this building. Secondly, the guard station is just out of your line of sight, right inside the door.”
He seemed to have an answer to everything.
“Any more questions?” he asked in a mocking tone.
“None,” came my embarrassed reply.
“Then have a nice day. Welcome to Washington.” He turned and left.
Here I was, the self-styled security pundit. I thought I was looking at the high bills, and drew conclusions based on that.
In reality I had been looking at ones the whole time.
It made me wonder about the things I was focusing on in my life in general. What I consider urgent. What I consider important.
But what if I’ve been wrong? What if those things really are not important at all?
The High Holiday season is Judaism’s built-in reminder for us to recalibrate our priorities. To step back and ask ourselves, “Is this really important? Does this really matter?”
But it’s not just about priorities and the values on which we focus. It’s also about the slights, insults and interactions that make us get our backs up and draw lines in the sand.
“How dare she have said that to me!”
“What a nerve of him to post that about me!”
How many relationships and friendships have we discarded because either we or the other person took something that was really minor (a one-dollar bill) and conflated it with something major (a hundred-dollar bill)?
We should be grateful for the national and personal opportunity that God grants us at this time of year to repair our relationship with Him and with people. To reexamine things and decide what is really important. And what is really trivial.
Part of Judaism’s secret to reshuffling our hierarchy of importance is the realization that it’s not about fitting God into our world. It’s about fitting ourselves into His. Hence the awareness of His Kingship and the emphasis on the role we need to play in helping God perfect His world.
We do matter.
We do count.
The buck stops with us.
Shlomo Horwitz is the founding director of Jewish Crossroads, an educational theater project that has provided creative Torah programming across the US, Canada, England and Israel. He studied at Yeshivat Shaalvim and Yeshivat Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, where he received ordination from Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg. Shlomo is a CPA and a director of a consulting firm near Washington, DC. He can be reached through his site, www.jewishcrossroads.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.