Reb Moshe London, of blessed memory, was a giant of a Jew who taught me about Jewish pride. A look at him would not show you anything about his greatness. Rather, his appearance hid the greatness of the man behind a facade of disheveled, elderly forgetfulness. Yet, to get to know Reb Moshe…ah, that was to get to touch a world of kind deeds, that was to understand giving, that was to see a Jew proud of his Judaism.
Reb Moshe was a War Veteran, had quite some money put away. Yet, those things were not important to him. They were merely side things. We never got to hear what he had done professionally. To this day, I have no idea what Reb Moshe’s career was like. What I do know is what he thought important to discuss: the various guests he hosted, how he learned to read though his family couldn’t afford Cheder, the Mitzvos he did, the building of the Mikva in Woodridge…things of REAL importance.
One Friday, Reb Moshe and my father took a trip to Sullivan’s, the big superstore up in the Catskills where one stocked up on all types of things. Both of the men took a considerable amount of time, accumulating “stuff”. Reb Moshe shuffled ahead of my father, his back bent over his ever-present cane. Carefully, he placed his purchases on the counter. Then he pulled checkbook and pen out of his pocket and proceeded to make out a check to Sullivan’s to cover the cost of his purchase.
“Do you have ID?” asked the cashier.
“What?” Reb Moshe asked blankly, still holding out the check.
“I said, do you have ID?” repeated the cashier. “In order for me to accept your check, I need ID to make sure your check is okay.”
“ID?” Reb Moshe asked. He put his check on the counter. His hand went to his side. Both my father and the cashier assumed it was going pocketward. However, Reb Moshe had different ideas. With great dignity and pride he pulled out the fringes of his Tzitzis. “This is my I.D.,” he said, standing tall.
My father quickly told the cashier, “Here. I’ll pay for his purchase.”
Reb Moshe turned around indignantly. “No. My check is good, and my Tzitzis are good enough for ID to show I follow the right way.”
No argument on my father’s part would change Reb Moshe’s mind. The cashier looked at the two religious men, stymied. She dialed the courtesy desk and requested the presence of the store manager.
My father stood there trying to reason with Reb Moshe. The customers in the back of the line looked on with considerable interest to see what would happen next. Nobody grumbled about the lengthy wait, too engrossed in the unlikely scene. Reb Moshe just stood there, Tzitzis still clutched tightly in his hand.
Soon my father spotted the manager heading to the checkout counter. Once more he tried convincing Reb Moshe to let him pay — to no avail.
“What’s the problem here?” the manager asked. The cashier pointed to the check and Reb Moshe. “You have ID, sir?” the manager asked Reb Moshe.
“Of course.” Reb Moshe replied. “Here. This is my ID.” Once again he held up his Tzitzis strands.
The manager looked at the Tztizis Reb Moshe was holding up and told the cashier, “You can take the check.”
“You see.” said Reb Moshe to my father as the two made their way out of Sullivan’s. “The only ID a Jew needs is his Tzitzis. There is none better than that.”
Now, now, I know what readers will protest. They’ll say or think, “that’s ridiculous,” or “plenty of people wear Tzitzis and don’t mean it and cheat.” Ah, but that’s the point. To Reb Moshe his Tzitizis was not a cultural piece of clothing. It really meant something. It really was his reminder that he had to adhere to all 613 Mitzvos. To him, it really was his ID.
The Mitzva of Tzitzis is found in Parshas Shelach [Numbers 15] where it says, “they shall make themselves tzitzis…throughout the generations…so that you may remember and will do all the Mitzvos…” The point of wearing it is not to use it as a symbol of belonging to the Jewish club, but to wear it as a constant reminder that as a Jew we are bound to 613 Mitzvos of G-dliness.
To read up about the many aspects, angles and laws of Tzizis, you can go here: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/110306/jewish/Tallit-and-Tzitzit.htm