There are many high points in the TABC academic year – Shiurim, Chagigot, etc. I am sure that Rabbi Jachter will agree with me that the Lag BaOmer bike trip that we run is high on that list. Picture yourself on a state-of-the-art mountain bike gliding down a wide mountain trail for twenty-five miles. The green Poconos tower above you on your right. On your left, the Lehigh River rages 100 feet below. For two dozen or so students plus Rabbi Jachter and myself, it is a wonderful growing opportunity that allows us to close the teacher-student gap for a day. We all ride out to the Pennsylvania wilderness for twenty-five miles of mountain biking and mountain climbing. It’s great! Just ask Rabbi Jachter!
Five years ago, while waiting to be fitted for their rental bikes, a group of our students on this trip drifted into the souvenir shop. I was hidden behind a postcard rack when I heard the clerk, a new employee, pick up the phone and call his boss Rod, who has taken care of us for years. In a panic, he told Rod that the shop had just filled up with high school boys and he needed help, as he was very concerned about shoplifting. A moment later Rod arrived. He motioned towards us and asked the clerk, “These guys?” The clerk nodded. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about these guys!” he said, and he left.
The next year, the driver of the bus that carried us to the trail remarked to me about how well-behaved our boys are. He asked me if TABC requires its students to take courses on how to conduct themselves, especially around adults. When I told him that there is no such formal course, he expressed his surprise. “You should see how other groups and schools behave,” he told me. “We cringe when we see them coming.”
This sort of phenomenon may be what the Pasuk means when it says at the beginning of this week’s Parsha, “Vayishma Yitro,” “And Yitro heard.” The verb “to hear” can also mean to understand through assessment and inquiry. Apparently, Yitro understood something that gave him Emunah, faith, in the Jewish people and their religion, and caused him to want to join them. There are two types of such Emunah: Emunah Peshutah is a simple, deep faith, while Emunah Derech Chakirah is an Emunah arrived at through inquiry, resulting from scholarly search. This second form was the Emunah of Yitro. After investigating all of the world’s religions (as the Midrash describes), he finally witnessed a system that works. He finally found a people who try to do right and behave properly, a people who strive to be Mekadeish Sheim Shamayim. This same phenomenon was witnessed at the bike shop – the non-Jews who ran the establishment saw the simple fact that Judaism works. Imagine how much more impressed they would have been if they knew how many thousands of dollars of Tzedakah TABC has collected via this bike trip!
Two years ago, the fellow who fits the bikes to the riders told me that he and his co-workers look forward to our arrival to such an extent that they fight over who gets to help TABC prepare for their trip. “You must be very proud of your students,” he told me.