First time visitors to the Shafran home quickly notice how odd it is. Its walls, that is. Well, what graces them, anyway.
The dining room does sport a few normal things—a framed reproduction of a work of Hebrew micrography (a gift, many years ago, from some beloved students) and a small painting of a pensive man in a shtreimel studying Torah (likewise a gift, from some dear friends). And there is a photograph of Rav Avrohom Pam, zt”l, atop a bookcase.
But the remainder of the wall space, in that room and most of the others, is a hodgepodge of, well, oddball items.
There are photos of children and grandchildren (oddball only in that they are, for the most part, random snapshots from various decades and just taped to the walls in no particular pattern); “parsha pictures”—visual riddles about the weekly Torah portion (changed weekly and drawn by someone who is sometimes accused of being a writer but has never been mistaken for an artist); a framed ticket-stub from a trip to the top of one of the Twin Towers (from a visit my wife and three of our children made to the structure on August 30, 2001—a reminder of the world’s unpredictability); and an assortment of inexplicable other oddities, like thank-you, mazel tov, and mishloach manos notes, first-grade writing assignments from small children who are now adults, homemade birthday and anniversary cards; various stick-figure artworks by einiklach, several colorful ones by a very artistically talented little girl who is expecting her third child, bisha’a tova, a photo of a gorilla (don’t ask; I don’t remember), a photocopy of a Chassidic rebbe’s advice (to always remember that “when you are exasperated by interruptions… remember that their very frequency indicates the value of your life…”) given to me by Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l; a list of phone numbers and another one of guests to invite for Shabbos meals; a tree leaf from each of the past 18 autumns. And much more.
One piece of paper taped to the wall over my desk is an elaborately crafted piece of cartoon art that graced a magazine cover many years ago. I honestly don’t recall how it came to my possession, but I clearly felt at the time that it deserved a spot of honor, which it does.
It depicts an “antique shop” scene: a large heavy-lidded, bearded man in a t-shirt, a cigar in his mouth and a foam cup of coffee in his hand, sitting in a rocking chair before a table laden with items for sale. In the foreground, a nondescript couple is walking away beaming, having made the purchase of a wholly unremarkable plastic snow-globe with a snowman inside. On the table and mounted on a wall behind the large man are the $5 and $10 bric-a-brac in which the couple had no interest. Among the items: An ancient document bearing ornate script beginning “We the People”; a caged live dodo bird, a first-edition comic book, an old sled with “Rosebud” carved on it; a Ming vase, a photograph of the Loch Ness monster, a pair of ruby slippers… You get the idea.
The cartoon is really the key to all the eclectic, eccentric things gracing our walls. I’ve been in homes of wealthy people, where the walls were adorned with beautifully framed, expensive, works of art. But I would never consider mounting a Rembrandt in place of the then-seven-year-old boy’s homemade “newspaper” reporting that: “A boy crossed the street and insded of him getting hit, he hit a car and the car dide.” Or putting a Picasso where a faded homemade birthday card from a little girl (now mother of four) reads: “For a very good man that turns 33.” The “newspaper” dispatch and card are priceless. “Real” works of art are, well, snowglobes.
Of course the cartoon’s real lesson—perhaps intended by the artist, perhaps just channeled through him—is a powerful piece of mussar, about how easy it is for so many of us, like the clueless couple kvelling over their plastic metziah, to value silly things we have come to amass and remain oblivious to life’s truly priceless treasures, there all around us.
© 2012 AMI MAGAZINE
[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami Magazine]
The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.
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