I was in Rishon LeZion the other week and I went for a bite to eat before my appointment. I approached the counter of a café and asked the girl if she knew whether the pizza was hamotzi or mezonot. She didn’t know. She helpfully told me it was one or the other. I decided to have a boureka.
Then a girl who was sitting there, who I hadn’t noticed, said that if I was going to have one piece of pizza it was mezonot and if I was going to have two it was hamotzi. I took in her appearance. She was wearing a low-cut top and high-cut shorts, and had piercings all over her face and body and tattoos. I ignored this and told her that that would be true if the dough were mezonot not if it was hamotzi. No, she answered, that’s the halacha.
“Don’t pay attention to the way I look,” she said. “I come from a charedi home.”
“Can I ask,” I said politely, “How you got from there to here?”
“Something happened to me,” she said, “and I decided to change my life.”
“Something good or something bad?” I asked.
“Something bad. If it were something good, I would probably be in another place.”
As I waited for my appointment, I reviewed the laws of when you say a bracha for mezonot and when you say a bracha for hamotzi when you’re not actually eating bread. It turned out she was right. Well, mostly right; it’s a machloket.
This story doesn’t highlight anything new. A girl from a charedi home experiences some kind of trauma and rebels against her upbringing. She puts as much distance as she can between her former community and herself by doing the easiest thing possible, changing the way she looks; obliterating her obvious connection to her former life. And she succeeded in spades. But she couldn’t so easily change who she is inside. She couldn’t resist getting into a halachic discussion, probably as much because she was yearning to have one as because she wanted to help me. Or maybe it was just second nature.
And even as she rebelled, she was working in a kosher café, still living in Israel, still cognizant of halacha. And it’s in her merit that I brushed up on the relevant laws.
There’s a reason we’re told over and over again not to judge people by externals. Because externals rarely reflect a person’s essence.
It’s heartbreaking that separating herself from her community, perhaps justifiably so, meant that this girl separated herself from her Source. But maybe she didn’t go as far as she thinks. I will always think of her when I’m contemplating having a slice of pizza, and it’s because of her that I will remember the appropriate blessing.
As we crown G-d our King, this Rosh Hashanah, it behooves us to remember that we are all all his daughters, and all princesses, despite our raiment.