Trying to make the parsha more relevant by connecting it to current events, or serving food on Shabbat that has some connection to it, is not unusual, but two gentlemen, separately and together, have found a unique way of tying into the parsha – literally.
Ya’acov Bauer of Montreal, Canada and Michael Matatia of Stow, Massachusetts have lots in common. They are both around 63 years old. They are both married with two children, and they both have a tie collection to match the topics in each week’s parsha.
They found each other when Matatia came into Bauer’s shteibel, Oneg Shabbat, in the Snowdon section of Montreal one Friday night in 2017. It was Succoth and Matatia saw that he and Bauer were wearing the same tie with goats, sheep, and cows – to symbolize the korbanot – albeit in different colors. Matatia approached Bauer and said, “Do you have the same mental condition as I have?” It turned out he did. Bauer invited him home for dinner and the families have been friends ever since.
The tie I noticed Bauer wearing when we were both guests for Shabbat Parshat Noach, was a gift from Matatia – it was decorated with construction tools.
Bauer started collecting about 20 years ago and has about 50 ties; Matatia has been collecting for 25 years and has over 220 (his wife counted for the accuracy of this article). They both have ties on different levels of connection and obscurity to the parsha, which encourages people to read the parsha in-depth in order to guess the connection.
For Parshat Toldot, Matatia has a tie of Sylvester chasing Tweety. Get the connection? It’s Esav and Ya’akov.
Bauer says his favorite tie is the one that has a bunch of white sheep on it with one black sheep, “Cause that’s me.”
Every time Matatia and his wife come into Montreal, they go over the the Bauers’ Friday night – from Oneg Shabbat to Oneg Shabbat and, well, compare ties.
The men get their ties from different places – stores, online, presents from friends. Matatia’s wife has even made a couple herself, most notably one for Chanukah, with material covered in dreidels.
I asked Matatia if with so many ties, he changes them midday. He answered that because where they live there is no eruv, he can’t bring another tie to shul. However, Simchat Torah, they have a kiddush in his shul between Chatan Torah and Chatan Breishit, and that’s when he changes his tie for the second part of the Torah reading.
Matatia is a ba’al teshuvah and the tie collection sort of “ties in” with that because it started at the same time he was delving into the parshas to learn their meaning.
Although, as Bauer says, you can just wear a tie with sheep for all of sefer Vayikra, because the whole book is korbanot, he tries to shake things up a little.
Bauer began sporting the ties as his own fun thing but then he saw how educational it is, especially for the kids who come over to him in shul and try to guess the meaning of his ties, he expanded his collection.
Although he always felt you should wear a tie to shul, Matatia found that men’s attire is so boring, especially the ties. That was one of the things that spurred him, much like Bauer, to liven things up a bit. His schedule of traveling a lot afforded him the opportunity to buy ties from all over the world. His most expensive one is a hand painted tie from Japan, but it has no relevance to the parsha (unless maybe Chayei Sarah where Avraham gives gifts to his concubines and sends them to the East).
One of Matatia’s more obscure tie connections is a Star Trek tie. But if you’re not a Trekkie, you won’t get it. Gene Roddenberry, the show’s producer was looking for a unique salute for Dr. Spock to do. Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock, was Jewish and also from Massachusetts by the way. He remembered having peeked out as a child, during Birkat HaKohanim and seeing the hand gesture made by the Kohanim with their fingers splayed. He adopted it for the Vulcan salute. So, of course, that is the tie Matatia wears when the blessing is mentioned in the Torah, in Parshat Nasso.
Matatia, claims collecting ties was a mechanism for increasing his learning as he had to really delve into the parsha for the more obscure meanings, sometimes even taking the connection from Rashi and the Midrash. Sometimes people would even come up with a different take on his ties. “It’s a way of promoting more Torah and Yiddishkeit,” he says.
The men also have holiday ties and Matatia also has ties for secular holidays like the Fourth of July with the American flag. He has one though he says he can’t wear to shul, it has a tiger on it and if you press a button it meows. Why not Purim?
Divine Providence brought Bauer and Matatia together in a shteibel appropriately named for the joy of Shabbat. Hopefully, they will be maintaining ties for many Torah reading cycles to come, bringing oneg Shabbat to their congregations and communities.