Steve Leder on This Thanksgiving, a Little is a Lot

My dad was frugal. He rinsed and reused plates and often asked waitresses for “Just a little hot water and a slice of lemon,” then pulled a nasty, used tea bag from his shirt pocket and dropped it in. These behaviors were the result of a deeply held philosophical doctrine articulated to me in my youth with the Yiddishism, “A bissel is a plotz — a little is a lot.” 

Mostly this dogma applied to saving money —  in fact, it always applied to save money. My Dad grew up a skinny kid on welfare, was 18 when he married my 17-year-old mom, had 5 children before he was 30 and no safety net if he failed. There was a reason he wasted nothing and reminded us again and again that a little was a lot.

When people ask me what I’ve learned after all these years as a rabbi, one of them is how little things can come between us. A dropped email. A thank you note that never arrived. A little gossip. A little apathy. An unkind word.

Consider the metaphor of the butterfly and Chaos theory.  According to Chaos Theory, the things that change the world are often tiny. A butterfly flutters its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe. The butterfly is a symbolic representation of an unknowable quantity — the idea that predictability is impossible because something incredibly small can change everything.

This has made me think about the many small kindnesses and lessons others have bestowed upon me that have changed my life for the better. In his 90’s, Lionel told me:  “When you travel do it right. Because when you get to be my age you’ll never miss the money and you’ll be glad you have the memories.” Lionel died this past year but I will never forget him, partly because that little piece of travel advice helped change the son of a guy who reused paper plates and created countless, beautiful memories.

Max was a suit salesman for 50 years. When we were preparing for his funeral, I asked his daughter, Debra, “Well, just how good a suit salesman was your dad?”

“Rabbi,” she said, “one time a woman came in to buy a suit to bury her husband in and my dad sold her two pairs of pants.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Steve Leder