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The Observant Jew

Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

Say Cheese!

Have you ever noticed how people run to have their picture taken by a newspaper reporter or to be on TV even if nobody will know who they are?  So often we see a reporter doing a story or a Jumbotron camera at a sporting event and people in the background are waving to the people they know somewhere far away, mouthing, “Hi Mom!” and just trying to get in the picture.  Jewish newspapers that have pages for photos from simchos have people fighting to get their pics in the paper.

I was in a music video for a Jewish singer’s song and in one scene a fellow in the office walked by just in time to be seen as the camera moved down the hallway.  It gave him such pleasure that he would be in it.  But why? 

I think I can explain in one word: immortality.  We know we’re on this earth for a limited time, and we want to find a way to remain alive and relevant.  Even if we can’t actually continue to live, we can live on through our “fame” as other people see our images. When people take pictures, we tell them, “Say Cheese!”  Yes, it’s because the ‘long e’ sound makes your mouth appear to smile, but why couldn’t it be, “Say Beans!” or “Say Sneeze!”? (Either of which would be MUCH funnier, by the way.)

It may not be a coincidence that since milk is something that spoils quickly, much as people disappear quickly, and cheese is a way to preserve it and keep it around for longer, that we use the same word for taking a picture that will remain for posterity.

Now, this may seem like a very vain concept, but no less a personage than Queen Esther herself requested that her story be written down, canonized, and read annually with the appeal, “Establish me for generations.”  Why did she want to be remembered and what does it mean to us?

The story of the Megillah is an amazing one, and one that has deeply hidden secrets and meaning in each word.  Countless seforim have been written about the Megillah and more continue to be written.  It captures our imaginations and offers us hope.  The primary themes of Divine Providence and salvation through repentance are ones that reverberate with each of us in our own lives.  

Each of us can find times when he or she felt sure there was no way out of a bad situation, and this message of Hashem’s intervention is comforting.  By teaching us the methods used: fasting, prayer, and repentance, the Megillah gives us a gameplan for our own lives, hence its message is eternal.  That is why Esther wanted us to remember it. In doing so, however, Esther and the Chachamim also taught us how to become immortal.

Esther’s story could have been written down and recorded for posterity, but that wouldn’t have been enough.  The dusty old scroll would likely have languished in a closet somewhere and never impacted the lives of succeeding generations.  Therefore, she implored the Sages to establish the READING of the megillah as a way of ensuring the message was not lost in the future.  By making an impact in our lives, Esther achieved immortality.

If we look at the mitzvos of Purim, we find a furtherance of this idea.  Matanos la’evyonim

 – we give gifts to the poor.  This is not simple charity, but a gift that means we took the time to see someone else’s situation and do something about it.  Mishloach manos – sending gifts of food to others.  Intended to ensure everyone had a Purim seudah, these gifts increase friendship because “someone ELSE cared enough to think about ME.”  Seudas Purim – often shared with friends and family, these meals engender a unity amongst people.  Even the Machtzis HaShekel, the customary donation of half-dollar coins to tzedakah, reminds us that we need others to complete us.

All these ideas teach us that the way to be immortal is to make a difference in the lives of other people.  Be relevant to THEM, and make an impact on THEIR lives.  Esther cared enough about us to share her message of hope, and when we care about others we give them reason to remember us fondly as well, and therein lies the secret of Jewish immortality.

Our souls live on forever, connected to Hakadosh Baruch Hu .  But at a certain point, our lives cease to earn us dividends, and we stop being productive.  We remain living off the principal of our deeds but not gaining more.  When one leaves behind children who follow Torah and mitzvos, those children send “packages,” a sort of spiritual mishloach manos to their parents, but the wise person doesn’t rely on that alone. The one who truly wants to live forever, to constantly have new merits accruing to his account as a sort of Heavenly pension, will do his or her best to have a positive impact on the lives of others.  Then, through them and their children, he will continue to amass Torah and mitzvos.  That’s what Esther did, and we can follow her lead. By making the effort to care about others, to feel and alleviate their pain, to inspire and help them, we will have something to smile about for all eternity, and we won’t even have to say, “Cheese!”


Jonathan Gewirtz is a prolific inspirational writer whose work has appeared in publications around the world.  He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion.

For more information, or to sign up for or sponsor the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English, e-mail info@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe or Sponsor in the subject.

© 2014 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.


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