I was surprised the last time I visited the Baton Rouge Synagogue to see a large floor mat in the foyer of the shul. BRS is a large and wonderful place, with many wealthy folks and a very saintly rabbi. But the floor mat seemed so strange that I had to ask how it got there and why they have it. Here’s what I found out.
Every winter, the saintly Rabbi Eliyokim Kelloberg takes a vacation for a two weeks. During which time, the rich folks take over the shul. Last winter one of them decided that the large foyer needs to get a new mat. The rainy seasons in the south create a lot of mud — a nice mentchlich mat would allow the members to clean their feet before walking in, making the shul a better place. He decided the mat design should include the logo of the shul – its an iconic symbol of the beautiful facade — and its charming shul motto written in Hebrew across the top “Aizehu Ashir, Hanotein Terumot” — He who is wealthy gives donations. It is a motto that captures BRS perfectly.
But when the Rabbi goes away, the board members usually fight. Of course, someone objected to the mat. He thought putting Hebrew letters on a mat was not mechubad for a shul. After all, the logo was probably from a chazal somewhere and it would look terrible seeing people rub their muddy shoes on the mat. So after a few hours of name calling and siddur throwing, the president of the board called the Rabbi to ask for his guidance on the matter.
Rabbi? is it OK to put in a new floor mat for the shul?
“Of course dear — why are you asking me?”
Rabbi. It will have a symbol of the shul on the mat — is that OK?
“A symbol? Sure. It’s not a Torah is it?”
No Rabbi. But there will be Hebrew letters on it too — is that OK with you?
“Hebrew letters… Hmmm. I remember when I was in Israel that the manhole covers on the street had Hebrew letters on it — and if that was good enough for the Rabbanut, then who am I to say no.”
So Rabbi, is it OK? Do we have your haskama?
“Yes, I declare by the power invested in me by my smicha and Senior Rabbi status that you are allowed to put a new mat in the shul that has an iconic symbol of the shul on it and Hebrew letters, provided that it does not actually have the name of Hashem on it — it’s perfectly OK.”
The President of the board was so relieved that she told the rich donor the good news. In turn he immediately contacted the mat maker and told him the rabbi gave his haskama — his seal of approval on the mat design.
For some strange reason, the person designing the mat misunderstood what the Rabbi meant by his seal of approval. And to this day the shul has a large beautiful mat in the foyer with the face of the Rabbi and his name written in large Hebrew letters on it. Last time I visited, I joined hundreds of congregants who walked into the large doors, and rubbed my muddy shoes on the BRS mat, knowing that the Rabbi approved this gesture. I’m forever impressed with the humility of a Rabbi who allows his congregants to walk all over him.
Learn more about shul floor mats at 4Torah.com