This goes back a few weeks when went down to Brooklyn with a nice UAlbany group of guys for the 2023 Chabad on Campus International Pegisha. We got into Crown Heights, found parking, and went up to the Eastern Parkway. First we took a photo (with our custom sweatshirts) outside “770” (Lubavitch World HQ) and then went to the Jewish Children’s Museum to register for the weekend’s events. It was quite the exciting and memorable weekend, uplifting and all, but that’s a story for another time. This post is about the pizza.
The guys were hungry and there was some time before Shabbat. So we took a little poll and the preference was for pizza. Crown Heights now boasts quite a few artisanal pizza shops but we chose the OG, the one right down Kingston Ave: Kingston Pizza. Walking down the street, seeing (and smelling) fish stores, and fruit stores, and butcher shops, and all the Shabbat flower kiosks on street corners felt to some like a real Shtetl experience.
As we entered the pizza shop another Chabad on Campus group was coming out. It was a group from Virginia Tech. Their Rabbi offered me a piece of advice. “Don’t order pies,” he cautioned. “Pies take forever. Just order slices, as many slices as you need, they come out much faster than the pies.”
The place was packed. I went up to the cashier and ordered a bunch of slices. The lady looked incredulously at me, and said I’d be better off with a pie or two. I said, no, no, I want slices. She argued back and forth, and the language barrier added to the confusion so I gave in and ordered two pies. We were number 161 or 167, something like that.
I got in line. And waited and waited. 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 3o minutes… the numbers they called made no sense. A 170 got served before us, then came a 143, the workers were working feverishly, arguing in Spanish, the aroma of pizza was everywhere. And as the rabbi from Virginia Tech wisely told me, the slices came out faster. Pies? That was a much longer story. I had to head out but a student took over the wait. It must have been 45 minutes to an hour before the famished crew got the coveted pizzas.
We’ll get back to the lesson learned from this story – which like the pizza itself took some time to appear, so look for that below – but first a story or two from our standing and waiting online:
While waiting online you might as well meet and get to know your fellow compatriots.
The first guy was a taller skinny guy, who people kept going up to and asking “are you the guy from the video?” To which he sheepishly and sweetly answered yes. What video was this? I didn’t make the connection at first, but when he told me, I knew it at once. There was a large and angry pro-Palestinian (pro-Hamas, I suppose) protest at Yale University where this Nesanel C. is a student, and he fearlessly went right up to the front of the protest and wearing Tefillin and draped in an Israeli flag kept singing Am Yisrael Chai, looking them straight in the eyes. This video circulated quite a bit, and yes, he is the guy in the video.
The guy to my right was an Ari B. a yeshiva student, he lives and studies in Crown Heights. I figured a Crown Heights resident would know better than to come to Kingston Pizza on a busy Friday afternoon especially with 1000 Pegisha college students in town. But he told me he likes the pizza.
There’s a favorite Chabad ice-breaker I have, ask a Chabad chassid for his favorite go-to chapter of Tanya. If they say 32 it’s usually a cop-out, because that’s the famous one about Love Your Fellow and as number 32 it spells the heart of Tanya. Many times people can’t come up with a favorite because while they’ve studied Tanya, usually in school, they probably didn’t personalize and internalize it much/enough.
But this Ari B. didn’t flinch. He immediately said “Chapter 18”. Now, that is a glorious answer. Firstly, it speaks of the “Pintele Yid” (a big Chabad theme, especially relevant in our generation) and it’s also one of those chapters where its harder to pick up its inner theme just from translation. I appreciated this one by listening to Reb Yoel on it. I was impressed and touched that this Ari B. appreciated this chapter so, and that it resonated with him.
I asked him which chapter of Tanya was a balance to 18? And again he told me right away: 25! Wow, wow.. I so appreciated this balance, how these chapters are opposites yet complements, how they work as a pair, as a set, how they work in tandem.
So where did you learn to appreciate Tanya like this? He said that in the Yeshiva in Cincinnati he had a teacher, Rabbi Zalman Baras of blessed memory, who taught him this Tanya. He liked that teacher and it stuck with him. Sadly Rabbi Zalman Baras died young.
I knew Zalman. His father Rabbi Sholom Baras was my first teacher when I came to Brooklyn in 6th grade, It was actually his last year of teaching before becoming assistant principal. And in my first year of marriage I got a part-time job teaching morning Chassidus at Chovivei Torah on Eastern Parkway, It was early morning, it was up on the 3rd floor, even the class was a little dark, It was a great teaching gig because there was no resistance. Interestingly quite a few of those boys became active and beloved educators in Chabad, Zalman Baras was one of those boys.’
Back to the Pizza, Slices vs. Pies…
Fast-forward a few weeks. It was at a Friday Night Oneg. A student T. was bringing up an old argument against Chabad’s one-mitzvah approach. Why bother with one mitzvah at a time if the person isn’t committing to full observance? Questions like that. There are many rich explanations to Rebbe’s unique and pioneering approach on this.
It may not answer the question, but I had a flashback to the pizza shop that Friday a few weeks earlier. Yes, in life we often prefer the pie approach. It’s a full circle, an enclosed crust, it’s the whole 360 degrees. But often, if you wait for a whole pie you might wait a long time. Going with one slice at a time, may be much more accessible, attainable, feasible.
And remember, it’s still a slice of the same pizza. The Rebbe emphasized that each and every mitzvah is a connection, it strengthens and deepens one aspect of our relationship with G-d. One slice alone may not be the full picture, but it is a slice off that same pie.