Lessons from T-Shirts

Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv (the Alter of Kelm) is quoted as saying that the whole world is a house of Mussar (ethical instruction) and that each person is a mussar sefer (book). If we look around there are lessons everywhere.

Here are two T-Shirt slogans that contain mussar vorts.

Shirt #1

I once was on a subway going from Queens to Brooklyn erev Shabbos. As I was sitting, (yes I got a seat) I couldn’t help but notice the t-shirt of the man standing in front of me. It was a “Champion” brand shirt. I will never forget what it said. The shirt simply stated: It takes a little more effort to make a Champion.

It has been twelve years since that subway ride and I haven’t forgotten. In my day to day life I often find that, as I trek forward with tasks, responsibilities, and spiritual pursuits I sometimes lose momentum. On the rare occasions that I am consciously aware of this (usually it’s well after the fact) I think of that T-shirt. In my life as a Torah observant Jew there are plenty of times when just a little more effort will produce a more substantial result. Whether the effort is applied to getting up 10 minutes earlier, going a little out of my way to do a chessed, or even speaking softly to someone in my own family. There is a fine line between getting by and rising about our own mediocrity. For me, it’s as thin as a T-shirt.

Shirt #2

Last year, while sitting in the Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis, I saw another great T-Shirt. This one was from Nike (the folks that came up with “Just Do It”). It said: You’ve got to start to finish.

This echoes the line from Lecha Dodi: sof ma’aseh bemachshavah techilah translated as “last in deed, but first in thought” or the final outcome has been thought out at the beginning. Often the biggest struggle I face is just starting something. When it comes to Avodas Hashem (serving our creator) it’s easier to be ho-hum about coming up with all the ‘right’ reasons why we should take upon ourselves a new mitzvah, start being a little more careful about a particular halachah, or open up a particular Jewish book. Saying or thinking about doing something is only the beginning. The next step is coming up with a plan and taking action. In order to finish, one first has to actually start.

9 comments on “Lessons from T-Shirts

  1. David is going to have hats printed with that slogan for either the next MM or Shabbaton. Or teeshirts (3/4 sleeve pleeze for us ladies).

  2. I have a great slogan that I told everyone when I posted for the 1st time this year…”just do it”, courtesy of Nike. That applied to my decision to start going to Shul every Shabbos, after some years of not going, and before that, of going sporadically, and just on Yom Tov.


  3. One of my favorite slogans on a T-shirt is the ” Time Flies When Your Having Rum” I first saw it on a Abercrombie T-shirt only available in the wrong size. More than just a humorous don’t succumb to the hum drum rum existence, I also learnt if the T-shirt doesnt fit, dont wear it and dont purchase it with the intent of shrinking it in the cold cycle either, it will still be too large.Even if you love the message or mission statement, sometimes, (I know its hard to believe but) you can even learn as just the observer ,as opposed to always needing to experience /feel the thrills and actually wear the t-shirt in order to understand the messaging.Even though its way more fun to learn life through experience instead of preacherism.If you cant handle the preacherism for messaging, you can always check out a different Abercrombie store or maybe they can special order it for you.Or just choose a different message of the day for inspiration in your size.So you can have your T-shirt lesson of the day and wear it too.

  4. In England on a business trip in the 1980’s, I walked past a street sign in the middle of Cambridge that said “Changed Priorities Ahead”. This really referred to the changed pattern of traffic flow but also provided some helpful guidance for life.

  5. LOL! I saw one life-defining T-shirt years before I was frum: “Spirituality is the highest form of political activism.”

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