When a person accepts upon himself a particular religious commitment, for example to observe Shabbat or eat only Kosher food, Hashem may send him a test or two to measure his level of dedication. Although not apparent at first glance, the tests that Hashem sends are always for our own benefit. G-d only gives us tests that He knows we can pass. The purpose is to prove our level of commitment to ourselves, those around us and G-d. The challenges are always very personal, and are in areas that are most dear to us.
For 13 years Jimmy Baron worked as a radio announcer in Atlanta as the Morning Drive Radio host on 99X Radio. When he first began observing Shabbat it was a major step because much of his job revolved around concerts and other events on Friday night. But he was extremely committed to keeping Shabbat and was able to withstand the challenges of his job.
Outside of growing on his path toward observance, Jimmy had one other passion in life: Bruce Springsteen. Jimmy describes himself as “an absolute obsessed Bruce Springsteen fan.” He has traveled around the country to attend Springsteen concerts, spending thousands of dollars and burning up vacation days to see him perform.
Several years ago Springsteen announced that his tour schedule would include a major concert in Atlanta on a Friday night. Jimmy had been keeping Shabbat for only six months and was still growing in his observance, so he was very tempted to go.
But if that wasn’t enough of a challenge G-d had something else up His sleeve. A few days before the concert, a friend of Jimmy’s who works in the record industry called him to invite him to go backstage after the concert and hang out with Springsteen in his dressing room.
This was a dream come true for Jimmy. He had never met Springsteen and he knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. But how could he turn his back on his religion and his commitment to keep Shabbat? He was torn, but he gathered up his strength and told his friend that he would be unable to go because it was on Shabbat.
“You did hear what I said, right?” his friend asked.
“Yes, I heard you, but this is my life now. I’ve made this commitment,” Jimmy replied.
“Jimmy, G-d will forgive you,” his friend said.
“Boy, you must have some inside knowledge.”
For Jimmy it was a powerful moment. Passing that test made him realize the depth of his commitment to Shabbat because he was able to make the decision so quickly.
“It was a real landmark in my Jewish growth, choosing between my commitment to Judaism and what I just wanted to do,” Jimmy said. “The satisfying thing was not only being able to make the right decision, but being able to make that decision without even thinking about it. Six months earlier I would have been at that concert.”
Jimmy acknowledges that it took a lot of strength to overcome the challenge, and he attributes that strength to have come directly from Hashem. For others faced with similar tests, he says it is important to look beyond the moment and measure how you will feel about the choice in the future.
“If on that one night I would have made an exception because it was Bruce and went to the concert, I know I would have regretted it for the rest of my life,” he said. “You have to look within yourself and think is this something tomorrow, or next week I will be happy about or beat myself up about.”
The Friday night came and Jimmy and his wife were at a friend’s house for Shabbat dinner. Jimmy’s spirit was uplifted even more than on a typical Shabbat because he knew he had made the correct decision and had demonstrated his commitment to Shabbat. Jimmy’s friends knew how significant his choice had been so they ordered a special cake with the words “I Missed Bruce Springsteen For Shabbat.”
Jimmy was touched. Years later he still has the top of that cake in his freezer as a testament that he passed his test.
A few years after that Friday night concert, Jimmy received even more clarity that he had made the correct choice. Springsteen was in Atlanta recording a new album and Jimmy happened to be at the bar in the hotel where he was staying. Springsteen came in by himself and Jimmy asked if he could buy him a drink. The two talked uninterrupted for 30 minutes, which was far longer than he would have gotten in the dressing room after the concert.
As King David wrote, “Favor and glory does Hashem bestow, he withholds no goodness from those who walk uprightly.” (Tehillim 84:12) For Jimmy, making the correct choice earned him tremendous rewards.
(published in The Jewish Press December 12, 2007)