After having just talked about the uphill battle in getting my middle son to wear a Yarmulka, an interesting thing happened to me yesterday, that has led me to reflect on the purpose in general of wearing a Yarmulka.
Last night, on the train, I was studying Daf Yomi. It was a crowded train and I was standing the whole ride. As we stopped at 125th St., a familiar face got on the train. I immediately recognized this person as the Rabbi of one of the non-Orthodox shuls in town. In addition to his suburban pulpit, this Rabbi also teaches at his denomination's seminary as well.
Normally, I am friendly Jew, and I like discussing religion and torah with all those curious around me. But something about this particular Rabbi turned me off completely. He wasn't wearing a Yarmulka.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn't the worst thing on the planet. Many of my friends and relatives don't wear their Yarmulkas to work, and don't necessarily throw them on their heads as soon as they get on the train. But then again, none of them are Rabbis or rabbinic educators!
Were this Rabbi an Attorney, needing to appeal to a Jury and Judge, or a Wall-Street Trader on a trading floor that sounds like a dockside bar, I could understand his lack of headgear - but this is a person who not only purportedly does the work of G-d, but also teaches others to do so as well!
The purpose of the Yarmulka, and the etymology of the word itself (which is why I prefer it to the more generic 'kipah') comes from the phrase - Yoreh Malka - (lit, Fear of the [heavenly] King). While I don't begrudge those of my friends and family who don't wear a Yarmulka in their professional life, how can someone who is a reglious leader and educator not acknowledge the creator above him? That he too, just like all of us, must defer to a heavenly king.
What message is this Rabbi sending - that fear of heaven is only for the synagouge and seminary, but not for the train, the street, and everywhere else? How can he utter the words of the Shema with any degree of sincerity?
I wonder if he even wears a Yarmulka to teach, and if not, what message does that send to his students!
I wanted to ask him this very question. But I was afraid to get into an argument! So I ignored him, which was the wrong thing to do. Maybe next time when I encounter him, I should ask him to learn with me, and offer him my Yarmulka.