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Honey, We Need to Talk – Parshat Bo 5777

It was 8:30am and Josh  already felt like he was buried under two tons of dirt, all his movements slow and belabored. He had been at his workstation since six, and he was scheduled straight through 7 pm. If he wanted to make it through the slog of nonstop meetings and spreadsheets he needed coffee; fast, hot, and strong.

 He stumbled into the Starbucks in the lobby of his office building, and gave the barista the nod that meant, “I’ll take my usual.” He fished out his Amex Platinum, swiped it, signed the $4.95 bill for the Caramel Latte Macchiato with two extra espresso shots and declined the receipt. It didn’t really matter, the bill was the same every day, and if he collected his Starbucks receipts he probably could have built a house with them.

He shuffled over to the pickup counter to wait for his coffee, and when it mercifully came, he took a big gulp as he shuffled out. Immediately he could feel his limbs limber up. Ahhhh. Thank G-d for Starbucks!

Four hours later, Josh had already met with two prospective clients, had run spreadsheets for five of his current clients, and spent an hour on the phone with one of his big fish who was uncertain once again about the direction of the markets. No one said being a financial consultant was going to be easy, but dealing with the little minds was just grinding. Besides, he was starving.

A quick call to Mike’s Bistro solved that one. Twenty minutes later the delivery boy dropped off his hot pastrami on rye with a side of cole slaw and sour pickles. He dutifully signed the $13.95 receipt, gave the delivery boy a dollar tip, and dug in. Pastrami always seemed to hit the spot, and five minutes later, he felt his second wind coming on, and he dug back into work for another seven hours.

By the time he left work, it was dark and drizzling, and he was thankful he parked in the covered garage just a block from work. Sure it was $18 a day, but it sure beat walking six blocks to the municipal parking lot. He got into his BMW 535, one of the few joys in his life, headed over to Fuji Hanna to pick up dinner, and drove home to the soothing sound of Sirius Radio Best of Classical channel, which does sounds fabulous on the 14 speaker Mark Levinson audio system.

Once he got home, off came the Canali suit, Hermes tie, and Thomas Pink shirt, and on came the Banana  Republic loungewear and Uggs slippers. Five minutes later Josh was splayed out on the couch, dinner in lap, watching his favorite TV show, and finally relaxed for the first time all day, when his wife came over with a look on her face that said, “Honey, we need to talk.”

The “Honey, we need to talk” almost always revolved around money, and sure enough as soon as she sat down, she produced some credit card bills from her robe.

NO! Not again! I can’t deal with this!!! All day long, I get stressed out by clients, managers, numbers, figures, and money. Can’t I just have ten minutes to myself? Do we really need to do this again? I’ve been working night and day for 15 years! Shouldn’t we be millionaires by now? Isn’t that enough to stop the “Honey, we need to talk” conversations?

There are literally millions of Josh’s in this country. They make good money, they work hard, and they can’t believe that they still have money problems like everyone else. There is so much money running around this country, where is it all going?

I’ll tell you where it’s going. It’s going to Starbucks, luxury car dealerships, parking garages, designer clothing, fast food restaurants, Apple Inc, and hundreds of other places that either sell us things we don’t need, or sell us things we need but at prices we don’t need to spend. None of these places alone can explain where all our money is going, but add them together and the suddenly the numbers seem to make sense.

We don’t realize how much of our wealth is slipping out of our fingers because it happens incrementally, but the cumulative effect is such that many Americans who should be millionaires are still struggling to make mortgage payments! And the ones who are millionaires are the ones who are cognizant of this, and who live more moderate lives, conscious of everything they spend. Here are some stats to ruminate over from economist Stanley Thomas (author of “The Millionaire Next Door,” and “Stop Acting Rich… And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire.”)

·       The car maker driven by the most millionaires is Toyota

·       Three quarters of millionaires live in home valued at less than $300,000

·       Most millionaires shop at value stores not luxury stores. Forty three percent of millionaires own a Sears card.

·       86% of “Prestige Cars” are driven by non-millionaires

·       The average male in the US spends $47 on lunches each week

·       Millionaires invest on average nearly 20% of their household income

Let’s look at Starbucks as an example. If you want the honor of having your coffee come in a cup described as a venti you are going to have to spend at least $2. If you want to add the words latte, caramel, macchiato, or extra shots, you are easily looking at close to $5.

A typical male in the US spends $26 a week on coffee (Reuters, 1/25/2012).  That comes out to $1352 a year, or 3.2% of the national average wage. Add in $47 a week on lunches, which represents 5.9% of the national average wage, and a person can be spending over 9% of their yearly income on coffee and lunch!

But the wealthy? “The wealthy don’t spend their wealth on discretionary purchases,” said Pam Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing, a consumer market-research firm specializing in luxury goods and experiences. “They get rich by maximizing the value of their investments.”

But if you’re expecting this discussion to turn into a finger wagging at all Starbucks lovers, you’re wrong (although I personally prefer Taster’s Choice with flavored creamers!). The point of this article is to focus on the fact that most of our wealth, most of our value slips through our fingers simply because it slips away incrementally. We barely notice it as we lose a bit here and a bit there. This is perhaps true of our physical wealth, but it is much truer of our spiritual wealth.

The most valuable spiritual commodity is time. It is the one commodity no one can buy more of no matter how wealthy they are, and without time there can be no spiritual growth. It is so valuable (when used right), that in Ethics of Our Fathers (4:22) He also would say: “Better is one hour of penitence and good deeds in this world than all the life of the world to come.” So time here is pretty valuable.

But we often lose our most valuable commodity because it slips away a little bit at a time. We all know we are capable of greatness, we all know that if we invest ourselves in our future we can achieve greatness, but time just seems to slip away.

A little bit of relaxation, and then a bit of Facebook, a long phone call with our friend about mostly nothing, and then our favorite show, and then reruns of our favorite show, and then six hours of ESPN football, and then post game analysis with a friend for an hour or two, and then one quick last dip into the world of Facebook, and BAM there goes a Sunday!

The Sages recognized our propensity to allow time to slip through and get lost forever. The Talmud in Berachos (4B) tells us that the Sages instituted a set time for the evening Shema out of the fear that if there was no set time for it, people would just waste time and forget to say the Shema of the evening. “So that a person should not say, I will go home, I will eat a little, I will drink a little, I’ll take a short nap, and then suddenly they sleep through the evening service!” They were cognizant that without a plan, time can just evaporate, and our wealth disappears.

The average millionaire invests 20% of his income toward a better future. We may not be able to invest 20% of our time, but we can have a plan, we can decide what we are ready to invest into spiritual growth and then consistently meet that investment goal. It can be five minutes of prayer every morning to thank G-d for giving us another day, and asking that it be a good one. It can be an hour every weekend volunteering to visit the sick. The investment vehicles are endless…

We can try to reclaim time that normally slips away. We can use our commute to listen to a Judaism MP3 or to call our parents. We can bring an inspirational Jewish book on our next flight, and spend 30 minutes out of the two hours growing instead of not.

Who wants to be a Billionaire?

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s parsha continues the story of the Ten Plagues that started in last week’s parsha. After we learn about Moshe warning Pharaoh about the last plague, the Death of the Firstborn, there is a peculiar break in the narrative. Suddenly, the story of the redemption from Egypt is broken by 28 verses that bear very little relation to the actual storyline. Instead, these verses contain the first Mitzvos the Jews were commanded to observe as a nation.

We know that the Torah was given by G-d, and is therefore perfect by its very nature. Nothing is superfluous;  everything is calculated down to the very vowels of the letters. Why, then, would G-d choose to interrupt one of the most important narratives to speak about a few mitzvot? If anything, the story was just beginning to peak, it was reaching its climax. We spent the last few weeks reading about the rise of Moshe from an infant cast into the Nile to the redeemer of the Jewish people. We learn how G-d sent him back into Egypt with a message of hope for the enslaved Jews. Ha-shem told him to challenge Pharaoh and demand freedom for the Jews. The dialogue continued with Pharaoh’s refusals, which are met with miraculous plagues that bring tremendous punishment onto the Egyptians. And all of these events were for the single cause of freeing the Jews. Now, we are about to reach the last plague, freedom is near, and G-d decides to interrupt this riveting story with a few commandments! Why?

The answer to this question holds a tremendous lesson for us. The Jews were at a pivotal moment in their national history. Until now, they were slaves; physically, they were a oppressed and broken people. As bad as things were from a physical perspective, their spiritual state was even worse. They were totally unaffiliated with their heritage, disconnected from the legacy of their great predecessors. But, now they were about to leave Egypt and venture into the desert to begin a journey of spiritual growth. G-d wanted to give us the first commandments specifically before the journey began.

In doing so, G-d taught us that you don’t have to be far into a spiritual journey to begin observing some of the mitzvos. In fact, you can be at the very beginning of your spiritual enlightenment, and still begin practicing those mitzvos that are within your power to keep. Sometimes we feel like we are not “on the level” to do a particular mitzvah, or that due to a past that was deprived of spirituality that we can’t possibly be worthy of performing a specific mitzvah. The truth is that you don’t have to be worthy to perform a mitzvah; the mitzvah itself gives you worth.

In Egypt, when the Jews were in a deep spiritual slump, G-d gave them a few mitzvos which provided the merit needed to get the Jews out of Egypt. G-d clearly showed us that  mitzvos are relevant to everyone, and every single person is worthy and capable of performing a mitzvah. And once we tap into that opportunity, we are on the pathway to our own personal and spiritual redemption.

I once heard a beautiful story that illustrates this point. In the seventies, a young man who grew up without any Jewish identity, somehow stumbled on some Jewish classes, and began to study. He was enthused by what he learned, but soon he was drafted into the army, and was prepared to go fight in Vietnam. On his last leave of absence before being shipped out, he visited his rabbi back home. His rabbi encouraged him to begin doing one mitzvah, but he was reluctant, as he had never really done any before. In the end, they agreed that he would try to do the mitzvah of netilat yadayim, ritually washing ones hands before eating bread.

One day, after a long day of fighting, his platoon settled down for chow. While everyone ravenously attacked their food, this soldier went to a nearby stream to wash his hands. While he was washing his hands, he heard a series of explosion and came running back. Somehow, his platoon had been ambushed, and by the time he got back, he was the only survivor. Like our forefathers in Egypt, this man took upon himself a mitzvah even though he was not sure he was ready for it, and it proved to be his redemption.

In the merit of our increased mitzvah observance, may we all merit the Final Redemption!

 

Parsha Summary

This week’s portion starts with the final three plagues. After Moshe warns Pharaoh of the locust that will be the worst Egypt has ever or will ever see, Pharaoh backs down and says he will let the Jews go. But, in typical Pharaoh fashion, he then reneges on the deal and claims that he only meant that the men could go. So G-d sends the locust. Lots of them. They eat everything that is not stored away. Pharaoh, in a panic, calls for Moshe and tells him to pray to G-d to take away the locust, and he will let the Jews go. Moshe prays, a wind comes and removes every last locust from Egypt (even the ones that were pickled and tucked away in Egyptian basements in Mason jars), and Pharaoh reneges.

G-d commands Moshe to stretch his hand out to the sky and, when he does so, darkness falls upon Egypt. After three days, the darkness gets stronger, to the point that it is so thick that people can not move. Meanwhile, the Jews have total reign to do as they please, and they scope out the Egyptians hiding places to find where they keep their treasures.

Finally, Pharaoh calls Moshe and tells him yet again that the people can go. Of course, there is one huge string attached, namely, that they have to leave the livestock behind. Moshe says, “We are going to bring sacrifices and you want us to leave the livestock behind? You will see that by the time we leave, you will be giving us livestock to get us out quicker.” Pharaoh tells Moshe to get away, and warns him that if he comes back, he will have him killed. Before Moshe leaves, he gets a prophecy, and he turns and warns Pharaoh of the death of the firstborns, the final plague. He tells Pharaoh that by the time the plague is over, the Jews will be driven out of Egypt, and with that, he leaves Pharaoh stewing.

G-d tells Moshe to tell the Jews to “borrow” gold and silver from the Egyptians who miraculously are willing to “lend” it to them. (The amount they “borrowed” was still not enough to compensate for all the years of free labor that the Jews had given the Egyptians.)

Then G-d commands Moshe to tell the Jews about the first mitzvah they received as a nation, namely following the lunar months to determine Jewish holiday. G-d calls out the first month, Nissan, and tells Moshe to inform the Jews that on the tenth of the month they should set aside a lamb for a Pascal offering. This was no easy task, as the Egyptians worshipped the lamb, and were certainly less than pleased to see their gods being prepared for slaughter by their former slaves. G-d told Moshe to instruct the Jews to bring the lamb as a Pesach offering on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan. They were to put blood on their doorposts on the night of the 15th and this would ensure that G-d would skip over their houses when He struck all the Egyptian firstborns.

The Jews brought the first Pascal offering, put the blood on the doors, and that night G-d went through Egypt slaying every firstborn. While doing so, He skipped over the Jewish houses, thus giving the holiday the name Pesach, which means skipped over. The entire Egypt was consumed with wailing and mourning, and finally even Pharaoh caved in. He went through the streets calling out for Moshe, telling him to get the Jews out of Egypt.

As morning broke, the Egyptians pushed the Jews to leave so quickly that they didn’t even have enough time to let their breads leaven. They quickly baked the dough as matzah, and left Egypt. About 1.2 million adult Jews left Egypt along with millions more children. Besides for the Jews, a large group of people called the eirev rav, or the great multitude, left Egypt with them. They were so impressed by the miracles G-d had show in Egypt that they decided to stick with the winning team.

As the Jews left Egypt, G-d told Moshe to teach the people the laws of Pesach which would be a holiday for eternity to relive our miraculous exodus from Egypt. G-d also tells Moshe that from now on, the firstborn of both Jews and kosher animals are holy, since G-d saved them by not striking them when He struck the Egyptians firstborn children and animals. This is the source for the mitzvah of pidyon haben, redeeming one’s firstborn from the Kohen. It is also the source for the mitzvah to give most firstborn animals to the Kohen (with the exception of donkeys that get redeemed for sheep).  Additionally, G-d tells Moshe about the mitzvah of teffilin which are worn to remind us of G-d’s great miracles. The parsha concludes with G-d’s commandment that the Jewish people transmit the story of our exodus from generation to generation, as it has been transmitted for 3,314 years!

Quote of the Week: The test of enjoyment is the remembrance it leaves behind.  – M. Falsim

Random Fact of the Week: It is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open

Funny Line of the Week: The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

 

Have a Chipper Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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