Not Wealthy, But Rich
We all have friends who only do things if they can do them 130%. My friend Noach is not just a plumber, he was the youngest person in Michigan history to become a Licenses Master Plumber. He’s not just a pilot, he can fly almost anything smaller than a 747. He’s not just an audio and video producer, he’s the guy hanging lights from the seventy foot ceiling of a ballroom just to get less shadows on a speakers face. If he’s doing it at all, he’s doing it right.
Recently, Noach went to Israel a for a few days to attend the Siyum celebration for his brother’s completion of the entire Talmud, (a monumental achievement that his brother attributed to the one Rabbi who refused to give up on a kid who was a scholastic failure) and if you know Noach, you know that if he’s going to Israel, he wants to make every minute count at least 130%…
Noach has a longstanding relationship with a cab driver who like any cab driver can take people from their hotel to the Shuk or the Western Wall, but unlike almost any other cab driver would much rather take people to the middle of a warzone, a forest fire, or an international crisis. Noach called up the driver and told him he was in Israel, and he only one open day that he wanted to spend doing something unique, could they perhaps visit IDF bases where he wanted to deliver “food, drinks, hugs, and kisses.” The driver said, “Forger bases, you can’t get onto most of them, I’m going to take you to Gaza.” To Noach that made sense.
The next day, bright and early, the driver came to pick up Noach and his brother Yosef (who happens to be a good friend of mine, and the absolute #1 fan of this Shabbos email. He will probably email me a response before I even hit send, he’s good like that). They first drove to a store where they picked up over a hundred cans of Coke, but more importantly they picked up packages that contained a kilo of sunflower seeds. Israelis love sunflower seeds + sunflower seeds are really light so a kilo is about a weeks supply of seeds = give someone a kilo of sunflower seeds and you have a friend for life.
They drive south, and soon they are on the border with Gaza. The military is out in full force. The news cycle may have moved on from the Gaza crisis, because for right now there are less “freedom fighters” trying to cut the border fence open so that they can murder Israelis in their beds (I’m using their words, not mine, this is their stated goal . But the crisis is still in hyper mode. Every day, Palestinians send multiple kites carrying everything from bombs to flaming Molotov Cocktails across the border, with the intent of burning whatever they can; houses, farms, national parks. The military, besides keeping keen eyes on the border to make sure “freedom activists” don’t emerge from tunnels or border breaches, is also busy putting out fires all day long.
As Noach, Yosef, and his brother reach the first military outpost, the soldiers are wary. These poor young men, the most demonized people in international news, are so used to journalists coming to film the “teenage baby-killers of the IDF” that when an unmarked car pulls up, they are afraid of what new allegation is going to be thrown at them. But instead of cameras and microphones, Noach and Yosef tumble out with sodas and sunflower seeds, hugs and thank you’s. The soldiers are delighted. The brothers tell them that they are just random Jews from Detroit who want to show their appreciation for everything they are doing. “I sit in Detroit all day behind a desk, you risk your life to keep our brothers and sisters safe! All I want to do is say thank you, thank you, thank you!”
They stay for a few minutes and move on to the next outpost. They even stop a tank that was trundling down a roadway, and climb on board to deliver their food packages to the grateful soldiers. Towards the end of the day, they stop on the side of the road where they see a firefighting team, and as they get out of the car, the firefighters yell to them, “come on, pull out that hose with us!” Before you know it, a lawyer and plumber from Detroit are not only pulling out hoses, they are actively putting out fires on the Gaza border.
Over the course of the day, Yosef and Noach distributed over one hundred kilos of sunflower seeds and cans of Cokes. Everywhere they went they gave hugs to the soldiers and thanked them, and everywhere they went they were met with the biggest of smiles. All day long, they delivered love.
Love doesn’t come cheap. All in, they spent about $1,000 on this experience, and neither of them are what you would call wealthy; they are both raising beautiful families with lots of children, which happen to come along with lots of expenses for tuition, diapers, food, formula, health insurance, summer camp, and clothing. But while you wouldn’t describe either of the brothers as wealthy, I would describe them both as rich. When you deliver love all day long, you are rich, I don’t care what’s in your bank account.
The Talmud (Kesubos 66B), tell us of an interesting axiom people used to say, “The salt of money is its loss.” Rashi, the primary commentator on the Talmud explains that in those days salt was a preservative. If people wanted to preserve meat in the times before refrigeration, they used to salt it heavily and the salt would keep it from spoiling. So too, if someone wants to preserve their money, they want to maintain the wealth that G-d gave them, they should continually give away from their wealth to charity, and that “loss” will be the preservative in whose merit they keep their wealth.
But if I may, I’d like to suggest another explanation for that Talmudic axiom. Salt is what gives our food a lot of its flavor. Without salt, food is bland. Add a bit of salt and suddenly the food comes alive, all the latent flavors having been awakened. “The salt of money is its loss” can also mean that the flavor of money is in its being given away. Money can be used for many things, it can buy us more shoes, bigger houses, and newer cars. But the real flavor of money comes out when you give it away. There is no better way to experience the joy of the money you have than when you give it away to someone who needs it more than you.
Early on in our experience with money we enjoy all the things it buys us. But that gets old fast. How many pairs of shoes do we need? How many times do we need to find clothing we bought a year ago that still has its tags because we never wore it once before we realize that we don’t really get much pleasure out of our stuff? Yes, we upgraded our car, but this new one still has a steering wheel and a couple of pedals that need to be minded to. Two weeks after it showed up in our driveway, we barely notice that its there.
But giving money away? That just keeps getting better. Every smile we put on someone’s face feels better than the previous one. Every time we support another cause that we deeply believe in, we find that the giving is actually supporting us. Every can of Coke and bag of sunflower seeds we give to someone else, is a gift to ourselves as well. Money becomes tasty again.
In Hebrew the word for give is Nosain, which is a palindrome, it can be read forward or backwards. Our Rabbis teach us that this because the giver is also the receiver, and the receiver is the giver. When we give away our money, we give away tangible dollar bills but we receive the intangible deliciousness of being a giver. The receiver may get money, but he gives us the far greater pleasure of being a giver.
In his book, The Way of G-d, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto tells us that the greatest pleasure a human being can experience is called dveykus to G-d, which is loosely translated as connection to G-d. The closer we are to the Source of all happiness, the deeper and more profound our happiness is. The way we feel connection to something it to try to be as much like it as possible. G-d is the Ultimate Giver, He has no needs, so He never takes, and all He does is give. The more we are takers, the more disconnected from our Source we are, and the less joy we feel in life. The more we give, the more connected we feel to the Ultimate Giver, and the more joy we feel.
The salt of money is to give it away. The best flavor we get out of our material possessions is when we use them to benefit others. The more we use our money to help others, the more our money helps us. The more joy we give, the more joy we get. The more we deliver love, the more love we receive.
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Parsha begins with the reward given to Pinchas. Pinchas glorified G-d by killing one of the leaders of the tribe of Shimon who was publicly committing adultery and idolatry with a princess from Midian. The Midianite people had sent their daughters to seduce the Jews. At the moment of their highest vulnerability, the women would entice the Jewish men to serve the Midianite Gods. Pinchas, with his quick and violent action, brought the people back to their senses.
The parsha begins: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them…Therefore, say, “I hereby give him My covenant of peace.” (Numbers, 25:12)
For a man who committed a zealous and violent act, peace seems an incongruous reward. The Talilei Oros quotes the Steipler Gaon (1899-1985, Ukraine-Israel) who explains the following idea. Normally peace is a diametrically opposed to zealousness, and one who acts zealously is liable to lose any sense of peace. However, Pinchas’ zealousness did not come from anger, but from a deep love for G-d and a desire to stop the devastating spiritual downslide the tribal leader was causing with his brazen public idolatry and adultery.
G-d therefore assured him that he would not lose his sense of peacefulness through this act, but would instead be rewarded with more peace.
Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven.. a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted… A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing… a time to keep and a time to cast away… a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
In today’s world there is often a push to paint everything with broad, over-arching strokes that are actually quite dangerous. We want peace everywhere, all the time, and would rather look the other way at the people who don’t want peace and are attacking us. We want to be happy all the time, and find ways to make even a funeral a happy event, murmuring platitudes like “Charlie would have wanted this to be a real party.” We want to shower our children with kindness all the time. We want our whole world to be painted in vibrant, cheerful colors all the time.
Judaism believes that there is time and a place for everything. The only way we can feel true joy is if we can also experience sadness. The only way we can be truly kind to our children is if we sometimes discipline them. The only way we can have peace in the world is if people occasionally act violently to stop that which threatens the peace.
Even though Pinchas acted violently, it was done for the right reasons. Therefore G-d assured him that this will not make him into a violent person, but rather a person who has a greater appreciation for what true peace really is.
This week begins with the reward given to Pinchas who glorified G-d by eradicating one of the leaders of the tribe of Shimon who was publicly committing adultery with a princess from Midian. The Midianite people had sent their daughters to seduce the Jews. At the moment of their highest vulnerability, the women would entice the Jewish men to serve the Midianite Gods. Pinchas, with his quick action, brought the people back to their senses. The reward Pinchas received was the ability to join the ranks of the Kohanim, the people whose entire raison d’etre is to bring people closer to G-d by cleansing them of the negative effects of their sins. After this incident, the Jews went to war with the Midianites, in retribution for the spiritual war the Midianites waged against the Jews.
If you remember in the beginning of the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers), there was a major census taken of all the Jews. That was at the beginning of the Jew’s forty years in the desert. Now, at the end of their 40 year journey, G-d commands Moshe to take another census. Why was another census necessary? A number of reasons are given. First, just like a shepherd counts his sheep after a wolf attacks, so too G-d, after forty years and a number of punitive plagues, counts the Jews to see how many remained. In addition, just as Moshe counted the people at the beginning of his leadership, now that his watch was about to end, he counts them again before returning his flock to their master.
Another purpose of the census was to count the people by family, as this would determine their portions when they entered Israel. At this point, the daughters of Tzelafchad came before Moshe to make a request. They were from a family with only women, five of them to be exact. Their father had died, and they were concerned that with no men to represent them, their family would get no portion in Israel. Moshe, after a quick consultation with G-d, told them not to worry, as they would get a portion of the Land of Israel in lieu of their father. (Here is an interesting note: 2000 years ago, Jews were the most liberal nation in the world in regards to women’s rights. They gave women land, offered them many forms of protection in the case of divorce or death of a spouse, and gave them equal protection under law. Today, people look at Orthodoxy and claim that it represses women. It is important to try to understand the Orthodox position before judging them, in light of their record of being the foremost champion of women’s rights for thousands of years.) Once dealing with laws of inheritance, the Torah here summarizes the Jewish laws of bequest and inheritance.
The Torah, now close to wrapping up the narrative of the Jew’s desert experience, tells of G-d informing Moshe that he will die imminently and he therefore has to pass the mantle of leadership onto his principal pupil, Joshua. The Parsha then concludes with a list of the sacrifices brought on all the various festivals. That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: A well spent day brings happy sleep. ~ Leonardo Da Vinci
Random Fact of the Week: There are 132 Hawaiian Islands
Funny Line of the Week: I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I can’t put it down.
Have a Splendalicious Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham