Shavuos with a Billionaire…
Being a Billionaire buys you a pretty big social pass. You can do many things that other people can’t and get away with it. You can walk into shul with your pants on backwards, and people will whisper to each other in hushed tones, “Dude, that guy is a billionaire, he’s such a genius he doesn’t even notice the little things like the direction of his pants! He’s eccentric.” As a friend of mine once said, “What’s the difference between odd and eccentric?… A billion dollars.”
But billionaires don’t get a total pass; there are certain lines in the sand that no man can cross without raising the hackles of the masses. And Count Chinquinho Scarpa crossed one of those lines the day he announced to the world via Facebook that he planned on burying his Bentley.
A little bit about Scarpa. Francisco Filho Scarpa was born in Sao Paulo, in 1947, to a wealthy Italian-Brazillian industrialist family. His father, Francisco Scarpa, was given the honorary title “Count” by Pope Pius XII in 1949 for his philanthropy and charitable activities on behalf of society. Junior, who likes to call himself Count Chinquinho Scarpa, became famous as well, but not for his philanthropic activities as much as for his outrageous antics and other assorted oddities, that were the fodder for the gossip mill in Sao Paulo. Some of his more memorable moments were when the childless count adopted his $20,000 cockatoo as his daughter, and when he went into a coma for 63 days after a superbug infection he caught while recovering from a stomach reduction surgery.
Most of his money came from his family’s wealth, although he has had considerable success in the mining and brewing industries. He runs another business, a Japanese martial arts academy called the Institute Maruyama Aikido, but that seems to be more of a hobby than a money maker. As you can imagine, he holds a black belt in Maruyama Aikido.
So what do you do when you have lots of money, no one to give it to (cockatoos only take credit cards), and a fetish for fame? You make an outrageous claim, and blast it out on Facebook. So a few years ago, Count Chinquinho posted a picture of himself next to a $500,000 Bentley, and announced that he was going to bury it. He claimed that he had watched a program on the History Channel about how the Egyptians believed that if you bury your treasures with you, you will be able to enjoy them in the next world, and he proclaimed, “I decided to do as the Pharaohs: this week I will bury my favorite car, the Bentley here in the home garden! Bury my treasure in my palace rssss!” (I’m assuming rsss is the Spanish equivalent of Yessss!)
People were understandably outraged. Count Chinquinho lives in a city where millions don’t have access to clean water, electricity, or a proper sewage system. There are hundreds of organizations working desperately to provide people with food and water, and Chinquinho wants to bury his $500,000 car? One editorial politely suggested that he donate his car to Meals on Wheels where at least it could do some good! But the Count was not moved by all the outrage, instead he began posting pictures of himself and the car next to a ditch. And when that didn’t raise enough moral outrage for the Count’s sensibilities, he posted another picture, this one showing him operating a backhoe on his backyard, building an even bigger hole, a real Bentley sized hole! Apparently, he didn’t believe the time old adage, “You can’t take anything with you…,” he believed that you can provided you have a backhoe and a big enough backyard!
The day before the Bentley Burial, he announced the official time of the burial, 11 A.M., and invited the press to come witness the spectacle. The next morning, there was a mass of journos and photogs (yes, I like using those words) in his backyard, when just before the burial, he stepped forward and made a speech.
“People have condemned me for trying to bury a million dollar Bentley. The fact is, most people bury something a lot more valuable than my car. People bury hearts, livers, lungs, eyes, and kidneys. This is absurd. There are so many people out there waiting for a transplant and you will bury healthy organs that can save so many lives. This is the biggest waste in the world. My Bentley is worthless in comparison to life giving organs. There is no wealth more valuable than an organ, because there is nothing more valuable than life.
I officially announce I am an organ donor this week. I’m an organ donor, are you? Tell your family.”
It was all a stunt. Count Chinquinho went on to describe how a simple bacteria had brought him so close to death that he was practically knocking on heaven’s door. “I was in a coma for 63 days; the doctor told me he had ‘opened’ me eight times. I came close to death twice. The priest gave me two anointings (last rites). This was all because of bacteria. I took it and got away with it. Unfortunately this was not the case with my mother. She had an operation on her femur, got the bacterium and died in February 2012. I am strong,”
Notwithstanding his strange allusion to his mother being weak while he was strong, Chinquinho’s point was that if there were more organs available, less people would die from infections or diseased organs. The Bentley Burial was just a ruse, he was really just trying to save the world.
I don’t know if that was really what Count C had in mind when he first announced his intention to bury the Bentley, it may have been a cover-up for what he really wanted to do. He might have really wanted to be like a Pharoah, then hastily hatched his about face after the outpouring of negative press and hate he was getting. But he did make a good point. People bury things far worse than a Bentley.
(This is not a halachic discussion, nor a philosophical treatise. Organ donation is a very complex area of Jewish life and law, and one should have a discussion with their local Torah observant rabbi before donating an organ.)
The truth however, is that most of us bury things far worse than Bentley’s or organs. We bury ourselves. We bury our own lives. The most valuable thing in life is not Bentley’s nor organs, the most valuable thing in the world is life itself, and when we fritter it away, we are effectively burying ourselves. I only have a very small amount of time on this planet. It may be 70 years, 80 years, or if I’m blessed from above, perhaps even 90 or 100 years, but that is all I’ve got! And when I waste that precious time, I am burying years of my life.
How many months have I wasted talking about nothing? How many years have I thrown away busy trying to acquire what this guy has, or that guy has? How many years have I buried in the my backyard, my past, with nothing to show for it? Life is too precious to bury chunks of it in the ground, an hour here, a day there. G-d put all of us in the world with unlimited potential, and when we don’t actualize that potential, we are burying the most valuable thing in the world.
My good friend Rabbi Shragi Myers, once asked a group of young professionals “What is the greatest insult you could ever write on someone’s tombstone?” and the answer he gave was simple but overpowering, “Here lies _______________, he had great potential.”
This Saturday Night, we celebrate Shavuos, the day the Torah was given. What is the Torah? It essentially is a manual telling us how to maximize our potential, how to live life to its fullest. As G-d Himself tells us in the Torah, )Deut. 30:19) “This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live;”
Everyone around us is alive, but when we live with purpose and meaning we live more fully, we’re more alive. We all eat, but when we stop to appreciate G-d who made all foods, and the person who prepared it for us, our eating is more alive, it’s not just about existing, but about appreciation and gratitude. We all go to work, but when we go to work with the mindset that we are doing this to support our families and enable them to achieve their greatness, we go to work with a spring in our step instead of a dull dread. When we stop once a week, and pull back from the digital chaos to appreciate our families, our community, our relationship with G-d, then we live the whole week more fully!
Unlike the other holidays, there is no specific Biblical mitzvah for us to do on Shavuos, because Shavuos is when we got the Torah that is supposed to imbue ALL of our actions with meaning, it is the day that tells us that everything we do can be done in a way that is more holy, more refined, more selfless, and more alive.
None of us would ever bury a Bentley, but the Torah we receive each Shavuos gives us the ability to not bury anything, because it gives us the way to experience everything we do on a higher plane.
“You shall choose life.” Let’s not bury anything… not even one hour.
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s parsha, Bamidbar, talks about the different censuses that took place in the second year of the Jew’s sojourn in the wilderness. There are two separate censi (that is the incorrect term as censuses is correct, but it is a Latin word, so I like to pluralize it the way we pluralize other Latin words, namely with a suffix of i) that are talked about in our parsha. The first one counted the entire Jewish people except for the tribe of Levi, and the second one counted the tribe of Levi. Before describing the census of the Levites, the Torah discusses their genealogy briefly:
“These are the descendants of Aharon and Moshe, on the day that G-d spoke to Moshe” (Numbers 3:1)
Rashi points out a refreshing idea: [Scripture] mentions only the sons of Aharon, yet they are called the descendants of Moshe —because he taught them Torah. This teaches us that one who teaches another’s son Torah is considered as if he fathered him. (Rashi, on loc.)
Rashi points out that this fits with the end of the verse; “On the day that G-d spoke to Moshe”- They became his descendants, since he taught them what he had learned from the mouth of the Almighty.
The idea is beautiful, but the only problem is that the Torah seems to be calling them the sons of Aharon on the day that Moshe heard the commandments from G-d, not the day that he taught the commandments to Aharon and his sons. According to what we’re saying, the Torah should have said “These are the descendants of Aharon and Moshe, on the day that Moshe spoke the word of G-d to them.”
The Nachal Eliyahu learns from this that the job of a teacher, mentor, or leader does not begin when they start teaching, but rather when they learn the material themselves. A person who is going to teach something to others needs to learn it in a far more comprehensive way because the people he teaches are different than him and may look at an issue in a different manner.
Therefore, even while Moshe was learning the Torah from Ha-shem, it was as if his teaching job had started, and that’s why the Torah begins referring to Moshe as the father of his students on the day that G-d spoke to him.
(I know this is an oft-repeated concept of mine, but I believe it is fundamental, so it bears discussion from many angles.) We are all teachers and leaders. Whether it be our children we lead, our neighborhood, actual students, or even friends that look to us as a role model, we all teach. In that vein, it is important for us to learn things in a way that they will translate fluidly into lessons for others. Then we can start our teaching even while we’re learning, our leading even while we’re following!
The first Parsha in the fourth book of the Bible, called “Numbers,” starts off by earning the book its title with a counting of the Jewish people tribe by tribe. Rashi explains that since the Jewish people are so precious to G-d, He constantly counts us, just as one would count his treasures numerous times (remember that nursery rhyme, “the king was in his counting house, counting all his money…”).
Nachmanides gives three reasons for the counting, including the idea that this was a way for each and every Jew to get personal attention from Moshe and Aaron, and to be counted as a unique individual amongst the larger Jewish nation. The sum total was 603,550 males of age for army service , which was twenty to sixty years old (not bad for a people that had only 70 people descend into Egypt a mere 210 years earlier!). This did not include the tribe of Levi, whom G-d would later command Moshe to count separately. One of the reasons the Levites were counted separately is because they didn’t serve in the army, as they were serving in the Temple. Additionally, there would later be a decree that the people from the general census would die during the forty years of wandering in the desert because of a major sin they had committed. G-d didn’t want the Levites to be part of this census, because they were the only entire tribe that remained faithful to G-d during the sin of the Golden Calf.
The next part of the Parsha deals with the layout of the camp in which the Jews traveled in the desert. Basically, it was as follows. The Tabernacle was in the innermost camp, surrounded on three sides by the Levites and on the fourth by the Kohanim, or priests. Surrounding them were four sets of three tribes spreading out to the East, South, West, and North (an easy way to remember that is Eat Soggy Wheaties Never). Each set of three had a special banner, and the layout paralleled the layout Jacob commanded his children to use when carrying his bier to Israel from Egypt. It also imitated the manner in which four sets of heavenly angels surround G-d’s throne. (I’ve been trying to get my kids to sit in such an orderly form around our dinner table, but no luck so far!)
The Torah then enumerates the progeny of Aaron, but calls them the offspring of Moshe and Aaron. Being that Moshe was the leader who taught them Torah, he had a spiritual paternal role. It is fascinating to see how the greater a leader becomes in the Torah world, the more obvious it becomes that he feels as if each and every Jew is his own child.
The Torah continues with G-d telling Moses that the tribe of Levi will forever serve in the Temple, instead of the firstborns who were originally supposed to serve. This was due to each group’s respective role in the Golden Calf crisis of 1312 BCE (the Levites abstained and objected: the firstborns were among the participants). Following this announcement, G-d tells Moshe to make a separate census of the tribe of Levi. After the census is a special ceremony in which the Levites redeem the firstborns and the sacred responsibility of service passes from one group to the other.
The last part of the Parsha deals with a topic that will be continued next week, the transport of the Tabernacle. The tribe of Levi was split into four groups. The progeny of Aaron became the Kohanim, the priests, and their role was to perform all the primary services in the Temple, such as bringing the offerings, lighting the Menorah and burning the incense. The other three groups, the families of Gershon, Kehas, and Mirari were the Levites, and they provided the ancillary services, such as opening and closing the gates, transporting the Tabernacle and its vessels, and singing during the offering of the sacrifices. (I am a Levite, and definitely inherited my Levite vocal cords, so you can all feel free to stop by my office to hear a rendition of Hava Nagila in its full chazzanish glory or in the full glory of chazzanut.)
When the Tabernacle had to move from place to place (it moved over 30 times during the 40 years in the desert, and this was before the times of the double-wide trailers) it was the job of the Levites to transports it. Here the Torah tells us the breakdown of the different families’ responsibilities. The family of Kehas merited to move the most holy vessels, such as the Menorah, Holy Table, and the Holy Ark. Since these vessels were so holy, they had to wait for the Kohanim to wrap them in special moving cloths (there was no Tumi® luggage in those days), before they could transport them.
Let’s end with one last lesson from the carrying of the vessels. The Sages tell us that the Holy Ark, which contained the Tablets and the Torah, actually lifted itself into the air and carried the Levites who were assigned to carry it! If that was the case, why does the Torah tell us to appoint Levites to “carry” it: why don’t we just let it fly by itself? This is meant to be a lesson for us. When we support a Torah lifestyle or Torah institutions, we need to remember that although on the outside it appears as though we are carrying the Torah, in truth, we are the ones being elevated, uplifted, and supported by it!
Quote of the week: A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something. – Samuel Fremont
Random Fact of the Week: 85,000,000 tons of paper are used each year in the U.S!
Funny Line of the Week: I had a friend who was a clown. When he died, all his friends went to the funeral in one car.
Have a Remarkable Shabbos, and an Enlightening Shavuos!
R’ Leiby Burnham