Parshat Ha’Azinu/Sukkot 5779
When there is money in the streets, people get spend-crazy. Right now, there is money in the streets. With the stock market soaring to all time highs, the Dow Jones up over 50% in the last three years, and companies boasting record earnings, people are flush with cash. And every time you show me people flush with cash, I can show you people spending it with reckless glee.
It’s no wonder that in the last year records have been smashed on prices in just about every category. The most expensive painting ever, $450MM, was paid by a secret buyer for a da Vinci that was last purchased . The most expensive letter written on the Titanic, $180,000. The most expensive autographed baseball, $640,00. The most expensive car ever, $70MM for a 1963 Ferrari. The most expensive bottle of whisky, a 60 year old Macallan, sold for $1.1MM. The most expensive watch, Paul Newman’s Rolex, just climbed onto someone’s hand for $17.8MM.
Then of course there is real estate. What good is Paul Newman’s Rolex, sixty year old Scotch and a vintage Ferrari if you have nowhere to put them? The real estate market has been in hyperdrive for years with billionaires lining up to plunk down insane amounts of coin on trophy properties that give them boasting rights as well as the ability to park their money in countries more politically safe than their own.
Many of the most expensive houses in the world are found in London, a metropolis known for welcoming in Middle Eastern sheiks, Russian oligarchs, and anyone else willing to drop nine figures on a home. One Hyde Park is the address of a four building ultra-luxury development being built with bullet-proof windows, iris scanners for entry, secret tunnels and panic rooms. It will be guarded around the clock by SAS British Special Forces. You get the feeling that people buying homes there are somewhat concerned for the safety of life and limb. The two-story penthouse of one of the towers was bought by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Ackmetov for a cool $214MM.
Speaking of security concerns, the most expensive house ever put on the market in London would be 2-8a Rutland Gate, a home that was offered for a trifling £300,000,000 (about $390,000,000). It didn’t sell, perhaps because it was primarily owned by Rafic Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon. He was assassinated in Beirut in 2005 when the equivalent of 2,200 pounds of TNT exploded near his motorcade. Turns out, he should have spent more time at 2-8a Rutland Gate, with its sixty-eight bullet and blast-proof windows looking out over Hyde Park. Assassination-of-owner never looks good on the provenance of a home. The home was then gifted to Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who proceeded to fill it with jewel crusted toilets and 24 karat gold plated trash bins. After failure to sell, it is being converted into luxury apartments, which in aggregate are expected to bring in more than its original asking price of £300,000,000.
The most expensive home in the world isn’t really a home, but a privately-owned 400,000 square foot skyscraper. Built fresh from the ground up, the 570-foot Mumbai skyscraper named Antilia after a mythical Atlantic island is twenty-seven stories tall. The building has housing for the 600-person staff required to keep it running. It has a six story garage that can hold 168 cars, and has its own dedicated mechanic staff. But if the garage ever hits capacity, guests can also arrive by helicopter, Antilia has three helipads. Of course it also has a health spa, hanging gardens, a few swimming pools, a yoga studio, movie theater, and a Hindu temple. Mumbai is famous for its oppressive heat, so Antilia has a snow room, a room made of fur covered ice furniture, that has fake snow falling on its inhabitants whenever they want to “chill out.” Owner Mukesh Ambani, the wealthiest man in India, may have spent up to $2 Billion on it, but he still doesn’t get top boasting rights, because he’s the only billionaire who only owns one home.
But the most expensive home on the market today is perhaps the most surprising. If you’d like to buy the home at 24 Middle Gap Road in Hong Kong, you’d better have a heavy piggy bank. It’s currently listed for $446,000,000. How big is the mansion at this address? What kind of amenities does it contain that make it the most expensive house currently on the market anywhere in the world? The house is 5,750 square feet and it sits on a third of an acre. The house is dated, the kitchen decidedly small and clad in Formica from the 90’s, the bedrooms are covered in tired grey carpet. The only amenity is a relatively small swimming pool. It’s basically a tear down.
So why is a 5,750 square foot tear down listed for the same price as a priceless painting by Leonardo Da Vinci? In real estate, it always come down to the three most important things; location, location, location. The home at 24 Middle Gap Road may not be impressive, but buying it is a ticket to one of the most coveted locations on earth. At the peak of Mount Cameron with commanding views of Hong Kong stretching out below it, it is like owning a house in middle of Central Park. It sits in the middle of a protected forest, overlooking Deep Water Bay and Aberdeen Country Park, giving its owners a level of privacy not found anywhere else in crowded Hong Kong, one of the world’s great financials capitals. There are about fifteen Da Vinci paintings in the world, but there may be no other location in Hong Kong comparable to 24 Middle Gap Road in the world. It’s not about the size of the house, it’s not about the grandeur of the furnishings, it’s about the location.
Speaking of location, the Jewish people are invited to the most divine real estate in a just a few days. Succos, which starts this Sunday night, is an opportunity for the Jewish people to move into a home that is an embrace by G-d, a priceless location whose value can’t be measured in mere dollars and cents. It’s not about the size of the house, the succah is usually far smaller than our regular homes, and it’s not about the grandeur of the furnishings, few of us have granite countertops in our succas, it’s about the location.
The Talmud teaches us that the Succah is supposed to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that surrounded the Jewish people while we were in the desert. At that time, one could physically see G-d enveloping us in His protective cloud. The Vilna Goan, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (1720-1797), famously poses the following question: If the Succah is supposed to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that enveloped us as we left Egypt, why don’t we sit in a Succah on Pesach, the time we celebrate the Exodus?
The answer of the Vilna Gaon gives us a whole new appreciation of Succos. When the Jews sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, G-d pulled back his Clouds of Glory, the Jews in their state were not worthy of His visible protection and expression love that they represented. The Clouds of Glory remained missing for months. On Yom Kippur, the day set for all time as the Day of Atonement, Ha-shem proclaimed, “Salachti Kidvarecha,” I have forgiven as you [Moses] have spoken. The next day, to show that G-d fully forgave us, G-d gave the commandment to start building Him a home among the Jewish people. For the next few days, the Jews gathered all the necessary items for the construction (the only time in history a Jewish communal building gathered all the funding in three days!), and on the fifteenth of Tishrei, the Jews began building the Tabernacle and the Clouds of Glory Returned.
Imagine the joy felt by the Jews, seeing that all their sincere attempts at repentance were accepted, visibly seeing that G-d was embracing them once again. This was the joy that gave Succos the moniker, “Zman Simchaseinu,” The Time of Our Joy.
Every year, when we step into the Succah and feel G-ds embrace, we know with clarity that all our repentance throughout the High Holidays has been received by G-d, that He has forgiven us, and once again is ready to hold us in His embrace.
The Succah, a simple structure, a tear-down that will get folded up ten days later is the most coveted and valuable real estate in the world. It’s not about the structure, it’s about the location. You can’t put a price tag on sitting in G-d’s loving embrace, you can’t even describe in words, you heart just feels overwhelmed with joy. It’s Zman Simchaseinu.
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Parsha is mostly comprised of a song, which Moshe related to the Jewish people. Melding past, present, and future the beautiful, and at times haunting, song is about the Jewish people and their relationship with G-d. In the beginning of the song Moshe proclaims, “Let my instructions flow like rainfall, let my sayings drip like dew; like storm winds upon vegetation, and like raindrops on grass.” (Deut. 32:2) The Vilna Gaon asks, why did Moshe describe his teachings, the Torah, as being like rainfall?
While falling on a field, rain will water the whole field equally. However, what the rain will cause to grow is dependent on what was put into that earth. If the person toiled and planted fruit or grain seeds, he will soon have an orchard or field of grain growing beautifully. If he planted nothing, having chosen to spend the planting season chatting online or catching up on all the soap operas and celebrity poker shows, he will find his field to be quite empty despite the prodigious rain. Worse yet, if he planted the deadly foxglove plant in this field, he will find that the rain helped him get a full crop of a venomous poison.
Torah, the Vilna Gaon explains, has the same attributes. It is an incredible receptacle of Divine wisdom that is given to humans to interact with and explore. What we get out of it however is dependent on what we put in. If we invest ourselves in the Torah and expend the necessary time, energy, and emotion into capturing its truth, if we approach it with respect, and are honest with ourselves as we study it – even when it calls upon us to make meaningful changes in our lives, the Torah will then lead us to levels of knowledge and spiritual joy we could not have imagined possible. On the other hand, if we leave our field of Jewish knowledge fallow (i.e. we take an unhealthy approach or we don’t cultivate it), we will be left bereft of the most incredible inheritance we have as a people – the Torah.
One can also distort Torah or selectively find a Torah source to find license for distorted perspectives or to justify their preconceived, inaccurate ideas. Our approach to Torah study makes all the difference as the prophet Hoshea cautions, “For the ways of the Lord are straight, the righteous shall walk in them, and the rebellious shall stumble on them.” (Hoshea 14:10)
Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l (1908-2001) was one of the greatest Torah teachers in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. His many books were fascinating and interesting yet taught many of the foundations of Jewish belief and philosophy. Tapes of his weekly Torah classes made their way all across America and allowed him to inspire many more than the thousands who attended his unapologetic, direct, yet uplifting Torah lectures. He even created the Telephone Torah Program, in ways a forerunner of Partners in Torah, whereby one individual would learn portions of Chumashand then would repeat them over the telephone to a partner on a weekly basis. After beginning with Parshas Bereishis and Noach, the program was expanded to include Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) and Talmud. Where did Rabbi Avigdor Miller get his fiery love for Torah, Jews, and Judaism?
When he was in his early twenties, Rabbi Miller left the comforts of the US to go study in the famed Slabodka Yeshiva in Lithuania. There he dedicated himself to Torah study with an uncommon seriousness. During the first three hours of the day, he would talk with no one, wanting that time to be purely dedicated to Torah study. If people came to him to discuss something, he would motion to them to return later. He was busy planting his field with fertile seeds of Torah.
This Succos, let’s make sure to plant the coming year with a crop of love, kindness, Torah, holiness, giving, prayer, and study. We can then be assured that 5777 will be a year filled with a bumper crop of goodness!
As mentioned above, most of this week’s Parsha is comprised of a song. In the beginning Moshe calls out to the heavens and earth to hear his song, as they are witnesses that will exist forever, and they can be G-d’s messengers to reward the Jewish people with plentiful rain and bountiful crops, or punish them by withholding the bounty.
Moshe begins by talking about the greatness of G-d, in that He is out Creator, Father, and the Rock onto which we hold to maintain our stable existence on this shaky planet. G-d is incorruptible, hence the corruption we see on this world is the invention of His children. Just ask your elders, Moshe tells us, and they will tell of the greatness of G-d, and the miracles He performed while taking us out of Egypt. They will relate to you how G-d chose us and made us into His special portion.
There will come a time when the Jewish people will be living in a place where everything is working out for them, and they will become prosperous. They will then begin to kick out at G-d and deny His role in their success, and even desert Him entirely. When this happens G-d will become angry with the Jewish people and set enemies upon them, enemies that will scatter them all over the world. (If you read the history of our people, you will find this to be chillingly accurate. Every time the Jewish nation becomes too comfortable in their host nation, and they begin to assimilate and lose their Jewishness, a terrible calamity suddenly befalls them and forces them to recognize their identity. It comes in different forms, from expulsions, to Inquisitions, to libels, to a Holocaust, but unfortunately it is a pattern that has repeated itself many times in our challenged history.)
Then, the enemy will rejoice thinking they have great power. They will not have the wisdom to see that no one has been able to quash Judaism in the past, and it is only the G-d of the Jews that has allowed them the success they have had in persecuting us. At this point, G-d swears that He will lift up His sword (metaphorically of course) and take vengeance upon those who have wreaked havoc on His people. He will lovingly return His people to their land and once again they will bask in His presence.
Although this message has some frightening and sobering undertones, we have to understand that this is what makes it a song. A song in order to have real beauty must have both low parts and high parts, which when contrasted with each other form enchanting music. This is the song Moshe teaches us before he dies. It is the story of a nation that has lows, when we are afflicted and persecuted, but then rises from the ashes to take flight again and soar. No good song can be created in monotone, the challenges and lows are what make the highs so special and precious.
At the end of the Parsha, Moshe tells his prime student and successor, Yehoshua, to teach in front of all the Jews, so that everyone will witness Moshe giving the mantle of leadership to Yehoshua, and not question his authority later. The Parsha concludes with G-d telling Moshe to climb to the top of a Mt. Nevo from where he will see the Land of Israel, the land he will be unable to enter. From this vantage point, Moshe saw not only the land, but he also saw prophetically all that would transpire to his beloved flock from the time of his death until the time of the Messiah!
Quote of the Week: Tomorrow is the only day in the year that appeals to the lazy person. ~ Jimmy Lyons
Random Fact of the Week: Michigan borders no ocean… but has more lighthouses than any other state!
Funny Line of the Week: Raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the main reason that I have trust issues.
Have a Radiant Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham