You decide…Beshalach 5777
Jim Spinnock turned the corner, and headed down Slade toward his favorite Starbucks. Nothing put a little fire in his belly like a cup of piping hot Colombian magic. Like almost every day of every workweek, his friend John DeMott was coming out just as he was going in. And like almost every day of every workweek, they exchanged the same greetings:
“Good morning John, how’s it going?”
“You know, new day, same garbage, just getting by… How you doing?”
“Just great, thanks for asking! Have a good day man!”
“Yeah, it ain’t gonna be easy, but I’ll try…”
John would head on to his office, and Jim would head into Starbucks. All the baristas liked to serve Jim; he always asked how they were doing, and as he paid the $2.74 for his venti Americano, he always dropped one of his corny lines, “Now you go buy yourself something nice with that!” or “Don’t spend that all on candy!”
On the way out, Jim would treat pretty much anyone coming in to a hearty “Good Morning!,” and then make his way to his car where he would take his first sip of the deep black rich coffee. “Ah!” he would call out to no one in particular, “Coffee! What a blessing!”
Jim would drive to work calling his children’s cell phones; Michelle was at State, and Ben was working as a software engineer. He would wish them a great day, and quickly get off the phone, not wanting to overstay his welcome. By the time he was done talking to his kids, he was already pulling up to work, where he would again greet everyone enthusiastically, close to a dozen people a day, before finally settling down at his desk, and getting to work.
Most people are afraid of life insurance salesmen, they call you all the time and they want to sell you something that only has value if you die, but Jim loved his job, he was trying to take care of people so that they not be left bereft and broke at the same time! He loved chatting with his clients and prospective clients, he loved buying them coffee, talking with them about their families, and getting them the best deal to protect their families! He would always stop for an hour around lunch time, run home, make his wife her favorite omelet sandwhich and bring it over to her office.
By five o’clock Jim would leave the office, sure he could stick around and make some more calls, but why should he? He felt blessed with his earnings, and it meant more to him to have dinner with his wife then to possibly make a few extra bucks by staying in the office. Life was good, why mess with the recipe!
But what about John? John came out of Starbucks, talked to Jim, and then walked to his car, grumbling to himself about how cold it was, and why was there never parking near Starbucks! What kind of idiots make a coffee shop where there’s not enough parking, why do they make their customers walk a hundred feet to their cars in the freezing cold! He would get in his car, take his first sip of his coffee, and say to no one in particular, “I paid $2.74 for this burnt garbage?”
Driving to work was a maddening experience. Drivers these days were morons, always looking at their phones, driving way too slow when he wanted to be at the office forty minutes ago. As he walked into his office, he’d ask his assistant, “What kind of problems do we have today?” To John, being a financial planner meant that his job was putting out fires, dealing with disgruntled clients who didn’t understand the basics of the market, that it goes up and down, so he came into the office ready for combat every day. Lunch break was not an option, from market open to market close he sat in front of three screens, yelling at the stocks when they went down, and yelling at them to go up faster when they went up.
After the market closed was when he would start his prospecting calls. He only managed $74 million, and his goal for that year was to add another $15 million. As he was dialing, he would usually make a short prayer, “C’mon sucker, give me your money!”
He never got home before nine, and his house, although huge and recently renovated was always a wreck when he got home. Why couldn’t his wife keep it clean? She had no job, all he asked of her was to raise their three little rascals, keep the house clean, and have dinner ready for him when he got home, and she was a regular failure at all of them! They had tried therapy a few times, but at a certain point they stopped; life was sort of satisfyingly miserable. When the recipe works, why change it?
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Beshalach, we read about the manna, the miraculous food that G-d used to sustain the Jewish people for forty years in the desert. As food is the symbol for sustenance and livelihood in general, we can learn several important lessons from the miracles that surrounded this first taste of sustenance that the Jews had while in G-d’s embrace in the desert.
1. You decided what the manna tasted like. – While the manna had a default taste of a fried wafer dipped in honey, the medrash tells us that one could think of any food, and it would taste like that. If you wanted steak and mashed potatoes for breakfast, you got it. You wanted sushi with soy and wasabi? Done!
Life tastes like what we want it to taste like. You want life to be great? Talk that language, think that way, and it will be that way. John and Jim live almost parallel lives, but one lives a great life, where everything is going well, and one lives a “new day, same garbage,” life. How we respond when people ask us how things are going is very telling for the life we will have. You can see Starbucks coffee as a liquid miracle, or as a burnt, overpriced, necessary evil. You can view your job as combat or as a gift to the world. You can view the people around you as a pain or a pleasure. You decide what life tastes like.
2. No matter how much manna you gathered, you miraculously always had the same amount when you got home. G-d told the Jews to gather an Omer (a biblical measurement), but if you went out and said, “I want more manna, today I’ll stay out and gather double!” when you got home, all that you would find in your basket was one Omer, nothing more, nothing less.
We think we can make more money by working ridiculous hours, ignoring our kids and home responsibilities, but the reality is that the money (and the manna!) are controlled by heaven, and no matter how many extra hours we put in at the office, we are only going to end the year with the exact amount of money that was prescribed for us on Rosh Hashana of the previous year, when G-d decrees how much we are going to make.
Sure it may feel like we are making more, but then a child falls and chips a tooth, or someone sideswipes our car and flees without leaving a note, and $2,000 later, we are right back where we started. We might as well work as much is appropriate (speak to your local Rabbi for more specifics pertaining to your personal situation), and let G-d do His thing.
3. There is one more miraculous quality in food, not described specifically with the manna, but described about the food of the Holy Land (see Rashi on Leviticus 26:5), and that is the concept of being able to eat a little, and the food “is blessed in your stomach.” The idea is that there is quantity and quality. The height of blessing is when you can have a little food and feel full, a little bit of material possessions and feel like you have a lot. The height of a curse is when you have so much but feel empty.
Jim may not make as much as John, but he feels so blessed with what he has. John has so much, but feels empty and robbed at all times. The more we appreciate the quality of what we have, the less quantity we need. We can be thrilled just to be living in a small apartment, that has central air and heating, something even nobles never had 500 years ago! We can be thrilled that we have more than ten sets of clothing in our closet, again something that would have been unheard of for a common man 500 years ago. Or we can feel like we never have enough. We can live in a big house and grumble about the mess, we can drive a beautiful car and grumble about the parking.
The lesson of the manna, is that we create our own realities, we decide whether our lives are sweet or sour, and G-d will help us in making those realities true! Let’s live life large!
Parsha Dvar Torah
As we spoke about above, in this week’s Parsha we are introduced to the Manna, the spiritual food that the Jews ate for the forty years they were in the desert. It had many amazing qualities. It would miraculously just “be” there in the morning, right outside your tent if you were righteous and farther away if you were not. It tasted like anything you thought of, it had no waste products (people didn’t have excretions because of it), and it disappeared if you tried to leave it over night. If you collected too much or too little, when you got home, you would miraculously have the right amount, and on Fridays you automatically got double so that you would have Manna for Shabbos as well.
There is a famous question asked about the Manna, that it deprived the wealthy of a very important mitzvah they were accustomed to, charity. If everyone is getting food delivered to their houses by G-d daily, who needed charity, and how were the wealthy people able to continue that important mitzvah of tzedaka?
One of the answers is that the kindness and charity the wealthy people were able to perform was food coaching. The poor people grew up their whole lives without knowing that there is anything in the world more delicious than a peanut butter and fluff sandwich! Therefore they couldn’t think of an aged marinated steak grilled to perfection, or black truffle tagliatelle, with preserved lemon and aged parmesan! If they couldn’t think of it, they couldn’t taste The people who had grown up with more affluence could then provide a service to the people who had grown up in more strained economic environments by teaching them about all sorts of gourmet delights that they would now be able to conjure up in their minds and thus taste.
Recently, I met a woman who does that kind of tzedaka. She teaches in the inner city of Cleveland, and she tries to help her students understand that there are greater dreams in life than an Escalade with 22 inch rims! Unfortunately, the culture her students are immersed in, is one that makes them have very limited imaginations and vision, and she tries to open their minds and teach them about great dreams they don’t even know they can aspire to.
We too can perform this kind of tzedaka. Every time we see someone limiting themselves, making statements indicating that they can’t do something, or expressing very low aspirations, it is our duty to help them see brighter, dream bigger, and aspire limitlessly!
This week’s portion begins with the Jews turning back to Egypt after having been driven from it just a few days earlier. Their goal was to fool the Egyptians into thinking that they were trapped by the desert, and prompting the Egyptians to come pursue them, which they did. Pharaoh led his men, in full battle formation, in chasing down the Jews, and they caught them right by the See of Reeds.
The Jews were trapped between a sea and a hard nation, but Moshe told them tat they could be confident as G-d would fight for them. Then Moshe told the people to keep on traveling as if there was no sea before the, but most of the people were too scared. Nachshon the son of Aminadav was the first to plunge into the waters, and just as they were about to drown him, the sea split and the entire Jewish people was able to cross through the Sea on dry land. The Egyptians followed, only for them the sea didn’t remain standing as on the bidding of G-d Moshe picked up his staff and the waters came crashing back down on the Egyptians.
The Jews, upon seeing G-d’s greatness and miracles, broke out in song, together as one. They sang the Az Yashir, a most poetic and beautiful song that is still said today daily as part of the morning prayers. The Jews were able to collect enormous amounts of gold that the Egyptians brought with them to war, and eventually had to be pulled away from the sea.
They then came to a place called Marah, where they found the water to be bitter, but G-d told Moshe to throw a tree into the water and they were sweetened. There the Jews learnt some Halachot including the laws of Shabbos. Soon afterward the Jews complained about the lack of food, and G-d gave them the Manna. After that they complained about the lack of water and G-d told Moshe to hit a rock and water came out (later in Deuteronomy is when G-d tells him to speak to the rock).
After that, the Jews had their first battle with their archenemy Amalek. they knew it would be suicidal to attack the Jews after all the miracles done to protect them, but did so anyway, just to show the world that it was possible to still attack the Jews. Moshe ascended a mountain overlooking the battle, and when he raised his hands the Jewish people would look up and remember G-d and they would be victorious, but when he would lower his hands the Jews would lose. Evidently Moshe kept them up more than down, as the Jews won! That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Anxiety never yet successfully bridged any chasm. ~ Ruffini
Random Fact of the Week: A tree planted near a streetlight will keep its leaves longer into the fall then other trees!
Funny Line of the Week: The difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get any worse each time Congress meets.
Have a Bodacious Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham