Your Car is Telling Me Things
Parshat Terumah 5780
It took Sam Goldstein forty-three years to buy his Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-R. It’s not that the waitlist was that long, the waitlist was only six months, but it took Sam that long to get to the place where he could drop $200,000 on a car and not feel the pinch. The car wasn’t very practical, he was a family man with three children and the car only had two seats, it could go from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, but with traffic in his neighborhood it was closer to 0-60 in almost never. But the GT-R was never about practicality, it was about the way people looked at him when he drove it. It was the way valet drivers tripped over themselves to park his car. It was about how he could almost hear all the people in his shul talking about it, “Did you hear that Sam Goldstein got an AMG GT-R? I knew he was doing well, but I didn’t know he was doing that well?!!”
He could hear other voices too, the ones saying, “Did you hear that Sam Goldstein got an AMG GT-R? The guy is so arrogant, what’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he know that people in our neighborhood are struggling to put food on the table?” But to be quite honest, Sam sort of liked those voices too. You know who says those types of things? People who weren’t as successful as him and were just jealous of him. “Eat your hearts out, pawns! When you make as much money as me, you’ll see that things look different from this altitude, I can’t hear your whining from up here… Stop judging people because they make more money than you. Work a little harder and stay in your own lane!”
Picking up the car was a special experience, the whole sales team came out and took a picture of him with his newly delivered car, which did look spectacular, the Brilliant Blue Mango paint contrasting with the massive black gift bow quite brilliantly if one could say so. A lot of back patting ensued, people telling him he made the best choice, everyone shaking his hand and telling him they were there for him whenever he needed anything, and soon enough he was leaving the dealership in his new car.
The first thing he did was crank up his Burmester High-End Surround System to the max. If audio technicians worked for days to hand-build his 1,000 watt, eleven speaker system, he might as well utilize the fruits of their labor. It had a custom subwoofer designed to accentuate the deep lows, and it wasn’t only Sam feeling the rumble of the bass, everyone in a one block radius could feel them as well. Then there was the engine, the handcrafted 4.0L AMG V8 Biturbo engine that sang and snarled, snorted and snapped. You knew a special car was coming your way long before it showed up. Sam played with the engine, every red light on his way home was an opportunity to play with the pedal, revving the engine and hearing the sound of a crouching tiger straining to pounce as soon as the light turns green.
Sam was almost home, quite late for dinner because the final sales process took longer than expected, and in a rush to get home, annoyed at all the traffic. If you spend so much money on a car, you don’t deserve to sit in traffic with the GP (general public). He was stopped at a red on the corner of Parker and Strand when he saw Bob, the local Vietnam-vet homeless guy with his shopping cart full of trash heading toward the crosswalk. “No! I’m not getting stuck as Bob hobbles across the street, I’ll be here all day!” Sam leaned on the horn, letting Bob know that he was about to get a green light and he didn’t want anyone blocking his way. Bob didn’t care, he had the right of way, and he started crossing anyway. Sam revved his engine to about 96 decibels, Bob gave him a hand gesture that certainly didn’t mean “Shalom!” Sam was enraged, “How dare he? Doesn’t he know his lane? I’m the top of the food chain, he’s the bottom! Who does he think he is!”
The onlookers said it happened in almost slow motion. Bob was pushing his cart across the crosswalk clearly trying to rush, Sam was just sitting on his horn yelling out the window, and then the light turned green. Sam swerved out into the crosswalk planning on just missing Bob by a few inches and giving him a lesson about knowing his place, but the car was just so new and he didn’t know it too well, and he miscalculated. The brilliant blue mango Mercedez-Benz AMG GT-R clipped Bob in the hip, and to everyone’s horror, his body twisted around and came slamming down on the hood of the car with a sickening thud. Sam didn’t make it home for dinner that night, Bob didn’t either, and the brand new AMG GT-R with the big dent in the hood was impounded as evidence, which is a shame because they only make 6,000 of them a year.
Researches at the University of Nevada recently reported a study on drivers of expensive cars and the results are not too rosy. It shows that the more expensive a car gets, the less likely the owners are to follow rules of the road. Even more important, callousness toward pedestrians because more pronounced the more expensive the car was. The likelihood that a car would stop and allow pedestrians to cross the road went down by 3% for every extra $1,000 that their vehicle was worth. The researchers speculated that this may be caused by drivers “feeling a sense of superiority over other road users.”
The findings of the University of Nevada study mimic the results found by a Finnish researcher, Professor Jan-Erik Lönnqvist, who also tried to understand the connection between flashy cars and human personality. Lonnqvist decided to study this because: ““I had noticed that the ones most likely to run a red light, not give way to pedestrians and generally drive recklessly and too fast were often the ones driving fast German cars,” says Lönnqvist of the University of Helsinki’s Swedish School of Social Science.”
He created a broad survey that asked people a large variety of questions, some pertaining to the car they drive, some to their general consumption habits, and some general personality questions. He then analyzed their personalities using the Five-Factor Model, the most widely used framework for assessing personality traits in five key domains.
The results were unambiguous: self-centered men who are argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic are much more likely to own a high-status car. Lonnqvist says the the personality traits that lead to the desire to own high status products are the same traits that lead one to thing they are better than others and that the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them. These are people who often see themselves as superior and are keen to display this to others.
Interestingly, the Torah talked about this long before there were brilliant mango blue Mercedes-Benz AMG GT-Rs. The Torah understood that when someone sees great financial success they can begin to think that it was their superiority that caused their financial success. That is why the Torah warns us (Deut 8, 11-17)
“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the LORD your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; who led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its seraph serpents and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it, who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had never known, in order to test you by hardships only to benefit you in the end— and you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” Remember that it is the LORD your God who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers, as is still the case.”
The Torah recognizes that when someone sees that they are really good at making money, something most people in this planet are trying to do, they are pulled to believe that it is their uniqueness, something special about them that makes them a cut above. But G-d tells us that we must recognize that it is G-d who gives wealth and poverty to people, and it is not at all based on how smart they are, or how talented they are.
Even the person who buys the right building, or shorted the market just before it crashed shouldn’t feel haughty, as Onkelos the primary translator of the Torah adds some words into the translation of those verses that is quite eye-opening:
And (lest) you say in your heart, my strength and the might of my hand, acquired for me all these possessions. And you shall remember Ha-shem your G-d, for He is the one who gave you the advice to buy those possessions, in order to uphold the covenant that he made to your fathers, as it is this day….
This means that you think you were so smart that you figured the perfect time to buy this stock, sell that building, etc, whereas the Torah is telling us that Hashem literally planted those thoughts into our mind!!! It wasn’t our great idea, it was His great idea, and we were the ones fortunate enough that He shared that great idea with us!
The Torah doesn’t just warn us to remember that G-d gave us our success and wealth, it also gives us a number of mitzvahs that hammer home that message. From commanding us to give ten percent of our income (or more) to charity, to commanding us to bring the first of our crop to the Temple where we give it to the priest and thank G-d for the wealth he gave us, to the fact that we constantly ask G-d for financial success in our prayers, these are all done to combat the natural draw of a those who are wealthy in some area to ascribe it to their own personal superiority.
Wealth comes in many colors, it doesn’t only come in green. Some are wealthy with money, some with good looks, some with great IQ’s and some with great families. The risks are the same for all kinds of wealth, anytime we ascribe our wealth in any area to our own superiority, we are not only making a big mistake, we are likely to become more callous and insensitive to others who we don’t see as being on the same superior level as us. But when we know that all types of wealth come from G-d, we don’t feel haughty if we have it, and we don’t feel better than those who don’t. Au contraire, we feel much more open to sharing with those who don’t have because “there but for the Grace of G-d go I!”
The greatest wealth is recognizing that everything comes from G-d. The rich man who thinks he’s steering the ship is always worried that he might make the wrong turn and lose everything. But when I know with certainty that all that I have I got from Him, I can also be confident that I will continue to get from Him. Just as He loves me and has taken such good care of me until now, He will continue to love me and take care of me, because while humans are frail and change from day to day, and markets change from day to day, G-d doesn’t change from day to day. And when I know that my success comes from Him, I feel grateful enough not to flaunt it, empathetic enough to care deeply about those who don’t have it, and confident enough to share it. Haughtiness is replaced with empathy, superiority with love, and arrogance with kindness.
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we read about the construction of the Tabernacle and most of the vessels that were in it. We find an interesting phrase by the instructions for the menorah. When describing the making of the menorah the Torah tells us, “You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered out shall the menorah be made” (Exodus 25:31). The commentators ask why it says “shall the Menorah be made” instead of saying, “shall you make the Menorah” which indicates that it was not made by Moshe?
The Medrash tells us that Moshe had a difficult time understanding how to make the Menorah which was extremely complex and had all sorts of decorative cups, knobs, and flowers. So G-d showed him an image of it in fire, and he still couldn’t figure out how to copy it. Finally g-d told Moshe to simply throw the gold ingot into the fire, and miraculously the Menorah emerged fully made. Hence, the menorah was made, although not by Moshe. But this leaves us with a question. Once G-d saw that Moshe could not make the Menorah unaided, why did he make him work on it again with a fiery image without success, and only after that allow him to throw it into the fire? Why didn’t G-d save Moshe the bother and the failure, and simply make it miraculously first?
The Sfas Emes, the second Rebbe in the Gerrer dynasty (1847-1905, Poland) answers this question with a fundamental lesson. Many times we are faced with a challenge that is simply too difficult. We struggle and struggle and then suddenly we have a Eureka! moment and it all works out. That is G-d giving us a hand from above, pushing us across the finish line. However that only happens if we force ourselves to the limit of our capacity. If we quit early, we will miss that final push from above, and we may never make it through the finish line.
That is what happened with Moshe and the Menorah. First he tried, and it didn’t work. G-d gave him another angle, and he had to work at it. Finally after Moshe tried his hardest every which way, he was given the big push that got the job done with ease.
It is empowering to know that this is the way G-d operates with us. Sometimes we work really hard on a project, on fixing a character flaw, on bettering a relationship etc. and we hit a point that we’re ready to give up. But now we know that if we just push a bit harder, and really max out our effort in this area, we may just get that big push from above that will push us across the finish line!
In this week’s portion G-d asks the Jewish people to build a physical dwelling place for the Divine Presence. The Sages tell us that the real goal is that we each build a Tabernacle inside ourselves, but that the building is the physical expression of that idea, and one we can relate to much more easily. The Jews were asked to donate the many different materials with which the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), its vessels, and the holy vestments for the Kohanim would be made.
The items the Jews were asked to bring were: gold, silver and copper, turquoise, purple, and crimson wool, fine linen, goat’s hair, red-dyed ram’s skins, tachash skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, and precious stones. G-d tells Moshe that He will show him a model of the Tabernacle and that the real one should be built exactly like the prototype.
After that, the Torah begins to detail the design of many of the vessels. The ark was made of three boxes, the outside and inside ones of gold, and the middle one of wood. On top of the box was a special lid that had two childlike forms with wings engraved onto it. There were four rings in which poles to carry the aron were placed and, specifically regarding the ark, the Torah stipulates that the poles were never to be removed.
The Table was a vessel used to hold twelve loaves of showbread that were placed there for a week at a time, from Shabbos to Shabbos. The table was made of gold-plated wood and had a small crown-like ornament rimming it. It had a special system of poles and supports so that the showbreads could be held up properly.
The Menorah had to be carved out of one block of gold. It was about 70 inches tall and had one central mast with three branches leading off to each side. It was heavily adorned with sculpted flowers, knobs, and decorative cups.
The building itself was made of dozens of wood planks covered in gold and held in place by silver sockets. There were also gold plated wooden bars that held them together. There were two heavy tapestries covering these planks. The inner one was made of twisted linen woven with turquoise, purple, and scarlet wool and was held together with golden hooks. The outer one was made of a more simple material, woven goat’s hair, and was held together with copper hooks. The Sages tell us that this teaches us that a person’s home should always be more beautiful on the inside than on the outside. (Please note: There are so many lessons taught from everything in the Tabernacle, but space doesn’t permit me to list all of them. However, please discover these gems for yourselves!)
The altar was a hollow rectangular cuboid (the width and length were the same, the height was not) made of wood and covered with copper. It was filled with dirt. It had protrusions at each of the top corners that were exact cubes, netting surrounding it like a belt, and a protrusion in the middle that was large enough to walk on. Leading up to it was a long ramp, as no steps were allowed on the altar (see the end of Parshas Yisro).
Finally, the courtyard was swathed in a white linen sheet which was held in place by wooden pillars with copper sockets. The pillars had bands of silver going around them, and they held up the material with silver hooks. If it sounds like a beautiful place, that’s because it was one. May we all merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple, and may we once again have a place on earth where G-d’s Presence can reside in all of its Glory!!!
Quote of the Week: Action will remove the doubts that theory cannot solve. ~Tehyi Hsieh
Random Fact of the Week: The S.S. in a ship’s name stands for “steamship.”
Funny Line of the Week: His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork!
Have a Swell Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham