Dedicated in Honor of my wife Vivian by Jack Shamosh Imir
This week’s Perashah opens with the words… vehaya ekev tishmeun et ha’mishpatim ha’eleh. "This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances." According to the Midrash, since the word Ekev also means the heel of a foot, these commandments allude to the sort of injunctions that people may consider unimportant. In other words, these are Mitzvot that people may think they can tread on with their heel or treat lightly. But the truth is that we don't know the value of any of the Mitzvot, so we can't relate to any of them as being less significant than others. As it says in Pirke Avot (2:1) "Be scrupulous in performing a "minor" mitzvah as in a "major" one, for you do not know the reward given for the (respective) mitzvot."
The following Pesukim continue: "Hashem will love you, bless and multiply you, and He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land; your grain, your wine, your oil; the offspring of your cattle and the flocks of your sheep and goats." The Pesukim continue with an abundance of Berachot for our children, our health and our livelihood. Just look at the Jewish population today all over the world; we are a population of just around 15 million, even after so many centuries. We are but a small fraction of one percent of the world's population, yet we have seen Berachah among our people that's drastically disproportionate to the rest of the world. We can see clearly the Berachot in this weeks perasha by the disproportion of Jews with our small numbers that have achieved great things, whether in medicine, law, the humanities, technology, and so many other fields including a tremendously high proportion of Nobel prize winners. Israel, in only the last 70 years since it's independence also leads the world in technology, agriculture and so many other areas in spite of the numerous disadvantages and setbacks that come from being a tiny country in a constant state of war surrounded by its enemies that constantly threaten to destroy us. Let's not fool ourselves, there's a great power in these Berachot and it truly does only come from following in the ways of Hashem and our holy Torah!
On a recent trip to Russia the Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef met with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Rabbi thought it would be just a quick 'photo op' type of meeting, but Putin wanted to talk with the Rabbi at length. They sat and spoke for close to 90 minutes. Putin told the Rabbi that he considers himself an historian and has studied all of the great nations of the past – the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and Romans, and so on. He said that it has always amazed him that the Jews have outlived all of these dynasties despite their small number and the endless persecutions that they had to endure over the centuries. He asked Rabbi Yitzchak the secret to this amazing success and perseverance. The Rabbi was about to answer Putin’s question but President Putin decided to give his own answer. He said, “I believe the reason the Jewish people have outlasted all those other nations, is that they have always followed their Torah and because they listen to their Rabbis!” We can see this clearly from a Pasuk in last week’s Perashah, Va'et-hannan, where it says (4:6):"You shall safeguard and perform them (the Mitzvot), for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the people, who shall hear all of these decrees and who shall say: Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!" Rabenu Bahya comments:"The Torah states that universal acknowledgement of Israel’s wisdom will result even from its adherence to the decrees – the commandments for which no reason is revealed – because the wisdom inherent in the parts of the Torah that are accessible to rational study will convince intellectually honest people that there must be great divine wisdom in the decrees as well.”
The Torah also wants to tell us to beware and not to get too proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. In Perek 8 Pasuk 17 it states: Kohi ve’otzem yadi asah li et ha’hayil hazeh! "My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth! Since the pasuk already says “Kochi”— “my strength” — what is the purpose of the words “ve’ otzem yadi” — “and the might of my hand?” ANSWER: When a Jew is blessed with affluence, the Torah expects him to give tzedakah and share his wealth with the needy. Sometimes there are wealthy people who are “tight-fisted” and refrain from giving tzedakah, thinking erroneously that what they give away will reduce their assets. The word “otzem” in Hebrew can also be interpreted as “closing up” (see Isaiah 33:15). To dispel the illusion of some wealthy people regarding sharing wealth with the less fortunate, the Torah says, “Do not think that ‘my strength’ and ‘otzem yadi’ — ‘my closed up hand’ — made me all this wealth. On the contrary, open your hand, and then you will be blessed with even more.
We must realize and be clear that although we may consider ourselves great businessmen, Hashem is guiding us each and every day. Hashem gave us the brains and the talents to earn a living. He let's us believe that we're doing the work, but the work that we do is just to let us think that we have something to do with it. Hashem says to Moses in perashat Beshalach, “mah tiss'ak elai?”"Why do you cry out to me?" Hashem then instructs Moses: "Speak to B'nei Yisrael and tell them to move forward!" According to Midrash, Nahshon ben Aminadav, a prince of the tribe of Judah, was the first one to take that leap of faith and jump into the water! Rabenu Bahya explains that the Yam Suf didn't split all at once, and therefore they were not able to see across to the other side; rather, there was a wall of water in front of them and with each step they took, the sea continued to split. Just as in life, we move forward step by step as we go through the trials and tribulations of our lives, and as we deal with them as they come, overcoming our challenges one by one. Only later can we look back and see with clarity at how we arrived where we are today! We have to constantly have Emunah and Bitahon that Hashem will be there for us and guide us through our lives, as long as we continue to follow in the Derech of Hashem, even though we can't possibly see what lies ahead of us! Hashem is saying to us: mah tiss'ak elai? “Why are you crying out to me?” Just take that leap of faith and have complete confidence and Emunah that Hashem is always with us!
Just as Rabbi Diamond always teaches us, the work that we do is "Muchrah ve lo mo’il" which means, "It's necessary but it doesn't accomplish anything". This is an extremely hard concept to comprehend, but it teaches us that everything is from Hashem! Rabbi Diamond goes on to say that Hashem is the One who put it into our head to make those decisions in our businesses that work out well for us. As one successful friend of mine once told me many years ago: "We're just puppets that Hashem is controlling and our job is simply to go out and do our hishtadlut (input) and then Hashem will guide us by pulling our puppet strings". Hashem lets us think that it's our strength and our business acumen that's accomplishing things for us, but it's really Hashem testing us! This has been proven thousands of times throughout our community and around the world. We have seen how Hashem controls every step that we make.
I heard an amazing story recently that was printed in the Yated magazine which shows so clearly the hand of Hashem in our everyday lives if we allow Him into our lives. A man named Martin worked as a middleman filling orders for Walmart, hiring companies in China to mass produce merchandise for them. One day in the early spring he received a massive order from Chuck, the buyer for Walmart, requesting 500,000 snow globes. Martin stood to make $1million dollars from this order, so he invested $2 million of his own money, a lot of which had to be borrowed, and he spent the entire summer overseeing the production. One day in late August, as he was spending some time with his family in a park, he received a call from Chuck, the buyer for Walmart.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” Chuck said. “The higher authorities in the corporation changed their minds and decided that the snow globes are just a passing trend, and it didn’t pay to invest in them. I’m very sorry, but we have to cancel the order.”
“What?!” Martin exclaimed. “You can’t cancel the order. The merchandise has already been produced and is currently on a ship on the Pacific. You can’t back out now!”
“I am sorry,” Chuck said, “but in the third paragraph of our contract it says explicitly that we have the right to back out of the transaction. I’m terribly sorry. Maybe try selling the merchandise to a different store.”
When Martin got off the phone, he looked pale as a ghost. His wife and children asked if everything was all right, and he assured them that he was fine. But this was not how he felt at all. Over the next couple of days, Martin walked around in a daze. He had no money, and owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, he was stuck with 500,000 snow globes. He thought that if the shipment was delayed and still in China, he could at least avoid the shipping costs, so he called the company. He was told, however, that the shipment was sent on time ten days prior, and would be arriving in a couple of weeks.
At that point, Martin became a different person. He couldn’t sleep, he didn’t want to talk to anybody, and nothing interested him. He acted almost like a hermit. Martin’s wife started worrying about his health.
“What happened to you emunah?” she scolded. “You only have faith when things are going well? True, you lost a lot of money. But we still have each other and the children, and thank G-d we are all healthy.”
Martin realized she was right, and agreed to speak to his Rabbi. He told the Rabbi his story, and repeatedly lamented his foolishness in borrowing large sums of money for this investment. He mentioned how hopeless the situation was, as he had no money and was stuck with half a million snow globes.
“Have you forgotten who runs the world?” the Rabbi asked. “Everything that happens in the world is decided by Hashem. There is nothing you could have done differently to avoid this loss. It was all from Hashem, so stop blaming yourself. And, it is never hopeless. Hashem can do anything. As long as there is life, there is hope. Go cry to Hashem. The gates of tears are never closed!”
His strength renewed, Martin opened a Tehillim and tearfully prayed for the next 4 hours. He later recalled how he begged the One who holds the key to parnasah to remedy the situation.
He returned home late that night, emotionally drained but finally with a measure of peace of mind. For the first time since receiving the phone call, he slept soundly. The anxiety and fear that had consumed him day and night were gone, as he handed his problem over to Hashem. He felt free from the burden of this problem.
The very next day, he received a call from Shawn, a representative of Martin’s insurance company. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you,” Shawn said in a somber voice. “Your shipment of 500,000 items was badly damaged. Yesterday a crack was found in the ship’s hold, and all the boxes were flooded. The merchandise is unusable. We are very sorry about your loss. But you are fully insured, so we will be reimbursing you for the value of the entire shipment, and paying you a 15 percent restocking fee. You should be receiving a check for $3.5 million within a week.”
Just like that, the biggest loss of Martin’s life turned around and became his largest gain. He ended up making half a million dollars more than he would have if the order had been completed. G-d’s salvation came כהרף עין (in the blink of an eye).
We don’t have to worry about figuring out how a problem will be solved. Hashem is very capable. We have to believe and pray to Him with the realization that He could always help.
May we all realize that all of the Mitzvot and Halachot that Hashem gave us are important, and that we should try hard to follow them to the best of our ability. May we also realize that Hashem is in control and that as we follow the ways of the Torah, He will bless us beyond our greatest expectations with children, health, and Parnasah. But we must always know that it all comes from Hashem and we must be careful not to delude ourselves into thinking that it’s our efforts that produced anything, because all the gifts that we have are truly Berachot from Hashem! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
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Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
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Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
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