As a young man Abe Lincoln was a failure as a businessman and then as a lawyer. He turned to politics and was defeated in his first efforts to become a legislator, was defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for Congress, in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, in the senatorial election of 1854, in his efforts at the vice-presidency in 1856, and again in the senatorial election of 1858. It was at then that he wrote to a friend, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth.”
Winston Churchill repeated a grade during elementary school. He twice failed the exam to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He later wrote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to the convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up!”
Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being un-productive.
Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and good ideas.”
The Mishkan, its vessels, and its priestly garments were made from thirteen types of raw materials listed in the verses at the beginning of Parshas Terumah. The nation was so eager to donate the materials and to have a share in creating a “resting place” for G-d’s Presence that those in charge of the work appealed to Moshe to stop the contributions.
The final two materials mentioned were, “Shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate.” The Ohr HaChaim questions why the stones, which were so valuable, are listed last?
He answers by quoting the Gemara which states that the precious stones needed for the Mishkan miraculously fell from clouds near the Jewish camp. The Ohr HaChaim explains that because those stones required minimal effort and did not entail any self- sacrifice, they are listed after all of the other materials which required effort and sacrifice in their giving.
The Torah’s value system is often at odds with our value system. While precious stones may seem invaluable to us, in regards to the materials donated for usage in the construction of the Mishkan they were the least valuable because they entailed the least personal sacrifice.
The final chapter of Mishlei, known as “Eishes Chayil”, read every Friday evening prior to the recitation of Kiddush, begins with a seemingly degrading statement about women: “A woman of valor – who can find? Far from pearls is her value.” Prima facie, it sounds as if Shlomo HaMelech is saying that there are no accomplished women of valor, a seemingly harsh condemnation of women. However, it seems illogical that that was his intent for later in the same paragraph he explicitly states otherwise. “Many daughters have accomplished valor, but you surpassed them all.” How are we to understand this seeming contradiction?
Rabbi Zev Leff explains that the key to understanding Shlomo HaMelech’s message lies in the conclusion of the opening verse. What does it mean, “Far from pearls is her value”? It is well known that a pearl forms on the ocean floor in a most unusual manner. Pearls are not molded by craftsman; it is a matter of “chance” whether one will have the good fortune of finding a pearl or not. A diver or fisherman can stumble across a pearl effortlessly or he can fruitlessly search for weeks. Finding pearls is essentially pot-luck.