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September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
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I’m Never Wrong

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

And Moshe said, “So said Hashem, at approximately midnight, I will go out into Mitzraim. – Shemos 11:4

 

After a “natural” disaster, people speak with reverence. Even arrogant individuals, after living through a hurricane, tidal wave, or earthquake, have a sense of humility. Their reality has been changed, and they view life differently. Yet, when Pharaoh and Mitzraim experienced the makkos, that wasn’t their reaction.

The Egyptians lived through the most powerful manifestation of Hashem’s might. For months, they were afflicted while Hashem “played with” Mitzraim. Two points were made clear: Hashem is the Master of Creation, and Moshe was the messenger of Hashem. Everything Moshe said would happen, happened – with precision and exactness.

Now, Hashem told Moshe that the final, most potent, makkah would come. “Tell Pharaoh that exactly at midnight, every first born in Mitzraim will die.” Yet when Moshe approached Pharaoh, he changed the message; he said at “approximately” midnight the firstborn will die.

Rashi is bothered by this. Why did Moshe change the words Hashem used? He answers that Moshe was afraid Pharaoh’s astrologers would make a mistake. They would be watching the clock to see if Moshe’s prediction was accurate. Even though the firstborn would in fact die exactly at the stroke of midnight, the astrologers might have the wrong time and mistakenly assume it wasn’t midnight. They would then accuse Moshe of being a liar. To prevent this from happening, Moshe said “approximately at midnight.”

Telling Time in the Ancient World

This Rashi is very difficult to understand when we take into account the historical reality.

Today, we live with an acute awareness of time. We have clocks all around us, in every room and in every car, on pens, microwaves, computers and cell phones. We can’t buy groceries or go to the bank without a date and time stamp adorning our receipts. We are constantly reminded of our point in time. And our chronometers are precise, down to the nanosecond. In short, we have good reason to assume our sense of timekeeping is accurate.

This wasn’t the way the ancient world kept time. During the day they used a sundial, which might have been somewhat close to almost accurate – sort of. At night, the only way to tell time was by gazing at the stars. Without computer-aided optics, measuring objects light years away is highly inaccurate at best.

Even if the Egyptians prided themselves on ingenuity and advancements, they had to know they were most likely wrong when it came to accurately knowing when midnight was. If so, why would they assume they were right and Moshe was wrong? If everything he had said up until then had been true, and they didn’t have a reliable way to know what time it was, why should they assume they were right and he was wrong?

Humans Don’t Like to Be Wrong

The answer to this question is based on a quirk in human nature: we assume we are right – whether our opinion is justified or not – and we don’t want to hear otherwise. The ironic part of this is that we assume we are right whether we have really thought out our position or not. We assume we are right whether we really have evidence to the facts or it just happens to be the first thing that came to mind. We assume our position, whatever it might be, is correct. It’s just a given. And it is very difficult to get us to change our minds. We are heedless in the formation of our opinions, but once they are formed, we defend them as if our very lives depended on it.

The Mitzrim are a fantastic illustration of this concept. Moshe was afraid that if there were a discrepancy between his time and theirs, they would assume they were right and he was wrong. Even though he had proven himself again and again, even though all the other details about the firstborn dying were completely correct, there wouldn’t have even been a question in their minds. If they determined it was precisely 11:45, fifteen minutes before the prescribed time, and the firstborn started dying, clearly in their eyes Moshe would be a liar. Because of this, Moshe used the expression approximately so that they shouldn’t come to this mistake.

This concept has great relevance to us on a personal level. What happens when someone points out I did something incorrect? Am I able to deal with the concept that maybe I am wrong? Am I able to swallow the thought that I made a mistake? Part of becoming a bigger person is the ability to be teachable, to be big enough to understand that not everything I thought of is right. And not everything someone else says is automatically wrong just because it isn’t my way. If a person wants to grow, some of the most critical words he needs to tell himself are: Maybe I’m wrong. I have been wrong before. Let me look at it again

The Measure Of The Man

Friday, January 20th, 2012

“This was Aharon and Moshe to whom Hashem spoke….” — Shemos 6:26

After Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon to be the emissaries to free the Jewish people, the Torah lays out their lineage. At the conclusion, the Torah repeats the names of Aharon and Moshe, this time in reverse order, with Aaron mentioned before Moshe.

Rashi seems bothered by both the repetition of the names and the reversal of their order. He says this comes to teach us that Moshe and Aharon were equal: Even though from this point forward Moshe would be the leader of the Jewish nation, don’t make any mistake. Aharon was just as great.

The difficulty with this Rashi is that according to all measures, Moshe Rabbeinu was far greater than Aharon. Moshe was the leader of the Jewish nation. He brought the makkos on Mitzrayim. He led the Jewish people out of slavery. He split the Yam Suf. He went up to receive the Torah on Har Sinai. But even more telling, he was the greatest prophet who ever lived. The only human who reached the level of seeing Hashem with total clarity was Moshe. There never was, nor will there ever be, a person who will reach that level.

So how can Rashi tell us Moshe and Aharon were equals when clearly Moshe was on a higher madreigah?

Two Systems for Measuring Greatness

The answer to this question seems to be that there are two systems for judging a person’s greatness; one is absolute and the other is subjective. When measuring a man based on the absolute standard of greatness in Torah and perfection, Moshe was far greater than Aharon. He towered over any other human ever created. However, there is another system for measuring a person’s success. Based on his capacity, and his potential, how much did he accomplish?

Before each person is born, he is predestined for certain abilities and talents, a particular level of intelligence, and an exact disposition and temperament. At the end of his days, he will be compared to what he could have become. How far did he grow? How much did he accomplish with the tools given to him? This system is subjective. How much of his potential did he fulfill?

Moshe may well have reached 99 percent of his potential, but so did Aharon. So even though in the absolute sense Moshe was far greater, and others had to treat him as the greatest human being ever, in the subjective sense of reaching one’s capacity, Aharon was his equal, and as such was just as great. That is what the Torah is teaching by exchanging the order of their names.

I Won’t Be Compared to You

One of the most sobering concepts is that when I finish my job on this planet, I will be judged. But I will not be measured in absolute terms of how much Torah I mastered or how much I accomplished. That is far too inequitable.

I won’t even be compared to others in my generation. I won’t be compared to you, or to him, or to her, or to anyone else. I will be measured by a far more just and exacting standard – me. How much of me did I become? 80 percent? 60 percent? 50 percent? And that is who I am for eternity.

In this world, we can’t measure a person’s capacity, so we give honor and respect based only on the absolute measure of the person. If this person is functioning on the level of a great person, we are obligated to respect him and treat him with honor. However, when we leave this temporary existence, everything will become clear. I will understand exactly what I was destined to be. And I will also know your capacity and what you could have been. There are no head starts, no advantages or disadvantages, just percentages of realized potential.

At that point in our existence, there will be individuals who appeared to us as great while we were occupants of the physical world who will shrink dramatically, having only reached 20 percent of their potential. They’ll be pygmies. And there will be many others we once cast into the category of the insignificant, but who are actually towering giants, having reached 85 percent of their potential. Just as with Moshe and Aharon, it wasn’t the rank or position that they held that is the final determinant, but rather their subjective greatness with regard to whom they should have been.

This concept has great relevance to us – both positive and negative. It seems to be a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others: “I am smarter than he is. Better than she is. Not as talented as he is…” If my disposition is to favor myself – being kind to me and tough on you – I become inflated, over-confident, and full of myself. If my prejudice is to be harsh on myself, then I will constantly find others superior, and my sense of self will suffer.

One Nation, Indivisible

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

And he said, “Who placed you as a judge and ruler above us. Will you say to kill us as you killed the Egyptian?” And Moshe feared, and he said, “Now the matter is known” – Shemos 2:14

When Moshe came of age, he went out to visit his brothers, to share in their suffering. What he saw caused him great anguish. The oppression, subjugation, and cruelty were present wherever he looked. The next day, Moshe again “went out to his brothers” and this time he witnessed two Jews engaged in mortal combat. One was standing over the other in an attempt to kill him. Moshe called out, “Wicked one, why are you hitting your friend?!” This put an end to the bloodshed.

However, Moshe’s intervention wasn’t appreciated. Quite the opposite, their response was, “Who appointed you to be a judge over us? Are you going to kill us as you killed the Mitzri yesterday?” The Midrash tells us this was actually a threat. The day before Moshe had killed a Mitzri guard, who was mercilessly whipping an innocent Jew. The two Jews who were fighting had seen this, and they now warned Moshe that they were going to report him to the authorities for rebelling against the king – which they did.

When Pharaoh heard that the heir apparent had openly challenged the law of the land and defended a Jew against his master, he brought Moshe to trial. In the end, Moshe had to flee Mitzraim.

Interestingly, when Moshe first heard their threat his response was, “Now the matter is known.” Rashi explains that for many years, Moshe had a question: “Why is it that of all the seventy nations, the Jews are singled out for oppression?” Once he saw there were talebearers amongst the Jews, he understood why this nation was so fated. This Rashi is very difficult to understand for a number of reasons. 1. Moshe witnessed two people threatening to report him. Two individuals don’t define a nation. 2. Didn’t all the other nations speak lashon hara as well? 3. Even if it were true that entire Jewish people were gossipers, what is so egregious about this sin that an entire nation should suffer cruel, brutal subjugation?

The answer to this can best be understood with a mashol.

Making a Hole In My Cabin

Imagine a man boards a transatlantic ocean liner carrying an electric saw. Late at night, one of the ship’s personnel hears a distinct rattling noise coming from the man’s cabin. The crew member knocks on the door – no answer. The noise continues. He knocks again. Still no response. Fearing danger, he kicks in the door, only to see the passenger standing poised against the ship’s hull, electric saw in hand, attempting to cut through the skin of the ship. The crew member screams out, “Stop it! What are you doing?”

The passenger calmly responds, “Sir, do you see this boarding pass in my hand? Do you see that it states that I have the right to a private cabin? Why are you disturbing me? Here I am, in the privacy of my own compartment, doing what I want. If I want to drill a hole in my room, that is my choice. I have paid for this cabin and I have the prerogative to do whatever I want here. Leave me alone.”

The Chofetz Chaim compares this situation to the Jewish people. He explains that our nation is one unit – irrevocably tied together in a common fate. What happens to one affects another. The state of each individual impacts the whole. There is no such concept as one person doing what he wants in the privacy of his home and not affecting the klal. But more than this, we are one body. Where the tail goes, the head can’t be far behind. When Moshe saw the levels the tail had sunk to, he knew the body of the nation couldn’t be that high. This single action shed light onto the madregah of the people.

The Chofetz Chaim explains that the antidote to lashon hara is “loving my neighbor.” If I, in fact, viewed him as connected to me, I would never speak negatively about him. It would be like badmouthing myself.

This seems to be the answer to this Rashi. The Jewish nation is one. If such an incident of vicious slander could occur, it reflected on the state of nation. If the people had been on a higher level, this could not have transpired. It meant the nation as a whole was lacking in a key ingredient – a sense of common destiny, a sense of brotherhood, the sense that I am one with my fellow Jew. And that is why the nation deserved to be punished. As children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, we share a common heritage and destiny. We are bound together for eternity. We are one.

Sensitivity Of A Tzaddik

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

“But as for me, when I traveled from Padam, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan on the road…and I buried her there on the road in Ephras, which is Bethlehem.” – Bereishis 48:7

Yaakov Avinu spent the final seventeen years of his life in Mitzrayim. While there he lived in peace for the first time in many years and remained in that state for the rest of his life. Near the end of his days he called in his beloved son Yosef and made an impassioned request: “Please do not bury me in Mitzrayim.”

After this event, when Yaakov felt his end drawing nearer, he again spoke to Yosef, saying, “On the road your mother Rochel died, and I buried her there.”

Rashi explains that these two conversations were connected. In this final meeting, Yaakov was expressing something he had held inside for many years. He was telling Yosef, “I know that you have harbored a complaint in your heart against me. You feel that when your mother died, I didn’t treat her with due respect. I didn’t bury her in a city, or even in an inhabited place, but right there on the road where she died. You should know I did this because Hashem commanded me to. Many years from now, when Nevuzaradan will force the Jews into exile, they will pass along that road where she is interred. Rachel will cry out with bitter weeping, and her tears will save the Jewish people.”

The Siftei Chachmim explains why Yaakov chose this particular moment to explain this to Yosef – “If not now, when?” He hadn’t told him up to then because he didn’t want to tell him about the suffering that was to occur. But he had to tell him now because it would be his last opportunity. He was about to leave this world.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. If Hashem had told Yaakov to bury Rachel there, why didn’t Yaakov explain this to Yosef years ago? Why did he allow his beloved son to feel some sense of ill will against him for so long? Yosef was not a fragile youth who would fall apart if he heard bad news. He was a mature, sophisticated talmid chacham. His role at the time was leader of all of Mitzrayim. He could have handled the knowledge that the Jewish nation would suffer. And Yaakov knew that eventually he was going to have to tell Yosef anyway. Why not just tell him right away and eliminate all those bad feelings?

The answer is that Yaakov was extraordinarily guarded in what he said. Every word was measured, every expression weighed. And he had a policy: “I am not the one to cause suffering to others. If I tell Yosef why I buried his mother on the road, I will have to tell him the Jewish people will be sent into exile. That fact will cause him much suffering, and I won’t be a part of it. When he has to hear the bad news, I will tell him, but not a moment sooner. If this will cause him to question my actions, if this will cause him to feel some element of resentment toward me, I am willing to pay that price rather than cause him the pain of knowing what will occur.”

This Rashi illustrates a number of beautiful concepts. First, we see the extraordinary sensitivity a tzaddik has in not causing another human being to suffer. Even though Yosef could “handle it,” and even though Yaakov would eventually have to tell him, he was willing to bear the burden of letting his son think of him as insensitive rather than cause him pain. We also see an incredible example of discretion. Yaakov was extremely guarded in the words that came out of his mouth. Yaakov had been separated from his beloved son for twenty-two years. For those two decades, Yaakov was living in a state of unending mourning. When they finally met, Yosef was so filled with joy that the tears couldn’t be stopped. The love between the two was overflowing. And yet, there was something that stood between them. Yaakov knew that within the heart of his son was a sense of resentment, of ill will. In Yosef’s mind, his mother had been mistreated; her final honor had been compromised. And his own father was the man who dishonored her.

It wasn’t just at one moment that this was a barrier between them. For the next seventeen years, every time they spoke and every time they were together, there was a certain wedge keeping them apart. And yet Yaakov wouldn’t say a word. Even though these feelings were completely unfounded, he wouldn’t talk about it because that would cause a Jew to suffer, and he couldn’t be a part of that. This self-control is illustrative of the way Yaakov lived every moment of his life.

Life Is Like A Video Game

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

“And Yaakov said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty. Few and difficult were the days of my life, and they haven’t reached the length of days of my father’s life.” – Bereishis 47:9

For most of his life, Yaakov Avinu suffered tests, trials and tribulations. It seems his days were spent moving from adversity to crisis. Clearly he didn’t have it easy, and the suffering took its toll.

When Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim and appeared in the king’s court, Pharaoh was so astounded at how aged Yaakov looked that his very first utterance was, “How old are you?” The Rishonim explain that Yaakov looked older than anyone Pharaoh had ever seen.

Yaakov responded: it wasn’t that he was that old; it was that he had a hard life. “Few and difficult were the days of my life.”

The Midrash (Das Zakainim 49:9) says that when Yaakov said these words, Hashem responded, “I saved you from Eisav and Lavan, I returned Dina and Yosef to you, and you are complaining about your life? Because of this you will lose 33 years!”

This Midrash is very difficult to understand. Every word Yaakov said was true. He did live a very difficult life. He was beset with troubles and distress. He suffered for decades. The proof of this was his appearance – his suffering aged him. What possible sin did Yaakov commit by expressing the reality of his hard life?

The answer to this question can be best understood with a parable.

If you enter a video arcade, you might notice the boxing game. For your two dollars in tokens, you get to fight a virtual boxer. When you put your money in and put the gloves on, up on the screen the referee appears to usher you and your opponent into the center of the ring. And then, “Ding!” – the action starts. Jab, jab, duck, punch. Jab, jab, duck, punch. Your opponent circles. He swings wide, you block and counter.

THUD! He falls to the canvas. The count: 1, 2, 3… But no. He’s back up and now on the offensive. He throws a power right to your midsection – thud! Now, a hook to your jaw – smash! Now it’s you who’s down. The count 1, 2, 3, 4… but you’re back up, and the fight continues. Jab, jab, hook. Duck. Jab, jab. Move right. The bell rings again, signaling the end of the round.

And you’re sweating. No matter what shape you’re in, the pace is so fast and the simulation so real that you are putting everything into it. And then you go to spend the rest of your day with your children. No headaches, no bruises.

If you speak to someone who has been in a real boxing ring, you get a very different picture. Likely, you will hear something like, “Nothing in my life prepared me for those two minutes – the punches to the jaw, the jabs to the head, and more than anything, the fear that at any moment this beast is going to smash my brains in. . .” All of that make boxing a very different experience than the boxing arcade. It’s a whole lot less fun.

The Video Game of Life

This is a very apt parable for life. Throughout our lives, Hashem puts us through many different situations, all measured, all finely focused for our growth. Some are tests of endurance, some are tests of faith, and some are tests of patience, but each one is custom-designed for our growth. But like a video game, it’s not real. It’s a mirage, just a frightening image. When it is over, we see it for what it was: an empty threat.

The Chovos HaLevovos explains that one of the basics of our belief system is, “You can’t harm me; you can’t help me.” Everything – every ounce of suffering, every event that is to befall a person, is all decided, defined and directed by Hashem Himself. No human being can inflict damage on me that wasn’t already decided by Hashem.

With this recognition comes a deep understanding: the doctor isn’t the determinant of whether I live or die; the threat isn’t the failing economy; the danger isn’t man. All humans are powerless to affect my destiny. Like a simulated opponent in an arcade game, they look very menacing, but it is just smoke and mirrors. Hashem is hiding behind every scene, orchestrating the outcome. And all along, I am always safe and sound, guarded and protected.

This seems to be the answer to the Midrash. Yaakov suffered during his lifetime, and that was the problem. It is expected reasonable for any mortal going through these events to feel felt fear and anxiety. But this was Yaakov Avinu. This was the man who walked with Hashem. This was the man who saw Hashem in every moment and every action. He should have recognized the fight scene as the mirage it was – a mere illusion. If he felt fear and actually suffered, then on some level he didn’t see through the smoke and mirrors, and for Yaakov Avinu, that was unacceptable.

Beis HaMikdash – Spiritual Power Source

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

The Bach, commenting on Tur Shulchan Aruch, explains that the decrees of the Yivanim against the Jewish people occurred because the Jewish people became “lax in their service.”

Earlier in history, the Beis HaMikdash had been the center of life, the pride of every Jew. Going up to Yerushalayim three times a year was looked upon with excitement and great anticipation, and the effect of the service was appreciated by all. However, by the time of the Chanukah events, that appreciation was long gone. While the kohanim still brought the korbonos, the service in the Beis HaMikdash had lost its luster and glory.

The Bach seems to be saying that all that was to befall the Jewish people was because we no longer approached the Avodah with the appropriate sense of purpose, and therefore it was taken from us. This, however, becomes difficult to understand when we take into perspective what was actually happening in those days.

State of the Union

At the time of Chanukah, there was much wrong with the spiritual state of the Jewish people. Ignorance had become profound, and entire generations were no longer brought up in the ways of Torah. The Greek/Syrian philosophy had taken hold, and many Jews considered themselves more Greek than the Greeks. In their homes they spoke the language of Yavan. They schooled their children in the ways of Yavan, and all that they aspired for was acceptance in Greek society.

According to Megillas Chasmonaim, the Jews of Yerushalayim asked Antiochus to rename their city Antioch in his honor. They even sent a contingency asking him to erect a gymnasium in Yerushalayim. A gymnasium was not merely a hall for the practice of Greek sports; it was a center of idol worship. It represented a house of Greek culture for the specific function of propagating Greek ideology and all that it stood for. Initially, Antiochus refused. Finally the Jews of Yerushalayim gathered together 360 talents of silver – a king’s ransom – to bribe Antiochus to erect such a building. He agreed, and Megillas Chasmonaim begins with the statement: “They erected a gymnasium in Yerushalayim.”

The Ramban on Chumash says, “If not for the Chasmonaim, Torah would have been forgotten from the Jewish people.” If so, why did the Bach say that the reason for the decrees was the Jews being lax in the Avodah? There seem to be many other things going wrong.

Spiritual Fuel Source

The answer seems to be that in spiritual manners there is no stagnation. A person is either going up or going down. The concept of remaining static doesn’t exist. If a person has the spiritual fuel he requires, he ascends level after level. If not, he declines. That is the reality. That is the way Hashem created the world. The Bais HaMikdash was the nuclear reactor that fueled the spiritual needs of the world.

The nation as a whole took a downturn because the source of all ruchnius was no longer potent. It had lost its luster in the people’s eyes, and so it was no longer providing the life-giving nourishment Hashem created it to give. The Jewish people are one unit, inextricably tied together in fate and spiritual level. The core of our spiritual energy in those days was the Beis HaMikdash. The Avodah was the lifeline and fuel source for the nation. Since it was no longer practiced properly, it couldn’t maintain the spiritual needs of our people. The reason the Jews of Yerushalayim became enamored with Greek culture was because the furnace providing the level of spiritual power was no longer functioning at capacity. The Avodah no longer accomplished its desired effect, and the Jewish nation itself was in grave danger.

The only cure was for the Jewish people to reach a new understanding of the primacy of the Avodah and to rededicate themselves to the service in the Beis HaMikdash. When led by the Chasmonaim, kohanim who did the Avodah and who were willing to sacrifice their lives for it, the nation was rededicating itself to the centrality of the Avodah. Then the Beis HaMikdash could be reestablished and pump out the spiritual nourishment needed to keep Klal Yisrael whole.

Kiruv – Mitzvah of our Generation

This concept is especially relevant in our times when as much as 90 percent of our nation is made up of non-practicing Jews. While the numbers may seem daunting, we nevertheless live in amazing times. There is a powerful receptivity among our people – religious and not yet religious – for growth. People hunger for truth and meaning in their lives, and the Torah is the only pure source that fills that need. Clearly, the mitzvah of our generation is kiruv. As such, it is an obligation on each of us to do all that we can to help our brothers who were brought up bereft of their heritage. From that aspect, the work is clear.

Living Like A Rock

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

And Yaakov lived in the lands in which his father sojourned, the land of Canaan. – Bereishis 37:1

Rashi tells us that after the Torah described the life of Eisav in an abbreviated manner, it then told over the events of the life of Yaakov in full detail. The reason for this is that Yaakov and what occurred to him are important in the eyes of Hashem, whereas Eisav and his life aren’t. So too, Rashi explains, we find with the ten generations from Adam to Noach. Each individual gets a mere mention until we get to the life of Noach. Then the Torah elaborates in full detail.

The same pattern is repeated with the ten generations from Noach until Avraham. We are told in condensed form – “so and so gave birth to so and so” – until we get to the life of Avraham. Then the Torah again goes into great detail because the life and activities of a tzaddik are important in the eyes of Hashem, while those a rasha aren’t.

Rashi continues with a mashol to help explain this concept. Imagine a man has lost a precious stone in the sand. He takes a sieve and begins combing through the sand to find it. The sieve picks up many small rocks along with the gem that he is searching for. Once he finds the gem, he takes it out and throws the rocks away.

This Rashi becomes difficult to understand when we focus on the purpose of a mashol. Chazal use parables to help bridge a gap. When we are dealing with concepts that are outside our frame of reference, our sages often use examples and metaphors to bring difficult ideas into terms that we can understand. For instance, if you were given the task to describe the color purple to a color-blind person, how would you portray it? Well, it isn’t blue and it’s not red. The problem is that since this person sees all colors in the grey spectrum, neither point of reference has any meaning. So you might revert to a mashol. The purpose of the mashol is to capture the essence of a distant concept and bring it closer.

Why does Rashi feel we need a mashol to understand this concept? It seems rather straightforward. Eisav wasn’t important, so the Torah told over his life quickly, whereas Yaakov and what he accomplished are significant, so the Torah went into the details. That seems like an elementary concept, not one that needs repeating or a mashol to help clarify it.

The Value of a Person

The answer to this question is that Rashi is explaining a concept that isn’t obvious at all – namely, the true value of a person. If you were to ask a chemist the value of a human being, he might say, “Well, let’s see…So much potassium…so much magnesium…I would estimate his value at about 60 cents.” That would be accurate in one dimension. If we were measuring the value of a human from the perspective of the chemicals that make up his body, we would find him rather inexpensive. However, from a different perspective, the human is the most precious entity on the face of the planet – something so precious that it was worthwhile to create an entire cosmos for just one person.

The difference in the value systems manifests itself in the way a person lives his life. If a person leads his life like any other occupant of this planet, as just another member of the animal kingdom, then he has the value of whatever his physical being represents – a couple of pounds of rotting meat. However, if a person recognizes the reason Hashem put us on the planet and leads the life of a great person, his value is incalculable.

Living Like a Rock

That is what Rashi seems to be telling us. If the Torah only mentioned Eisav quickly and then elaborated about the life of Yaakov, you would never quite understand the difference in their values. Let me give you a mashol: When a man is looking for a pearl in the sand and he picks up some rocks along with it, they are utterly, totally and completely valueless to him. He throws them back down. The Torah is using this mashol to give us the perspective of the stark difference in value. It wasn’t that Eisav wasn’t as important as Yaakov – he was valueless, something to be discarded. He was a rock. When he left this planet, that is all that was left – the body to decay into the ground.

This concept is very relevant to us because we tend to get very busy at this thing called life. Working, doing, going, taking care of this, taking care of that. But a person has to ask himself, “What is it that I am so busy with? Granted I have to make a living, agreed that I must take care of many basic physical needs, but has that taken over the focus of my life? Do I spend so much time focused on the mundane issues of survival that it has become the epicenter of my existence? If it does, then I am no different than a beast of burden; I am a rock.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/living-like-a-rock/2011/12/15/

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