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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Balak

Parshat Balak

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Balak                                                                                      Print Version
17th of Tammuz, 5779 | July 20, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi David Shelby 
Spare a Coin, Spare a Life

As a certain Rabbi Schwartz walked into yeshiva one morning, he noticed an unusual sight. In the parking lot, there stood a stunning motorcycle. While it was certainly a scene uncommon to the yeshiva premises, Rabbi Schwartz didn’t think too much about it, and simply carried on with his day.

Later that afternoon, as Rabbi Schwartz began walking outside after finishing teaching, he noticed a man getting onto the motorcycle. Pausing, Rabbi Schwartz tried catching a glimpse of the man, and to his great surprise, it was none other than a previous student of his who had graduated over six years ago.

Making his way over to his student, who he had now identified as Yosef, Rabbi Schwartz began striking up conversation. As it turned out, during those past six years, Yosef had gone to Boston, though he had now returned to his hometown and decided to make his first stop be the yeshiva which he had loved so dearly.

“I miss everyone here!” Yosef began. “I miss all the rabbis and the boys, and I came here to learn a bit, as well as give the yeshiva a check from my maa’ser money for all the six years I have not been here.” Yosef pulled out his checkbook, wrote out a check and handed it to Rabbi Schwartz. After some more chatting, Yosef hopped on his motorcycle and took off.

For the next few days, Rabbi Schwartz taught his classes and attended to his normal schedule. Until one day, he received a phone call. “Is this Rabbi Schwartz?” “Yes, speaking…” “Do you remember how a few days ago, one of your old alumni came to visit you on a motorcycle?” “Sure, I do!” Rabbi Schwartz replied emphatically. “Is everything okay?” “Everything will, G-d willing, be okay.”

“Yosef was on the highway yesterday with his motorcycle and unfortunately got into a major accident. You cannot imagine the miracle it is that Yosef is alive today, and he has asked for you to come and visit him in the hospital.” Rabb Schwartz did not hesitate, as he immediately began making plans to head to the hospital and visit Yosef.

As Rabbi Schwartz arrived, he saw Yosef all bandaged up. “Rabbi,” Yosef muttered between breaths, “you can only imagine how terrible the accident was…” As Yosef continued talking, in walked a police officer, holding a piece of metal. “I found this piece of metal fifty feet away from the site of the accident. It flew off the motorcycle!” Both Yosef and Rabbi Schwartz were awestruck to hear this, and continued talking both with utter shock and gratitude that Yosef was still alive.

“Rabbi, do you know why I am alive today?” Rabbi Schwartz could not think of anything. “Think about it,” prodded Yosef. “What was the last thing I did before saying goodbye to you?” Now Rabbi Schwartz caught on. “You gave the yeshiva a check. You gave tzedakah.” “Rabbi, that’s what saved my life. Our Sages teach, ‘tzedakah tatzil mi’mavet – charity spares one from death.’”

“And Rabbi,” continued Yosef, “it also answers another question that I’ve had for the past six years, ever since I’ve graduated from high school.” Yosef paused for a moment, catching his breath and realizing the incredible foresight relating to what he was about to say.

“In my graduating yearbook, the school included one specific verse, taken from anywhere in Tanach, and placed it underneath the picture of each of the graduating students. Rabbi, I used to collect tzedakah during Mincha in school. They added the Pasuk underneath my name which said, ‘tzedakah tatzil mi’mavet – charity spares one from death.’ I had never understood why. There are many verses in Tanach which reference the mitzvah of tzedakah. Why, out of every other verse, was that one chosen? Now my question has been answered.”

Yosef went on to recuperate, regain his strength and live with even more passion and fervor as a Jew. He never forgot how he had personally experienced the power of tzedakah as a life-saving act of kindness, and made the giving of tzedakah his mantra for life.

Rabbi Benzion Klatzko 
Changing the Narrative

The world looks at us in a certain ways and is quick to apply condescending labels – anti-Semitic, money-hungry, separatists – but we should be just as quick to show them how their narrative of us Jews is wrong.

I was at a house sale some time ago, where I spotted a beautiful piano. Both my wife and I had grown up with pianos, and I figured that it would be a nice piece of furniture to add to our home and be used to play. Turning to the man running the sale, I asked for the price. “$250 in cash,” he said. I knew immediately that $250 was a superb price for a good piano and showed interest in buying it. “The only thing is that a lady came here before you and was asking about it. It looks like she is going to buy it.” I turned around and soon spotted the woman, a Jewish lady, who had shown such interest. “No problem,” I replied to the proprietor, “she came first and has the preferred right to purchase it.” “But wait just one minute here,” added the owner, “let’s just make sure that she has the money.”

Checking with the woman that she had the $250 in cash on hand to buy the piano, she said that she would take a look. If she didn’t have it, she offered to go home and bring the money right away. Turning to me, he asked if I had the money readily available. “I do have the cash,” I said, “but I am not going to jump in front of her.” “Why?” the man asked me in curious disbelief. 
“You have the cash! I’ll sell it to you, and it’ll be a done deal.”

Before he could go any further, I interjected. “I can’t do that,” I said. “In Judaism, we have a concept which teaches that if a person enters into a transactional agreement with someone and settles on a price, even though no transaction has actually been completed, no one else can interfere and try to purchase the item for themselves (in the language of our rabbis, this is termed, ‘ani hamehapech b’charara – an impoverished person chasing a crust of bread.’) Here this woman has agreed to pay the settled price of $250; I can’t jump in and grab the deal.”

But the owner didn’t understand and couldn’t grasp the fact that I was so politely allowing her to buy the piano and stepping aside myself. “Do you have the money or not?” he asked the woman again. She opened up her purse, and including singles, had a total of $70. The man turned back to me. “Look, she doesn’t have the money!” “I can go home,” she said. “Ma’am,” firmly said the owner, “I can’t afford to lose a customer if I have to wait for you while you return home.”

I then turned to the woman, and said, “How much more do you need? Another $180?” I opened my wallet, counted out $180 and handed it to her. “Take this,” I said, “I’ll give you my address and you can send me the money when you get back home.” 
The owner couldn’t believe his eyes. What about the Jewish narrative that we are cheap, stingy and selfish? “Do you even know this lady?” he asked. “No, I replied, “but I trust that she will return the money to me as soon as she has the opportunity.” And that was it. I then proceeded to walk into one of the adjacent rooms.

Just minutes later, one of the young helpers came running over to me. “Do you know what they’re saying about you out there? They’re so impressed. They said that they realize now that they’ve never understood Jews!”

Reflecting on this, I realized that here was an opportunity to not only make a Kiddush Hashem, but to also change the narrative that the world has of Jews.

The story has a very interesting ending though.

As I was about to leave, I noticed that there were a few bottles of wine and alcohol for sale. “How much are these?” I asked. The owner looked at me and said, “They’re yours.” “No, no, I don’t want them for free,” I made clear. “How much are they?” “They’re yours; I want you to have them.”

The owner certainly had the right to freely give them to me, and so, I graciously complied. After taking them and returning home, I discovered that one was a $300 bottle of scotch, the other was a bottle of Cherry Heering Liqueur that was about fifty years old, and the third was a bottle of Sabra Liqueur from the 1960s. They were all collector’s items and worth more than the piano I had let go.

Every Shabbos during Shalosh Seudos (the third meal), I take out these expensive bottles for my guests and have what I call “Commitment L’Chaims.” Whoever would like can come up, make a L’Chaim and take upon themselves some commitment they would like. They may commit to start keeping Shabbos, putting on Tefillin or whatever else they can do.

But even if that was not the ending of the story, the lesson to take away is the opportunity we have when we perform a Kiddush Hashem. We do not simply inspire others by our caring and thoughtful actions; we change their narrative of the Jews and offer the world new lenses from which to view us Jews much more positively.

Mrs. Chani Juravel 
Failing or Fulfilling?

It was over ten years ago that I received an interesting call from a woman. “You don’t know who I am,” she began, “but I am coming to Monsey for a family gathering, and in addition, I’m turning sixty. I was thinking that I would like to give myself a birthday present, and buy two hours of time to discuss my life with you.” As I heard this woman’s idea, I was quite intrigued, and replied that I would be more than happy to meet with her.

As soon as I walked in to meet her at eight in the morning, I could tell that she was a uniquely special person. She possessed a certain grace to her, and shone with a captivating charm. We sat down and I turned to her, asking, “Where would you like to start?”

“My life has been a dismal failure,” she said. “I am sixty years old and feel that I haven’t achieved what I could have. I was very motivated growing up and held onto beautiful dreams, yet I feel like I’ve fallen short.” “In what way?” I asked. “Well, number one, I really wanted a great marriage and I know I am capable of one. But I never had that. I married a lovely man and he means well and we respect each other, but it is not as deep and satisfying as it could have been. Number two, I wanted to raise a very cohesive and close-knit family. I wanted the type of kids who would choose each other over everyone else and would always be a loving team who had each other’s backs. As it turned out, I have great kids, but they are all their own separate people leading independent lives, and are generally judgmental of one another.

“Thirdly, my greatest ambition outside of my family was to be successful professionally. But, it never was meaningful and fulfilling to me. Wherever we ended up living, there were just minimal opportunities and I was never considered good enough for the job. I am never going to professionally accomplish what I dreamed of for the world or for myself. These are the three most important parts of my life and it’s been a big letdown to see how it’s turned out in each of them.”

I finished listening to her detail her life story, supportively listening and nodding my head as she went along. We created the space to explore what her marriage would have been if it matched her dreams, as well as her children and job. After about an hour, we had gotten through more or less everything that she wanted to talk about. “Well,” I said, “you have another hour. What else would you like to speak about?” She was unsure, though I prompted her to think further for a moment.

“How old were you when you had these wishes of what you wanted to do and achieve in your life?” “I was eighteen,” she replied. “I remember leaving seminary and telling myself that this is what I wanted.” I was quite surprised to hear that. “That means that those were the wishes you held onto for forty-two years. It must be hard…”

But I sensed that there was more to probe with her. “Let me ask you, did you also have dreams when you were eighteen of what you never would be?” She thought for a moment and then said rather confidently, “Yes, there were also three.” I perked up. “I haven’t thought about them in a while,” she said, “but I distinctively remember having three wishes of what I would never be.” “And what are they?” I inquired. “I would never be cheap. I always wanted to lead a generous life, where I would be giving and caring for others. Secondly, I would never be a person who remains stagnant and doesn’t work on becoming a bigger and better person. I always wanted to be working on myself and growing. And lastly, I would never be involved in family politics. I always wanted to remain on good terms with all my family members, and so I never became enmeshed in conflict or differences of opinion.”

“So how did you fare in these three aspects?” “Well,” she said, “I am not cheap. I am not particularly wealthy, but we have an open home and I am proud to say we are very generous. Number two, I do consider myself to be a growing person. As you can see, I am here. My birthday present which I chose for myself is to speak with you today about my life. And thirdly, I am the only family member who is on good terms with everyone else. There are people not attending this family simcha because they are at odds with others, but I am here. I never touched family issues.”

“You’re amazing!” I exclaimed. She was a bit surprised by my reaction. “Amazing? I failed!” “Let me tell you something,” I said. “The first three areas of your life that you spoke about were not entirely in your control. Your marriage dynamics are not all about you, but also your husband; your children are their own individual people who make their own choices; and your job, there are so many external factors that are involved that you cannot blame yourself for not accomplishing.

“But who you chose not to be, that is something in your control and look how you’ve done! Forty-two years later, you are still sticking to your principles! And that is why I say you are amazing. You have made some fantastic choices, and that is by far not a failed life.” The woman was pleased to hear my perspective, and walked away that day with a new skip in her step and more alive than she had been when entering the room just two hours earlier.

Whenever we take a moment to reflect upon our accomplishments and disappointments and take stock of our lives, we must never forget to look at the entire panoramic picture. Sometimes, it is important to not merely focus on what we haven’t done, but on what we have done; and other times the reverse. Don’t simply count your losses; count your victories too. And at the same time, just like this woman, don’t forget when appropriate to think about what you haven’t done and become a better person because of it. Don’t simply look at what could have been, but look at what you didn’t do and how you are stronger for that very reason. Never forget to look at yourself from head to toe and appreciate every part of your life. Because, without question, there is certainly some good there. You may just have to dig a little bit deeper than it seems.

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