On this last day of his life, after completing the renewal of the Covenant
between G-d and the Jewish Nation (in Parshas Nitzavim), Moshe gives one
final warning to the masses. After conveying the endless favors G-d granted
the Children of Israel, he tells of their future rebellion and the
calamities that will befall them, and, finally, their ultimate redemption.
In a theme oft repeated in the admonitions of the Book of
Devarim/Deuteronomy, Moshe's poem warns of the spiritual danger inherent in
financial success. "Yeshurun ["yashar" means upright, straight and just; the
name "Yeshurun" refers to Israel's trait of remaining steadfast in
maintaining G-d's high standards] became fat and kicked - you became fat,
thick, corpulent - and it deserted G-d its Maker, and was contemptuous of
the Rock of its salvation." (32,15) How does fiscal accomplishment transform
genuine, sincere servants of G-d into contemptuous rebels?
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan of Radin; 1838-1933;
author of basic works in Jewish law, philosophy and ethics and renowned for
his saintly qualities) tells a story of two sisters, one who married a rich
man and one who married a poor fellow. After many years of separation, the
poor sister went to visit her wealthy sibling. As she approached the
mansion, a servant dressed in silk came out to greet her and find out her
name so she could be announced to the mistress of the house. As much as this
surprised her, it was nothing compared to the shock upon entering the house:
the fantastic rooms with their exquisite furnishings and accoutrements, the
gleam of the pearls and jewels in her sister's rings and earrings, the silk
gown her sister wore, the servants responding to her every word.
Yet as they started to discuss their lives, the poor one started to notice
how thin and gaunt her sister's face looked, the despondent look she had.
She asked, "My dear sister, surely your husband could afford you roasted
doves and geese daily. Why do you look as you do?" The wealthy sister
explained, "My rich and influential husband does give the most beautiful
wardrobe and the most precious stones, and I feast like royalty. But this is
all meaningless because there is no intellectual or emotional connection; I
am treated as one of the servants. He has no hesitation to publicly
humiliate me, spitting and screaming at me. Yes, my dear sister, you may not
have the jewels and stones and the servants, you may only have the dress on
your back, but your husband treats you with respect, appreciates your
intelligence and honors you publicly. You are happy with your lot in life
because you are not a servant in your home, you are the mistress. For all my
possessions, I have no right to even state my opinion regarding the issues
of the home."
So, too, continues Rabbi Kagan, is the attitude of some toward our spiritual
resource, the Torah. Some cover it with the finest silks, the most precious
jewels, gold and silver, and keep it in the most ornate ark illuminated with
golden lamps. But this is meaningless to the Torah. So long as we beautify
her but ignore her intelligence, her input, her keen guidance, she is
insulted and hurt. Surely she would give up all the adornments so long as
she is not trampled upon. There are others who cannot afford the
accoutrements but offer great respect, not deviating from her sage advice.
And this is more precious than all the jewels in the world.
We are members of (probably) the most affluent Jewish community in Jewish
history. Whereas, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) discusses the
financial priorities of one who cannot afford to buy Chanukah candles, these
days we invest thousands of dollars in our daily Jewish experience, and that
many more dollars around the Yomim Tovim (holidays). But societally we have
inculcated the contemporary values of getting "the biggest bang for the
buck" and feeling there is virtually nothing for which we cannot buy a
solution. But spirituality cannot be bought off. Spirituality is about
building a loving relationship with G-d; we cannot buy a relationship.
We find ourselves in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance; Shabbos
Shuva, the Shabbos of Return, is upon us and Yom Kippur is around the
corner. Rambam/Maimonides, in his Laws of Return (Repentance), tells us
these are the days that G-d is "reaching out" to us. This relationship is
about investing our one commodity that is more valuable than all the jewels
in the world - ourselves.
Best wishes for a healthy and sweet New Year! Good Shabbos!