Season 1, Episode 1 Season 1, Episode 2
“What We Are Praying For and “A Prayer and A Rocket”
Why We Are Addressed”
Season 1, Episode 1 Season 1, Episode 2
“What We Are Praying For and “A Prayer and A Rocket”
Why We Are Addressed”
Appel’s Parsha Page
Sabbatical and trust in God
by Rabbi Yehuda Appel
The story is told of a European Jew at the turn of the century who, tired of the constant grind of poverty, determined to solve his plight by playing the lottery. Fearing that what he was doing was not exactly “kosher,” the fellow went to his rabbi and asked approval for the plan. He explained that his actions would do nothing more than provide the Almighty with the opportunity to send him some well-needed money. Moreover, the fellow said, he had complete trust that God would answer him.
“How many tickets are you buying?” asked the rabbi. “Three” said the man. “One should be enough for God”, was the rabbi’s laconic reply.
The concept of bitachon — “trust in God” — plays a critical role in Jewish thought. Just as a person should strive to observe the Mitzvot, he or she should also try to develop bitachon, a consciousness that God is actively involved in our lives. In fact, the acquisition of this “God awareness” is so vital that some commentators explain this as the true goal of Torah observance.
While true acquisition of bitachon can be a tremendously liberating experience, it is also very hard to achieve. We live in a world where our daily routine and the “natural course of events” actually may lead us to forget about God. How many of us limit our lottery purchases to one ticket?!
In striking fashion, this week’s Torah portion addresses this issue. Much of the Parsha is devoted to a description of laws concerning the sabbatical year (“shmita”) that takes place in Israel every seventh year. In Biblical times, debts were cancelled on the shmita year, and servants were set free.
Even today, farm land is not to be worked during the shmita year. Throughout the entire Land of Israel, no Jewish farmer should plow or plant. This hiatus not only helps improve the quality of the soil, but provides the Jewish People with more free time to study Torah.
This system of shmita, however, would seem to create one great problem: a lack of food! Concerning this issue, however, God assures us not to worry:|”Perhaps you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year for we cannot sow nor gather our crop?’ I (God) will command my blessing upon the sixth year and it will bring forth (enough) produce for three years.” (Leviticus 25:20-21)
The Chazon Ish (20th century Israel) explains that while this does not guarantee that every individual will receive a triple crop, it does mean that collectively the Jewish People’s land will yield crops in far greater abundance than would be “natural.” In this way, we are reminded that it is God who is the force behind the natural order, and when He so chooses He dispenses in proportions far beyond “natural.”
In this sense, the shmita year parallels the Sabbath, whose major function is also to remind us that it is God who created the world — and ultimately controls His world.
Integrating this idea into one’s life is the foundation of bitachon — true trust in the Almighty.
Brainstorming with Baars
God’s Cosmic Joke
by Rabbi Stephen Baars
It would seem that life can go one of four ways: (1) the rich get richer, (2) the rich get poorer, (3) the poor get richer, and (4) the poor get poorer.
However, few things are as they really seem. One of these four is not possible — which?
Despite what you might read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) or maybe in the editorial of Socialist Weekly, the rich cannot get richer.
Let me explain, I have a watch. It costs around $30. Some people have watches that cost $30,000. But for both of us, it’s still only eighteen minutes past one o’clock. In other words, you just can’t do better than function. Once something does what it is supposed to do, you just can’t do better than that. Sure, you can inlay it with diamonds, you can add a radio and a GPS system, but when all is said and done, money really can’t do more for you than help you function in life.
Let me explain this in a different way. Let’s visit Joe. Joe lives in Somalia and he is part of the bottom 10% of the world’s poor. Joe has never seen a bathroom or a shower. He has been wearing the same rags for years. He can’t remember when he last had a meal. At best he eats just once a day, and then it’s not much. Joe’s chances of living past 30 years old are very slim. In fact he’s just lucky he lived through childbirth. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
This chap somehow moves to America and enters the relatively small group of so-called poor Americans. Basically he is living on a bench in Manhattan.
As such, Joe thinks he died and went to heaven. He has relatively clean clothes, access to basic health care. He probably has two meals a day and sometimes even a shelter. No one can shoot him and he might even be able to make some money.
That jump in the quality of his life is massive. No other improvement in his standard of living will ever equal the dramatic jump that move had on his life. There is a downside though. Joe thinks that because he multiplied his income by a factor of approximately 20, and his enjoyment of life multiplied equally as much, then it stands to reason, every similar jump in income is only going to make him equally happy.
This is his and our mistake.
You see, our poor new immigrant Joe eventually ascends from being poor to lower middle-class America. He now has a job and a room somewhere, three meals a day, indoor plumbing and a host of other amenities we all take for granted. Still an impressive jump, but not as great in degree as the first elevation.
But wait, let’s see how our story unfolds. Our friend now has some more luck and moves up to the middle of the middle-classes. He has a car, home, entertainment, vacation, etc. Do you notice it’s not as exciting?
He didn’t either, so he keeps pushing up.
Next he moves to upper middle class. Hardly anything changed in his fundamental life style. His day is probably no different. Yes, he might be driving a Lexus to work, but it’s still only a car and he’s had one of those for a while now.
Joe then enters the world of the rich, maybe even the super rich. However, at best only 1% of his lifestyle is going to change. He still eats, sleeps in a bed and wears clean clothes. That’s a big difference to the percentage change that he experienced when he went from Somalia to New York. There his quality of life change was 50% or 60%, if not more.
This is G-d’s cosmic joke. The rich cannot get richer. You can’t escape the tight box we are all in. Life doesn’t get better than function. The reason Bill Gates is giving away so much of his money is because there is nothing to buy with it that would make the slightest bit of difference in his way of life.
I like to joke that when Gates went from $50 billion to $60 billion, he did not call up his wife and say, “It’s OK honey, we can eat out tonight.” That’s because the further up the ladder in dollar amounts, the less value it adds to your life.
Unfortunately though, most people can’t get out of the rat race to realize all their efforts at the office bear little or no fruits outside that office.
“For six years you may plant your fields and prune your vineyards… But on the seventh year the land will observe a complete rest, a Shabbat for G-d…” (Leviticus 25:3-4)
It’s called ROI (return on investment). You will typically see the ROI concept used in a business context. The higher the ROI the better the investment. It isn’t as important to know how much you made, as it is to know how much you invested initially, and how long it took to realize the final sum. A small investment that generates a high return in a short time is a good ROI.
When Joe first landed in America, a day’s work meant a real upgrading in his life style. In other words, an excellent ROI. But at 65 years old as the department head of a top brokerage firm, a hard days work may bring him a nice bonus at the end of the year, but the ROI for that additional benefit might be in the negative.
The additional money will not make the slightest difference in the quality of his life. He would have received more out of life if he had taken the day off and spent it with his family.
Nothing is going to change because he now can buy a $30,000 watch or a $300,000 car. It’s time to stop, look around and ask yourself, what is the “more” out of life that would make it all worth it? That’s why this week’s parsha tells us to stop, take some time so that you can find what is in life that makes it all worthwhile.
That’s the joke, after a certain point, the only way is up. Where is up? Let me explain.
There is a news story that is constantly being repeated — the gap between the rich and the poor has been getting bigger. Proof being, the rich get richer and everyone else is lagging behind.
As I have explained, it’s a fallacy. In fact, it’s been shrinking for the last 100 years at least. For sure, the gap between Joe in Manhattan and Joe in Somalia is massive. But the gap between middle-class Joe and Warren Buffet is very small and getting smaller all the time.
True, the rich have more dollar bills in the bank, but the problem is, those dollar bills do very little to improve the quality of life once you cross a certain threshold. Once you have a car in the driveway, the brand makes very very little difference. Once you have a watch on your wrist, whether the strap is made of leather with diamond studs or plastic makes very little difference.
You might say, “But it is some difference?”
Yes, but the real difference between those two people, the rich and the not-so-rich, is not the square footage of their houses but how the people in those houses get along. Somewhere in Joe’s progression up the ladder of success things like friends, family, peace of mind, love, trust and a host of other upper values are going to make the real difference in his quality of life.
You can have the biggest yacht in the neighborhood, but if your wife doesn’t love you, then it’s just not going to be a lot of fun.
Get the joke, it’s cosmic.”
BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Question 1: Who do you know that enjoys life more than you?
Question 2: What do they have that enables them to enjoy life like that?
Question 3: In 20 years from now, will you look back and wish you had spent your time differently?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“As you teach, you learn” — Jewish Proverb
JOKE OF THE WEEK
David was trying to build himself a tree house together with his Zadie Willie, who was a handy fellow.
“You hammer like lightning,” Zadie said.
“Really?” David replied, flattered. “Thank you.”
“You never strike the same place twice.”
Join me for these two upcoming programs:
Tuesday, May 17th Lunch & Learn 11:30 – 12:30 pm Circle@The Crown Cafe, 8350 Delcrest Drive, St. Louis, MO 63124. “Be the Best You” (Pirkei Avot — Ethics of the Fathers) RSVP to email@example.com if you can attend.
Monday, May 23rd Mamas in Pajamas 8:30 pm Join me virtually from the comfort of your own home as we resume our monthly discussions on Lessons for Ladies from the weekly Torah portions. Join zoom at zoom.us/j/9699246316 Dial in: 1-312-626-6799, meeting ID 9699246316
In cased you missed it, here’s the podcast of my interview on the topic of Be Proud to be a Woman with Vera Kessler who leads America’s Top Rebbetzins.
The words of Yaakov’s blessing to his grandsons Menashe and Efraim are sung every night in the bedtime Shema. Here’s my favorite tune for the famous Hamalach Hagoel:
COVID guidelines for in-person programs at Aish: masks required for your safety as well as for the safety of others. If you’re not feeling well, we look forward to seeing you at another time when you’re feeling well.
For more information about The Jewish Women’s Society of St. Louis, contact Mimi David at firstname.lastname@example.org
COVID guidelines for in-person programs at Aish: masks required for your safety as well as for the safety of others. If you’re not feeling well, we look forward to seeing you at another time when you’re feeling better.