Monday, May 27, 2024

Count Your Blessings

Mendy and Sheindel were the happiest people in the world. Their first daughter, Suri, had become engaged to a wonderful boy from a fine family. That Mendy would support the new couple was a given. While this would stretch their budget considerably, it came as no surprise to them. This is what they wanted for their daughter, and for years they managed to put away savings for this purpose. What did, however, come as a surprise to them, unfortunately dampened their simcha. It seems that various relatives offered their opinions as to what kind of chasunah they should make.

“It has to be baalebatish,” said Sheindel’s mother. “You want to impress the mechutanim.”


Uncle Mottel agreed. “If you scrimp on your chasunah, especially the first daughter, it sends a message and it might hurt prospects for future shidduchim for your other daughters. Yes, it must be baalebatish,” he said emphatically.


The parents of the kallah weren’t quite aware of what this word meant until, slowly, but surely, when the suggestions came in from family members about the various aspects of the chasunah, their stomachs became tied in knots. “The smorgasbord must be just so, and you must order the deluxe package from the photographer. You need at least a seven-piece band and, while you’re at it, make sure the bar is top of the line.”


By the time the chasunah arrived, Mendy and Sheindel came to the stark realization of what “baalebatish” means. It’s when the wedding becomes a baalebos over you. How sad that their happiness was compromised by the burden of their expenses. As they walked the kallah down to the chupah, they said a kappitel ofTehillim for the future of the new couple and a silent prayer that they will be able to pay up the debts incurred by this gala affair.


Where and when did this happen? These are maasim bechol yom.


Shmuel needed to lease a new car. The old jalopy was no longer reliable to get him to work every day. He loved that car, because the more it aged, the more he could treat it with less respect. He didn’t have to worry about a dent here and a scratch there. He long ago stopped paying collision and theft insurance. Who would want to steal this car? All he had to pay for was liability insurance. What a pleasure. Now that he was leasing a new car, things changed. He might as well get the newest style stereo player, a built-in GPS, and every other gadget and gizmo. Without even realizing it, while signing on the dotted line, he became burdened with a few hundred dollars per month of added expenses to his budget. How would he pay for this? He didn’t put much thought into it beforehand, so anxious was he to get the car.


– – – – –


He had everything – food, riches, a wife graced with all the maalos tovos, endless real estate, and lands with enchanting scenery. He had life with the most perfect situation imaginable. But that was not enough for him. He wanted more than he had and he stepped out of his bounds to attain it. It was a move that he would regret forever, for with it he brought calamity not only upon himself, and not only upon his progeny, but upon all of mankind.


This was Adam Harishon, who was placed together with Chava in Gan Eden to work it and to guard it (Bereishis 2:15). He was given unlimited access to all of the luscious fruits of Gan Eden, to enjoy the scintillating aroma of its flowers and trees, and to have all the living creatures serve him. Yes, he had everything at his disposal, excluding just one item: the Eitz Hadaas. Hashem warned him in no uncertain terms not to taste the fruits of this tree. But Adam did not listen. He desired the fruit for its beauty, for its taste, and as a means of wisdom. In his lust for more than he had, he didn’t consider the ramifications of his deed.


This act of partaking in what wasn’t meant for him, caused him to plunge into an abyss where the yeitzer hara would torment him and mankind throughout time, until the world meets its tikkun with the coming of Moshiach. All of the struggles of mankind and the many wars that took place throughout history came about as a result of Adam Harishon having a desire for what wasn’t meant to be his.


Before the sin of the Eitz Hadaas, Adam lived in perfect peace with himself. His body did not make extra demands on him that would tax the serenity of his pure neshamah. It was only after he indulged in the forbidden fruit that the yeitzer hara moved into his psyche as a permanent tenant, thus causing his inner turbulence, the lifelong struggle between his guf and his neshamah.


When there is no peace within the individual, when he is not satisfied, he looks out of his realm to take that which is not rightfully his, mistakenly thinking that it will bring him serenity. Instead, it is the cause of machlokes and, on a national scale, the cause of wars. The lust for riches, power and honor has been the cause of untold bloodshed throughout history to this very day.


In this week’s sedrah, we learn about the blessings of the kohanim that conclude with the words “and may He establish peace upon you.” This is the greatest of brachos. The last Mishnah in Shas concludes by stating, “Rav Shimon ben Chalafta says: Hakadosh Boruch Hu did not find a vessel that contains blessings for Yisroel as much as peace…” (Uktzin 3:11). But peace with others begins with serenity within ourselves. In Shemonah Esrei, in the bracha of Sim Shalom, we ask Hashem to place peace first upon us and then throughout all of Klal Yisroel, because shalom in the klal depends upon shalom within each individual. Of course we need special siyata diShmaya for this, but bringing tranquility within ourselves takes effort on our part.


The bracha of shalom is preceded by, “May Hashem turn His countenance to you,” meaning that He should favor you. “The malachei hashoreis said before Hashem, ‘It says that You do not favor anyone and do not take bribes (Devorim 10:17). Why, then, do you favor Klal Yisroel?’ To this Hashem answers: ‘Should I not favor Yisroel? I have written in the Torah, ‘You shall eat, be satisfied and bentch.’ And they are careful about this even with a kezayis or a kebei’a” (Brachos 20b). Why does this mitzvah especially cause Hashem to favor us?


The Chasam Sofer explains that one who is satisfied with his lot, and lovingly accepts every situation that comes his way no matter how difficult it is, shows that he recognizes that it all comes from Hashem, Whose wisdom is infinite and Who does everything for our good. If things are difficult, he recognizes it as a nisayon or as a kapparah for his aveiros. For such a person, Hashem displays a special love, and when judging him, He shows a special mercy.


This is what Chazal meant. “Since the Yidden bless Me and thank Me even when they only have a kezayis or a kebei’a, a miniscule amount of food, I show them special recognition, because they place their trust in Me that I know exactly how much they need and they appreciate it. Shall I not show them special favor?”


The Chasam Sofer was by no means a wealthy man. At various times during his life, he had to struggle for parnassah and live in a very austere manner. Yet, even he was astounded when he visited one of his contemporaries whom he held in great esteem and observed the dire poverty in which he lived. Rav Dovid Deitch was a talmid of the Nodah B’Yehudah and the author of the sefer Ohel Dovid on numerous masechtos. The Chasam Sofer writes in his approbation to this sefer, “That tzaddik, holy one in Yisroel…we are fortunate to have his words and his light…and the merit of this tzaddik should shield us from anything bad…”


This Rav Dovid was a pauper living in squalor, and his poverty could even be seen on the cutlery that he used. The Chasam Sofer once visited him when he was in the middle of a meal. Both Rav Dovid’s spoon and the plate he ate from were made from simple wood. The distinguished guest could not fathom the destitution in which this great man lived. He stared at the spoon and even took it in his hand to examine it.


It never dawned upon Rav Dovid that his guest pitied him. To him, using a wooden spoon was perfectly normal. He sensed that perhaps the Chasam Sofer liked it and wanted one for himself. If so, he might be transgressing the issur of lo sachmod, not to covet something of your friend, so he turned to his guest and said generously, “I am hereby giving you this spoon as a present.” The Chasam Sofer enjoyed relating this anecdote showing how poor Rav Dovid was, yet he was happy with his lot to the extent that he was willing to give away this measly spoon to his friend.


When one lives such a simple life, there is no struggle between his body and soul. When the guf doesn’t have many needs, it does not place a burden on the neshamah. It allows the neshamah to be nurtured through peaceful limud haTorah and avodas Hashem. The Gemara says that a person’s parnassah is designated for the entire year on Rosh Hashanah (Beitzah 16a). Rashi says that, therefore, a person should be careful about how he uses his money to ensure that he doesn’t spend more than he was allotted for the year. The Chofetz Chaim in Be’er Hagolah, at the end of Hilchos Yom Tov, says that this is open mussar in our times for many who do not heed this and are not careful about spending money on excesses. This has ruined many lives, as it brings people to steal and to great shame.


It’s interesting to note that the Chofetz Chaim wrote this in his explanations on halacha, not just as a mussar shmuess, which we tend to take more lightly. Furthermore, he said this in his day, when the standard of living was much lower than it is today. What would the Chofetz Chaim say about the inflated desires of our day and the adverse affect it has on our lives?


Where does this mistaken way of life, extending ourselves past our needs and capabilities, come from? It is the way of the world. Look at what is currently transpiring in Europe, where governments have come tumbling down. Why? Because austerity has become a dirty word. People want entitlements that they cannot afford. Recently, a think-tank of economists predicted that for the Eurozone, a deep recession is just around the corner and it can have an adverse impact on economies around the world.


The Slabodka rosh yeshiva, Rav Eizik Sher, once commented that gasus ruach, meaning one of haughty spirit who overindulges in Olam Hazeh, stems from goss ruach, the spirit in the street, a play on words in Yiddish. Today’s world is drastically affected by Madison Avenue and the various forms of tumah it thrusts in people’s faces. We, as the Am Hanivchar, must stand our ground and not be swayed by these alluring illusions or by what the neighbors will say. We must count the blessings we have and be happy with less. Only then can we merit enjoying the bracha of veyoseim lecha shalom.



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