Sunday, Nov 28, 2021

The Investment and the Tea Bag

This is not a financial column, but I would like to discuss investments. Investments are not just about money. By definition, an investment is something that one deems worth putting effort, time, emotion, money or any other quality into in order to ultimately earn a greater return. The primary, non-monetary example is, of course, Torah and mitzvos. We invest so much in the performance of Torah and mitzvos because we know that the return on the investment is incalculable.

There is another investment that I would like to discuss for which the return, both in this world and in the next, is immense. For some reason, however, less people seem to be aware of the bountiful returns and neglect to put in the time and effort necessary. That investment is called friendship. Real friendship.

LAPSED FRIENDSHIPS AND NO NEW ONES TO REPLACE THEM

 

The way that our lives are constructed is that we have the time and the wherewithal to make friendships during our school or yeshiva years. Most people remember very close friends that they had growing up. As time goes on and life moves on, responsibilities mount and there is less time and opportunity for interaction, especially close interaction with friends. Frequently, old friendships lapse and new ones do not come as easily. Ask anyone who has been married for more than a few years to look at their wedding album and see how many of their “best friends” they can find with whom they have not spoken in months or years.

 

The problem is that the necessity of real friendships does not decrease with time and responsibility. It actually increases. As one grows older, marries, and starts a family, there are so many responsibilities that slowly mount, so many decisions, so many things that weigh on the heart, and so many curveballs that Providence throws one’s way that one desperately needs a good friend or two with whom to talk, to unwind, or to find empathy and solace.

 

Over the years, in interactions with people married for more than three years, I have often asked, “So where do you daven?” The answer often is, “On Friday night, I daven in this shul. On Shabbos day, I go to that place. Minchah I catch at a convenient minyan, and then I chap an early Maariv on Motzoei Shabbos somewhere else.” During the week, the story is similar.

 

The problem is that while a yungerman is in yeshiva, he perhaps does not realize that he is missing out on much, because he interacts with people and friends in the yeshiva setting. As he grows older and people come and go in yeshiva, that, too, changes.

 

Nevertheless, as time passes, the necessity to cultivate friendships and grow together becomes even more important. Simultaneously, the time available to invest in friendships – and they require constant investment – becomes more and more scarce.

 

NOTHING LIKE BELONGING TO A KEHILLAH

 

This is why there is really no substitute for belonging to a kehillah. Not just a place where one davens and runs to, but rather a true kehillah that grows together under the leadership of a rov. It is only in such an environment that a person can truly find the lifejacket of both spiritual and emotional succor that every human so desperately needs. When you daven together, attend shiurim together and, yes, sit down at a Kiddush together, eating, joking and singing, it brings a tremendous, incalculable boon and richness to one’s life. It forms an anchor that can hold a person firmly in the right place and render him capable of withstanding the vicissitudes of life. It means you belong to something.

 

I recall the words of an acquaintance who related that one of the most horrible days of his life was the night of the sholom zochor that he made for his son. Not only was the attendance relatively sparse, but he realized that even those who came did so to perform a mitzvah, but not because they really knew him well. They either felt obligated to come or they felt that he was a nebach case.

 

The truth, however, is that this person had only himself to blame. He never bothered investing in friendships or attaching himself to a kehillah in a significant way. By the time he realized that it is difficult for a person to live on an island with just his immediate family, it was a bit too late. Later, he got smart and did join a kehillah. Today, one can see in his demeanor that he is a changed person.

 

To be honest, Chazal, in their wisdom, teach us this lesson. The Mishnah in Avos says, “Make for yourself a rov and acquire for yourself a friend.” When it comes to a rov, the Mishnah instructs us to “make one for yourself.” When it comes to a friend, one must see to it that he has meaningful friendships to the extent that he must acquire, buy, and actually invest to ensure that he will be able to get the tremendous returns in gashmiyus and ruchniyus that come along with what might be one of the best investments and acquisitions he ever makes in his life.

 

THE ESSENCE OF KLAL YISROEL

 

We have had some tough times over the past few weeks. There was Sandy, from which many of us are still suffering. There was an early November snowstorm that knocked out power almost immediately after most people got their power back following the hurricane. There has been a war in Eretz Yisroel. Klal Yisroel has suffered much in the past weeks and many are still suffering.

 

Just a tiny observation: All of these tzoros have brought out the best in Klal Yisroel. They so echoed the distinction that Leah Imeinu eloquently expressed in the recent parsha: “Mah bein beni l’ben chomi.” Whereas in some communities destruction and devastation bring about looting and all kinds of other negative and selfish behavior, these difficult times brought out the essence of Klal Yisroel. Klal Yisroel is, in essence, so full of goodness, kindness, empathy and love for one another. The way we helped each other throughout the ordeal, the way we continue to help each other, the way we davened for our brethren in Eretz Yisroel, the closeness that we felt to each other as brothers and sisters going through difficulties together, and the helping hand that we extended showed what we really are: brothers and sisters. When it comes down to the real things in life, we step up to the plate for each other in ways that others can only envy.

 

Often, in these pages, we talk about things that perhaps we can improve upon, both on a personal level and on a communal level. We talk about middos, kinah andsinah. We talk about how our mosdos can perhaps better serve the public. Yes, all these are the truth, but they are not our essence. Our essence is pure goodness, as has been proven over and over again in these times of travail. Or, as the late Rabbi Moshe Sherer zt”l would say in his inimitable way, we are like tea bags: the best flavor comes out when we are in hot water.

 

The resolution to the above dichotomy can be found in the Gemara which states, “The daughters of Yisroel are beautiful; it is only poverty that makes them unappealing.” Klal Yisroel is so beautiful. It is only the lack of resources and the aniyus bedaas, spiritual poverty, that, at times, make us unappealing. It is the financial difficulties that we have with marrying off our children and with keeping our yeshivos and communal institutions afloat that sometimes force us to have to make terribly wrenching decisions in which we wrongly deal with each other in ways that are so unappealing and so incorrect. It is not us, though. Our essence is good. It is our anyius, both spiritual and material, that is the cause of all of this.

 

Hashem, You are Master and Owner of everything. Please remove the poverty that makes us so unappealing, so that our essence will be revealed at all times, not just when we are steeped in hot water.

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