Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion’s guest room. Instead the angels were given a space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it.
Randy Wagner might have seemed crazy – but he knew what he was doing!
Can you imagine what life was like during the Generation of the Flood? People were going about life as usual, while a lone man spent a year building a massive ark. People would walk by and laugh, “What are you doing Noach?” they would ask. And Noach would tell them, “I’m building an ark. A flood will be coming soon and it will destroy the entire world!”
I often become startled – if not embarrassed when I find myself around those who hate to give. Pirkei Avot 5:13 teaches us that there are four types of givers. There is one who wishes to give but that others should not. He begrudges others! There is one who believes that others should give, but that he does not have to. He begrudges himself! There is one who gives and believes that others should give too. He is a Chassid (pious person)! Finally there is one who believes that he does not have to give, nor should others. He is wicked! When I find a situation of someone asking for help (especially a person dressed in rags – God forbid) other than considering my own responsibility to give, I find myself reciting this Mishnah. Indeed, the Mishnah is telling us the truth!
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.
Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I‘m looking for a few days’ work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?”
“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm.
“That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother! Last week there was a meadow between us. He recently took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence an 8-foot fence — so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.”
The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”
The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day — measuring, sawing and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.
The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all.
It was a bridge… a bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all! And the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward them, his hand outstretched..
“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”
The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.
“No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.
“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
Parshat Balak tells us the story about a king ready to destroy the Jewish people. His reasoning – without any provocation or cause – based on made-up images that perhaps only a lunatic could consider. Having seen that Bnei Yisrael were successful in destroying the two kings – Sichon and Og, he imagined that he was next in line. His plan – to hire a magician to curse the Jewish people into oblivion.
The wisest of all men – King Solomon, teaches in his work Mishlei (Proverbs 13:12), “Hope deferred (a drawn out hope) makes the heart sick, but a desire that is realised is a tree of life!” Rashi explains this to refer to to someone who trusts in his friend to help him – but he does not; but when a desire is realised, it is like a tree of life – this refers to God who awaits for the Jewish people to return to Him (through the observance of mitzvot, the study of Torah, acts of goodness and kindness to others etc.) but they don’t return; in the end it brings them to a sickness of the heart; but when His desire is fulfilled, then it is like a tree of life to them!
I am constantly inspired by seeing how others have reached their own success in life. To be sure, success does not equal the dollar amount showing in a bank account. Success can be anything one aspires to in one’s life. Sometimes – for me, success is completing studying a Torah book. When I manage to work through a volume of hundreds of pages in length, it brings me a great sense of satisfaction. I’ve done it! One day – I am at the beginning of the book, unable to imagine ever getting through such a thick work! Weeks or months later – I turn around and say that I have actually done it! Now… I must find the means and time to learn it a second time!
Rabbi Abahu in MasechetBerachot 34b teaches that, “In a place that BaaleiTeshuvah (those who repent) stand, Tzaddikim (righteous people) do not stand.” Such does the Rambam (1135-1204) rule in the Laws of Repentance 7:4.
The righteous individual is one who never sins. He is a master of his evil inclination in every sense of the word. The Baal Teshuvah, however, is one who stumbles through life. His life is filled with highs and lows. One moment he finds himself praying to God with fiery flames of emotion, and the next moment he finds himself in a web of misconduct. One moment he feels he can do everything for the sake of God – and the next, he finds himself in a place rebelling against everything good! He can barely imagine how he ever got there! Who would we ever imagine to be the greater of the two? Yet clearly, the law states that the righteous person – the Tzaddik – cannot stand in the place where the Baal Teshuvah stands. Apparently the Baal Teshuvah’s level is higher. He reaches to places where the Tzaddik will never reach. As the day of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – approaches, how best can we understand this powerful teaching of Rabbi Abahu?