Chayei Sarah(Genesis 23:1-25:18)
Chayei Sarah 5773
GOOD MORNING! Would you have been taken in by Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme -- and if you recognized something funny was going on, would you have reported it? South Florida had its own Ponzi schemer, Scott Rothstein, and Alan Sakowitz, a local real estate attorney was not taken in by it and did turn him in to the FBI. His book Miles Away ... Worlds Apart provides a fascinating psychological and philosophical insights into why people fall for Ponzi schemes and why he alerted the authorities. He also compares the lifestyle and values of Scott Rothstein's world to that of North Miami Beach, his kindness-filled, Torah observant community.
Perhaps believing Bernie Madoff's 11% returns on one's money vs. 5% return by other money managers is easy compared to buying in to Scott Rothstein's returns of 100 - 200% percent per annum with minimal risk on buying legal settlements. Ostensibly, clients wanted all of the money at once and were willing to take a 36% discount rather than wait for one month to receive the first payment and to receive the rest over a period of 3 to 10 months. For example, one would give Mr. Rothstein $660,000 to buy a settlement and then receive $900,000 over a period of 3 months. To make the "investment" more unbelievable, supposedly Scott Rothstein's firm settled 3,000 cases a year -- all handled solely by Scott Rothstein ... and virtually all of them out of court (hence, no public records to check). From the 3,000 cases, 1,000 desired immediate cash rather than wait the month.
How could a person believe such returns could be true? Probably every one of our parents taught us, "If it's too good to be true, it's too good to be true." Perhaps the bottom line is that we believe what we want to believe -- and our minds massage the facts to fit into our desired conclusions. A con man doesn't con you, he helps you con yourself. We all would love to believe that our wildest dreams will come true and that we have come across the once in a lifetime incredible investment that is real.
Mr. Sakowitz underscores this idea in his book with a lesson learned from the Torah. The first six plagues that were inflicted upon the Egyptians were unavoidable. However, the seventh plague, hail, came with a public announcement that the Egyptians could stay inside and bring their animals inside to avoid death and destruction. Yet, the Egyptians did not bring their animals inside! Why?
Answers the Steipler Rav, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, that once a person makes up his mind, he will not allow the facts to change his decision. A person will simply ignore any facts that disprove or draw into question his decision.
Whereas Scott Rothstein was caught up in a flashy lifestyle with over 20 cars (including 2 Bugattis worth over $1.6 million each), homes, businesses, hobnobbing with politicians and entertainment personalities, extravagant and flashy demonstrations of charity -- he lied, cheated and stole from his closest "friends" without compunction.
In juxtaposition to Rothstein's behavior, Mr. Sakowitz brings wonderful stories of kindness and compassion from his own community. The story that touched me the most was about his daughter, Nechama, hearing that her teacher was in remission and no longer needed prayers for his recovery. Nechama responded nonchalantly, "Tonight I can sleep on a pillow." Alan asked, "What? I don't get the connection." Nechama replied, "No, nothing" and walked out of the room.
Her sisters quickly explained that when her teacher had been diagnosed, Nechama lay in bed thinking how difficult it must be for her teacher to fall asleep while she easily falls asleep. Nechama thought to herself, "How can I just go to sleep while my teacher is suffering so? I need to pray for him and I need to feel his pain so I can properly pray for him." She resolved to sleep without a pillow, except for Shabbat and holidays, until her teacher recovered.
Our lives are made up of our choices. We are taught by our parents, we are impacted by our community and friends, we are affected by our situations and circumstances. However, in the end it is our choices that determine who we are. Reading Miles Away ... Worlds Apart can provide valuable insights into the values that our Torah teaches regarding making ethical choices. The last line of the book says a lot: A life well lived is measured by what one gives, not by what one gets.
However, it might be possible to measure Scott Rothstein's life -- so far -- by what he got ... a 50 year sentence for his 1.5 billion dollar Ponzi scheme.
Torah Portion of the Week
Sarah dies at the age of 127. Avraham purchases a burial place for her in Hebron in the cave of Ma'arat HaMachpela. Avraham sends his servant, Eliezer, back to the "old country," his birthplace Charan, to find a wife for Yitzhak (Isaac). Eliezer makes what appear to be very strange conditions for the matrimonial candidate to fulfill in order to qualify for Yitzhak. Rivka (Rebecca) unknowingly meets the conditions. Eliezer succeeds in getting familial approval, though they were not too keen about Rivka leaving her native land.
Avraham marries Keturah and fathers six more sons. He sends them east (with the secrets of mysticism) before he dies at 175. Yitzhak and Ishmael bury Avraham near Sarah in the Ma'arat HaMachpela, the cave Avraham purchased in Hebron to bury Sarah. The portion ends with the listing of Ishmael's 12 sons and Ishmael dying at age 137.
* * *
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Avraham sends his servant, Eliezer, to bring back a bride for his son Isaac from "the old country". Eliezer prays for Divine guidance and then sees Rivkah. The Torah states:
"And the servant ran to meet her, and said: 'Give me a little water from your pitcher to drink." (Genesis 24:17)
The Midrash cited by Rashi states that Eliezer ran because he saw the water from the well miraculously rise to meet Rivkah. Although Eliezer witnessed this event, he did not consider it sufficient evidence to prove that she was worthy to be Isaac's wife. A test of her eagerness to do chesed (kindness) was still necessary. From her we see that even if a person is worthy of having miracles performed on his behalf, he is not deemed truly worthy unless he performs acts of chesed. (Heard from Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rosh Hayeshiva of Brisk in Jerusalem)
* * *
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And when she (Rivka) had finished giving him (Eliezer) drink, she said, 'I will also draw water for your camels until they will have finished drinking" (Genesis 24:19).
Why did Rivka wait until Eliezer finished drinking to tell him of her intentions to also water the camels?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that had Rivka announced all of her intentions immediately, she would have been like a conceited gossip who likes to make big talk about her good deeds. It would have been immodest and lacking in the trait so well known to Avraham of say little and do much. When the three strangers appeared to Avraham, he said to them that he would fetch a morsel of bread. However, the Torah tells us that Avraham then brought meat and cakes for his guests.
We should follow the examples of Avraham and Rivkah not to needlessly boast about our plans to do good deeds.
CANDLE LIGHTING - November 9
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Guatemala 5:13 - Hong Kong 5:24 - Honolulu 5:33
J'Burg 6:11 - London 4:02 - Los Angeles 4:35
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New York 4:25 - Singapore 6:32 - Toronto 4:40
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
I have always wanted to be somebody,
but I see now I should have been more specific
-- Lily Tomlin
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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