GOOD MORNING! Our 3,300 year old heritage contains tremendous wisdom about life and success in life. One just needs to look and to take it to heart. Pirkei Avot is a compendium of Jewish wisdom redacted 2,000 years ago; it is often found at the back of traditional prayer books -- or it's available by itself with a commentary from your local Jewish bookstore or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242. (I recommend the Kahati pocket edition or the 3 volume Artscroll edition.) In it, the question is posed and answered by Ben Zoma: "Who is the wise man? He who learns from every person" (Chapter 4:1).
Why learn from all people? No one lives long enough to make all the mistakes himself! Whatever one wishes to accomplish in life, it is better to build upon the knowledge, experience and wisdom of those who preceded us.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder and the head of the international Aish HaTorah educational organization, often says, "A fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others." I once asked Rabbi Weinberg, "And what if a person doesn't learn from his own mistakes?" Rabbi Weinberg responded, "That person isn't alive!" To live is to grow.
So, I'd like to share a story with you. In 1973 I first entered Yeshiva (an academy for learning Torah wisdom). Three months later I visited my hometown, Portland, Oregon. While there I decided to ease the financial straits of the Yeshiva by fundraising. One day after morning services at Congregation Sharei Torah, Rabbi Yona Geller directed me to Dr. Rodney Cox as a person who would be fascinated about my transition in becoming a Torah observant Jew and the Yeshiva that intrigued me to learn about my heritage. He also mentioned that Rodney had a very kind heart who actually gives generously. (Some people have very deep pockets, but very short arms...)
After telling my story, I asked Rodney if he would like to have the pleasure of donating to an organization which is strengthening the Jewish people by giving Jews from little or no background an opportunity to learn about their heritage? "Sure," says Rodney, "how much would you like?"
I was stunned. No one had ever asked me that question before. I stuttered a reply, "$18? $36?". And Rodney starts laughing -- a deeply amused, rolling laughter. After what seemed to be an eternity, but was probably only two minutes, I asked, "Did I say something funny?"
Rodney responds, "For sure. If a person asks you how much you want, you should say $5,000 or $10,000!" And I ask, "And if I asked for $10,000 you would have given it?" Replies Rodney, "Without a doubt. But now you'll get $36 and a lesson for life that you won't forget!"
Now, fast-forward 25 years. I am now a rabbi traveling the world raising funds for Aish HaTorah. I am talking with one of the wealthiest Jews in a city I was visiting in what is absolutely the worst fundraising meeting I have ever had. I cannot find anything that sparks the interest of the gentleman. After an hour, the man says, "Well, I really appreciate your visit, but I am not really interested. My wife loves your Shabbat Shalom Fax, but I don't read it. I'd like to give something, but I have other priorities. I don't consider myself that Jewish, but Aish is succeeding in helping Jews who want to learn. I am not that involved Jewishly, but the Jewish people are important." Back and forth he went. After the third repetition I was starting to get mesmerized, so I broke in, "You mentioned that you would like to make a gift. What would be your pleasure?"
And now shades of deja vu, he asks me, "How much do you want?" Immediately I am thrown back to my conversation with Rodney Cox, but this time I am ready! "Well, $10,000 would be significant, but not excessive." And the man replies, "Yes, that sounds good" and he then takes out his checkbook and writes the check.
Who is the wise man? He who learns from all people. Rodney Cox taught me a lot and I am grateful. I know that every one of my readers is asking the same question, "So, nu? Did you ever go back to Dr. Cox?" The answer is yes. Years later I returned to seek his financial support. I related the story and asked him if he remembered it. He answers, "Of course!" And I respond, "Good. I have come to ask you to dedicate the Aish HaTorah building overlooking the Western Wall for 9 million dollars." Rodney gives me his world-famous laugh and says, "Boy, you sure learned that lesson well!" And no, he did not dedicate that building overlooking the Wall, but he made a handsome contribution.
(By the way, if you are interested in being remembered for posterity --or honoring your parents -- at the heart of the Jewish people overlooking the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, you may dedicate our second building, The Aish HaTorah World Center, for $30 million. Call me at 305-535-2474.)
Portion of the Week
The story of one righteous man in an evil generation. The Almighty commands Noah to build the ark on a hill far from the water. He built it over a period of 120 years. People deride Noah and ask him, "Why are you building a boat on a hill?" Noah explains that there will be a flood if people do not correct their ways (according to the comedian Bill Cosby, Noah would ask "How well can you tread water?"). We see from this the patience of the Almighty for people to correct their ways and the genius of arousing people's curiosity so that they will ask a question and hopefully hear the answer.
The generation does not do Teshuva, returning from their evil ways, and God brings a flood for 40 days. The water covers the earth for 150 days. The Almighty makes a covenant and makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant that He will never destroy all of life again by water (hence, James Baldwin's book, The Fire Next Time). When one sees a rainbow it is an omen to do Teshuva - to recognize the mistakes you are making in life, regret them, correct them/make restitution, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged as well as from the Almighty.
Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk and then occurs the mysterious incident in the tent after which Noah curses his grandson Canaan. The Torah portion concludes with the story of the Tower of Babel and then a genealogy from Shem to Abram.
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states, "And Noah, man of the earth, profaned himself and planted a vineyard" (Genesis 9:20). Previously the Torah called Noah "a righteous man." What happened?
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz comments that by planting the vineyard first, Noah revealed his essence. He should have planted more essential produce first. His choice of priorities lowered his previous spiritual level.
Whenever you have a number of things to choose from, note what you choose first. This is a powerful tool to gain greater self-awareness. Regardless of your present level, strive to build up such a love for doing good that it will be first on your list of things to do!
CANDLE LIGHTING - October 19:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 5:22 Hong Kong 5:37 Honolulu 5:46
J'Burg 5:58 London 5:41 Los Angeles 5:56
Melbourne 6:23 Miami 6:32 Moscow 5:02
New York 5:52 Singapore 6:34
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
something you don't get
until just after you need it.