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"You Get What You Pay For!"

01/04/2021 02:29:23 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In the first parashah of the year of 2021, Parashat VaYechi, we find the following verses which become the basis for the blessing of one’s sons on Friday night after returning home from Synagogue: “And he [Ya’akov] blessed them on that day saying, ‘With you shall Yisrael bless saying, “May G-d make you like Ephrayim and Menasheh;”’ and he placed Ephrayim before Menasheh.” (B’reisheet 48:20) The fact is that Menasheh as firstborn should have been placed first.  In ancient Middle Eastern tradition, the firstborn son enjoyed a number of advantages (e.g.- a double portion in the inheritance of his father’s estate).  Our Tradition teaches that the reason Ephrayim was placed before Menasheh was due to the fact that Ephrayim had spent his time in Goshen learning Torah under the tutelage of his grandfather Ya’akov.  Because of this, he surpassed his older brother on a spiritual level thus earning to be placed first.  What this passage teaches us is that status (i.e.-in this case, being firstborn) guarantees nothing.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once scolded his disciples and followers by saying the following: “Your problem is that you think the righteous attain greatness merely because they have a very great soul.  This is absolutely wrong!  Any person can attain my levels and become just like me.  All that it takes is true devotion and effort.” (Sichot HaRan, 165) What Rebbe Nachman is saying is that no one can complain that their Judaism is weak because they are not the son or daughter of a Talmudic scholar.  To be a spiritually strong Jew takes dedication and perseverance.  Perhaps this can be illustrated by the following Chasidic parable:

            In recognition of their loyalty, two peasants received an invitation to visit the Czar.  Both were directed to arrive at the palace within seven days.  Each lived 100 kilometers from the palace, yet one had a horse-drawn wagon while the other had neither a wagon nor a horse.  He would have to walk.

            The “pedestrian peasant” knew that he had no time to waste if he wanted arrive at the palace on time.  He calculated that at 20 kilometers per day, he could make the journey in 5 days leaving him the rest of the time to prepare himself for the biggest day in his life: a personal appearance with the Czar.  So, he packed a small rucksack with his best clothes and some bread and water for the journey and immediately set out on his way.  He managed to travel more than 20 kilometers each day reaching the capital city in 4 days.  On the day of his appointment, he arrived at the palace early, preferring to wait several hours for the Czar rather than making the Czar wait even a half minute for him.  He was not only well rested and well dressed, he had even made a complete tour of the capital city.  The Czar was immensely impressed with this simple but devoted peasant who had made the entire journey from his village to the palace on foot.  He granted the pedestrian peasant priceless gifts of gold and special royal privileges.

            The peasant with the horse-drawn wagon, on the other hand, figured that he had plenty of time to reach the Czar’s palace.  He estimated that his horse could cover an easy 50 kilometers per day.  Because of this estimate, he came to the conclusion that 2 days would give him adequate enough time to reach the palace.  Why should he rush?  4 days after receiving the invitation, a mere 3 days before the expected appointment with the Czar, the “wagon-driving peasant” left his home.  About 30 kilometers down the road, one of the wagon wheels broke three spokes.  Luckily, he had a spare wagon wheel, but it took him an entire half day to change the wheel.  By the time he had finished changing the wheel, it was night time and a bitter cold had descended.  He was forced to spend the night at a local inn, one that charged him much more than he was able to afford.  And yet, still undismayed, he slept late the next morning thinking that he could cover the remaining 70 kilometers in the remaining 2 days without any problems.  He proceeded to eat a lengthy breakfast, paid the innkeeper, and went outside to discover that his horse and wagon had been stolen.  Having no other choice, he walked and ran the remaining 70 kilometers both day and night finally reaching the palace at the very last minute.  He was out of breath, fatigued, disheveled, and disoriented.  Needless to say, the Czar was thoroughly disgusted by this wagon-driving peasant who did not have enough respect to bathe and change his clothes and properly present himself to his monarch.  The Czar’s guards sent him packing.

The pedestrian peasant of the parable symbolizes a person who is born into a family that does not have the advantages of a blue-blooded lineage.  Nevertheless, with effort and dedication and foresight, the pedestrian peasant surpassed the wagon-driving peasant who had more advantages than did he.  In the end, the wagon-driving peasant’s advantages meant nothing.  The ultimate deciding factors were the effort and devotion expended by the pedestrian peasant.

And so it is with Am Yisrael (the People Israel).  Our sons are blessed to be like Ephrayim and Menasheh in order to show our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren that in order to “get something out of” Judaism, we must put something into it first.  We must be like Ephrayim putting dedication and hard work into being members of HaShem’s “Chosen People,” having been chosen to spread the Light of Torah throughout the world.  It is then that we will receive the bountiful blessings promised to us by Hashem.  May we not fail in our efforts!    


Sun, March 7 2021 23 Adar 5781