Friday, November 18, 2011

Parshas Chaye Sara

SARA LIVED 100 AND 20 AND 7 YEARS. What is this, a high school term paper that needs 800 words so we're spreading them out as much as we can? No, actually, this is a quote from the Torah, and there are no mistakes or shortcuts in there. RASHI says the numbers were written out individually for a reason. When Sara was 100, she was likened to a 20 year old in aveiros, since a 20 year old has only just begun to be punishable b'yidai shomayim. When she was 20, she was like a 7 year old in beauty. No acne, no wrinkles, no badly applied make-up. And then RASHI adds: KULAN SHAVIN L'TOVA, THEY ARE ALL EQUAL TO GOOD.
Once, Rabbi Akiva was giving a drasha to his students, when he noticed they started dozing off...zzzzzzzz, so he wanted to wake them up somehow. So some ppl think that's what tuna cans were created for... but Rabbi Akiva had a different method- a more gentle approach to arouse his students. He decided to share a midrash with them.
Beraishis Rabba. What did Esther Hamalka see when she ruled over 127 nations? She saw herself as the daughter of Sara Imainu, that since Sara lived 127 years, she, Esther, was zocheh to rule over 127 nations.
Ok so on a scale of 1-10, which wake-up method is more effective, throwing tuna cans, or teaching this midrash? Why on earth did Rabbi Akiva feel that this midrash would revive his sleeping beauties?
The holy Chasam Sofer explains that yes, Esther was zocheh to rule the 127 nations in the zchus of the tzadekes, Sara, who lived a life of holiness for 127 years. But, the first few years of Sara's existence, she didnt serve Hashem properly, because she didnt have enough daas to know how to. She was too young. So, what zchus does Esther have to earn the benefit of the years that Sara wasn't doing proper avodas Hashem?
In the hesped after Sara's death, Avraham recited the meaningful poem of eishes chayil , indicating that she had been a complete and virtuous woman. One of the pssukim in the poem, states: VATAKAM BEOD LAILA VATITAIN TEREF L'BAISA VICHOK L'NAAROSEHA, AND SHE AWOKE WHILE IT WAS STILL NIGHT, AND SHE GAVE OUT FOOD TO HER HOUSEHOLD AND TO HER MAIDS.                   
A few years ago I had to call a certain woman to discuss something with her. Now, this organized, efficient, determined lady emerges from her slumber at 4 in the AM every single day. Even my alarm clock can't get up at that insane hour. So, there I was, proud to have gotten up at 8:00 to dial her number. Her "hello" was the most energetic one Ive ever heard, which made it rather uncomfortable for me when, in attempt to sound just as cheerful, an awful, off tune croak emerged from somewhere deep inside of me, exposing my darkest secret of having been in bed till 30 seconds before that. Well, we arranged for a meeting which was task # 8 for her that day, and I called it for 11, to make sure I had enough time to get dressed and get my house ready. Obviously that didnt leave me adequate time to eat anything, so I quickly ended our meeting at 12 pm, so that I can eat my breakfast, and so that she can go home and eat her supper before it got cold.
Why would someone choose to lose their precious sleep?
Do you know anyone who shows up at work every morning extra early and stays a few hours overtime afterward... without a gun to their head? I know someone who does. Why would someone choose to overwork?
Because these people are determined to accomplish something. Whether it's a clean home with happy children and an organized routine, or someone wants extra benefits or pay, these people understand that if you GIVE overtime, you GET overtime.
When one has a specific goal to reach, or a certain task to accomplish, the only way to attain it is by exerting themselves a bit, and putting in that extra effort. We all want to do mitzvos as often as possible, but how many of them pass us by, sticking out their tongues and waving ... mitzvos dont always come knocking at the door, but when they do, many times we're plugged in to our iPods and dont hear them knocking. Opportunities don't usually hang around waiting for us to catch them. Somehow, we seem to notice them more upon leaving, than coming.
But this only happens when being PASSIVE. Judaism is about being ACTIVE. Yeah, it's nice to get through the day just doing what we're supposed to do, without any extras, but then the results of our accomplishments will be standard, without the extras, too.
Sara got up extra early every morning, without being told to. Noone held an arrow to her head. She was active. She was searching for opportunities to take better care of her family and guests. She wanted extra time to work on her avodas Hashem. If you put in overtime, you get paid overtime.
All her years of rising before dawn, of being awake when it was time to sleep, accumulated to equal those few years when she was too young to be a proper ovedes Hashem. So on her paycheck, she had a complete 127 years of holiness. She had been considered awake when she was really sleeping. And that's why RASHI ends off with the words THEY WERE ALL EQUAL TO GOOD. She worked overtime, and got her just reward.
Do we now understand why Rabbi Akiva used that midrash to awaken his class? It was a delicate form of rebuking them. "Sara was awake when she should have been sleeping, and you guys are sleeping when you should be awake!"
Being PASSIVE allows for precious, personal opportunities to be lost forever and ever. It's a life of working and receiving undertime. Being ACTIVE allows for incredible accomplishment and a life of working and receiving overtime.
Ok, the Dvar Torah's over now, you can wake up.

Parshas Vayera

Recently, I was shopping in a department store in New york. In the 'beauty section' someone who likely doesn't consider herself much of a teacher, taught me a very important lesson. A big, broad African American woman (whose name, mind you, was Shwarma) was looking at the perfumes and body lotions, when her 8 year old son (whose name was probably Aish-tanor) yelled excitedly, "hey, mom! look, they got chocolate scented body lotion and perfume- why don't you get 'em chocolate smelling stuff?" To which she wisely responded, "sonny, I like to eat chocolate, I don't like to wear chocolate".
Avraham Avinu experienced and overcame ten difficult tests in his lifetime. This is in addition to all the regular, daily hardships that all human beings face. If he had only passed nine, according to chaza"l, he would've come up short in his personal balance.
Ok, let's try to understand all of this.
At the time of the tenth nisayon, personal test, he was 137 years old, (ad meah v'esrim). What had he accomplished so far in his lifetime?
He founded Monotheism, he created a religion, he fought off the whole world- and won, he was mekarev everyone who passed his way, he revolutionized the world... just to name a few. How many of us successfully finish even one of these projects? How many of us even start?? And yet, if he had stopped at the age of 137 and not passed his last test he would not have fulfilled his mission in this world!!
By the akeida, the tenth test, an angel called out from heaven "Avraham Avraham".
The Yalkut Shimoni explains what the repetition of the name is for. He says that there are two Avraham's. Avraham l'eila and Avraham l'sata. A heavenly Avraham and an earthly Avraham.
Finally, at the age of 137, the angel was informing him that the earthly Avraham matched the heavenly Avraham, and that he has fulfilled his mission in life.
When a child is born, he's created with two images. An earthly image, the person we see and know, and a heavenly image-  the person we can become. Our goal in life is to get these two images to meet and match.
OK, got it. Now where and how do I begin?
There's a famous chaza"l: Kol Hamekayem nefesh achas b'Yisrael, k'eelu kiyam olam malei, whoever saves or stabilizes one soul in Yisrael, it's like he has saved the whole world.
What is this, a 'yo mama' joke? Yo mama's so big that if you save her it's like saving the whole world??
There hasta be a deeper meaning to this, other than it just being poetic and emotional.
Each person is his own 'olam', his own inner world.  This world refers to each individuals unique talents, personality, and spiritual inclinations.  It's a complex universe in there. It's sensitive, fragile, vulnerable and powerful. It's made up of emotional, physiological, physical, psychological, and other such elements all ending in 'al'.
These qualities are inborn and natural.
I once heard Rabbi Leib Keleman explain the two types of personality traits each person owns:
A- Moral / Immoral traits.
B- Amoral traits.
The 'A' category are things in our character that are changeable. For example: A person can increase their potential for altruism, kindness, patience...and a person can uproot traits like selfishness, cruelty, anger...
The 'B' category are things that are immutable. For example: Artistic or mathematical inclinations. They cannot change. Although we can recognize and channel whatever artistic potential that is within us, we cannot become something or someone that we're not.
A few months ago I bought a bottle of shampoo, here in Mexico. It didn't take too long to realize that the bottle was not waterproof. Every time it gets wet all the red and blue ink goes running down the sides and into the users fingernails. I can no longer read the company of the shampoo, or the directions. I hope I'm using it right. Now why would someone make a bottle of shampoo in a container that's allergic to water?? (Maybe because a waterpfroof bottle of shampoo isn't necessary in a country where majority of the population doesn't have running water.)
That container should've been used for cookies. Not for shampoo.
There is a significant something that each person was created for, and the way to success is to use the tools that we have, and not try to be someone else by using tools that we don't have.
Trying to be someone or something we're not, instead of focusing on our own qualities is the greatest recipe for failure. 
All the traits we were given can be geared toward the good, or the bad. Bad ones can be replaced by good ones, and immutable ones can be directed and developed.
Example 'A': Selfishness can be turned to altruism. Anger, to patience, and cruelty to kindness.
Example 'B': A person has a tendency to bloodshed... he can either become a murderer... or a doctor. Or a shochet. Or a mohel.
A person born with hyperactivity.... can either be very destructive, or he can be a highly productive individual. 
A person's traits and how he utilizes them constitute his "world", and bears witness in the next world as to how he realized his potential and individual talent.
This is man's obligation... and according the Mesilas Yesharim, his mission in life.
This is the only way for his two images to become one.
Now we might understand why the famous song-- I mean mishne -- says: Kol Yisrael yaish lahem chelek... L'olam habah... everyone in Yisrael has a portion TOWARD the world to come...
Should'nt it say "in" the world to come? (B'olam habah?)
No. Because although we each have a portion, it's not a preexisting place sitting and waiting for you. You have to create it for yourself  depending how you live in this world. We gain Olam Habah by working towards it. By recognizing our own inner world and working until our two worlds meet.
That's what happened with Avraham Avinu. Yes, he accomplished a whole lot in his life. But sometimes, we not only have to focus on what we've done... but also on what we haven't done. Cuz maybe there are some more of our talents that need to be utilized. 
So Shwarma was right. (Remember her?) She told Aish- tanor that chocolate is for eating and not for wearing.
We each have a special purpose in this world. We can each accomplish something that no one else can do. We are obligated to work toward it by understanding who we are and not by trying to be someone we're not.