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Monday, 13 April 2015

How to win the race of life

Daf Yomi Kesubos 66

Our shul is over a hundred years old but daily minyan is still a struggle.  I’ve tried every trick in the book to make it happen, but it still seems to be an uphill battle.  Texting generally seems to work but people will often only see my SMS hours later.
“Rabbi, did you get the minyan?” they’ll ask.
And my standard answer is, “We ALWAYS get it . . . eventually!”

Abe recently retired and so I thought he might be amenable to coming to minyan more regularly.
“Abe, how about you start coming every morning?” I asked him.
“Oh, Rabbi,” he replied, “Why don’t you ask other people?  I already come twice a week.  I’m doing much better than most of the congregation!”

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai was once leaving Jerusalem on a donkey, followed by his students.  He noticed a young maiden who was sifting barley from the local Arabs’ animals’ manure.  
As soon as she saw him, she covered her hair, rose before him and said, “Rebbe, provide for me!”
“Whose daughter are you?” he responded.
“My father was Nakdimon ben Gurion,” was her reply.
Surprised, he asked her, “What happened to your father’s wealth?”
“Tis not for naught that they recite the following in Jerusalem,” said the maiden, “The salt of money is kindness.”  (Rashi explains: If you want to maintain your wealth, you must be charitable.)

The Gemara asks:  But was Nakdimon ben Gurion not charitable?  Indeed it was taught in a Beraisa: They said about Nakdimon ben Gurion that when he left home for the study hall, they would roll out the red carpet.  And poor people would follow him and then they were able to roll it up and gather it for themselves!
The Gemara answers: He did it for his own honour. Or perhaps he did not give as much as he could have, as they say, ‘According to the strength of the camel is the load.’

Many people’s first question when asked for tzedakah contributions is: What are other people giving?   And they are proud if they are able to match other top givers.  Nakdimon ben Gurion not only matched other top givers, but he was always on the top of the synagogue capital campaign list.  But that wasn’t good enough – true, he was the top giver, but even those magnificent contributions were just a drop in the bucket for him.   And when he gave, he always had the honour of the top spot, without ever feeling the pinch of giving till it hurts.

What do they mean when they say, ‘According to the strength of the camel is the load’?  Nakdimon compared himself to other givers.  He took pride in the fact that he was the biggest contributor.  But he had much more and so he should have given much more.  In life, there is only one person in your race: You.  Once you start comparing yourself to others, you’ve gone to run a different race than G-d intended you to run.   One hundred dollars that your neighbour gives to the campaign may be a more generous contribution than your ten thousand dollars.  It all depends how much it hurts and how much you had to struggle with your inclination to open your wallet.

And the same is true of all mitzvos.   Never compare yourself to anyone else.  It doesn’t matter how often they’re attending the daily minyan; they’re not running your race.  It doesn’t matter how many Shabbos guests they’re inviting; they’re not running your race.

The great Chasidic master, Reb Zushe of Anipolye, famously related: After 120, when I reach the Heavenly court, they won’t ask me ‘Why weren’t you as great as Avraham Avinu? Why weren’t you as great as Moshe Rabbeinu?’  No, they will ask me, ‘Were you as great as Zushe had the potential to be?’

Your neighbour’s level of religious commitment doesn’t make any difference to your service of Heaven.  There is only one person running your race: You.   And only you know if you’re running your best race.  May you merit never looking over your shoulder at anyone else, and running your best race through life!