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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Build and beautify the world!

Daf Yomi Nazir 26

When King Herod set about expanding and refurbishing the Second Temple, there was a fellow by the name of Nikanor who stepped forward to donate the gates of the Temple.  Originally from Egypt, he travelled back to Alexandria and commissioned the finest craftsmen to design the Temple gates.  Once completed, he loaded them onto a boat and set sail for Israel.  En route, however, a storm broke out and they decided to throw the first of the heavy gates overboard, to avoid the capsizing of the ship.

They were about to throw the second gate overboard when Nikanor cried out, ‘If you discard my gate, I go with it!’  At that point the storm subsided, but Nikanor was devastated that he would be coming home with only half the project.  Can you imagine his shock when, just as they were disembarking in Acco, he noticed his gate miraculously floating into the port?!  The gates were fastened to the Temple entrance and when the various Temple accoutrements were later upgraded to gold, they kept Nikanor’s gates in remembrance of the awesome miracle that brought them to Zion! 

Mishna: If a woman took a nazirite vow and designated her animal for the sacrifice, and subsequently her husband annulled the vow, her chatas sacrifice is left to die, but the olah sacrifice may still be offered as an olah, and the shelamim may be offered as a shlamim.  If she designated money to purchase the animals, they fall to charity.  But if she specified which monies were to be used to purchase which sacrifices, the money for the chatas must be thrown into the Dead Sea.

Rav Nachman taught: That which an animal is like specified funds (in that it must be left to die, just like the funds must be thrown into the sea) is only concerning a complete animal.  A blemished animal, however, is like unspecified funds (and is redeemed for cash).  But bars of silver are not considered like cash. 
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak taught: Even bars of silver are considered like cash.  But not a stack of building blocks.

What is it about bars of silver and building blocks that make them unlike cash?  Cash on its own is meaningless.  How much money a person has in their bank account is really irrelevant.  What matters is what they do with that money.

Judaism doesn’t shun material wealth.  Our patriarchs and matriarchs were incredibly prosperous.  Our Sages tell us that the poorest person who left Egypt had no less than ninety donkeys laden with gold, silver, and precious jewels!  But what could you do with all that money in the desert?  They had all the money in the world but it was worthless – there were no shops to buy anything!  In fact, they didn’t even need to buy anything – their bread came from heaven and their clothes grew and remained ever-fresh upon them!

That means that money alone is a useless judge of self-worth.  It’s what you do with the money that counts.  You were placed on this earth to make the world a better place.  You are here to build the world and enhance it.  That twofold mission is symbolized by the bars of silver and the building blocks.  They’re not money.  You can’t cash those in.  They’re worth so much more than money. 

Building blocks represent the task of building the world.  We are enjoined to build strong families, institutions and societies.  Bars of silver represent the beautification of the world that we are tasked with.  The Almighty doesn’t just want big institutions; He desires beautiful families, institutions and societies.  You can’t buy that.  It takes dedication and hard work.

We have no idea how much Nikanor was worth.  That information has long since disappeared into the annals of history.  What do we know about him?  That he was a builder.  That he was a beautifier.  That a piece of the Temple was named for him, such was his generous, beautiful contribution.

Your net worth is not determined by the size of your bank account.  Money comes and goes.  You are worth as much as you have invested in building and beautifying the world around you.  Nobody can ever take that away from you.  The investment is forever.   May you merit being forever remembered as a builder and a beautifier!  

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