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Friday, 2 October 2015

How Rich are You?

Daf Yomi Nazir 40

A fellow once came to the Maggid of Mezritch and asked, “Rebbe, our Sages instruct that the same way one blesses Heaven for the good, one must bless Heaven for the bad.  How does one do that?’  The Maggid tells him to go and ask his student, Reb Zushe of Anipoli and off the fellow goes.

He arrives in Anipoli and finds the house.  It’s a one-room shack with dirt floors and barely any furniture.  Reb Zushe appears and he poses the question he had asked the Maggid earlier.
“How does one fulfil the dictum of our Sages to bless Heaven for the bad the same way one would bless Heaven for the good?”
Responds Reb Zushe, “Honestly, I have no idea why the Rebbe sent you here.  Baruch Hashem, my life is all good.  I am incredibly blessed!”

We learned in a Mishnah: There are three persons who must shave and whose shaving is a mitzvah – the nazir, the metzora (leper) and the Levites. If any of these shaved without a razor, they have not accomplished anything.
The Gemara asks: I understand this teaching to be true regarding the nazir, for the Torah states, “a razor may not pass over his head” (until he completes his term).  Likewise, regarding the Levites, it states, “they shall pass a razor over all their flesh.”  But how do we derive the obligation of shaving with a razor regarding the metzora?
Indeed, let us inquire: In the cases of the nazir and the Levites, the offerings are the same, no matter how poor they are, whereas the metzora brings his offerings as per his poorness!
Tosfos explains: In the first two cases, there exists a fixed offering whether one is poor or rich.  By contrast, a poor metzora may bring a bird offering instead of the regular sacrifices.

In contemporary parlance, we would probably say that the nazir and Levites bring the same offering, no matter how rich they are.  The Talmud, however, constructs the contrasting offerings of the metzora in terms of poorness.  The offerings are the same, no matter how poor they are.  Why does the Talmud teach the contrast in terms of poorness, as opposed to richness? 

When it comes to material possessions, we shouldn’t be looking at those who have more than us, judging our prosperity relative to theirs.  No, we should always think in terms of rates of poorness – thinking about those who are worse off materially than ourselves.  That’s the right spiritual perspective to maintain.

Wealth is in the hands of Heaven and so there’s no point envying the person who has more than you.  In the Aleinu prayer we acknowledge that G-d is “in the Heaven above and in the earth below.”  There is a famous Chasidic aphorism that plays on those words and suggests that when it comes to Heavenly matters, you should look above.  In other words, you should never be complacent with where you’re at spiritually – you should be looking at people who are doing better than you in the service of Heaven.  That is healthy envy, the jealousy that motivates you to become more connected to the Source of life. 

But when it comes to “the earth” – material wealth, you should look “below,” to those who have less than you.  That will make you happy with your lot, considering how blessed you are compared to most other people on the planet.  Actually, you don’t have to even look to the other ends of the world; you’re probably pretty blessed compared to most people you know!

When you ask yourself, ‘How rich am I?’ you’ll never be content with the answer, because you could always have more.  But when you ask yourself, ‘How poor am I?’ you’re bound to respond, ‘Hey, I’m really not poor at all.  On the contrary, I’m abundantly blessed!  How fortunate I am to be me!  Hashem has been exceedingly kind to me!’

The Almighty has bestowed His blessing upon you.  Start directing your envy towards spiritual goals – they are what’s truly important in life.  May you merit abundant blessing in every part of your life – the spiritual, physical, material, emotional and psychological!  

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