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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Without you the transmission would fail

Daf Yomi Nazir 56

In 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the surface of the moon.  His famous line, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” will be forever etched in our minds.  Did you know that at the time, the Apollo program employed over 400,000 people?  It took that many people working behind the scenes – from rocket engineers to tech support to scientists to office workers and everyone between – to put a man on the moon!

Let me tell you about Sally Jones.  Sally graduated from Houston Community College in 1968 and after a few months of searching finally landed a job at NASA.  She wasn’t thrilled with her job, but at least she had something.  It was really nothing more than an entry level bottom-of-the-ladder position.  Most of the time she found herself filing; some days she thought of herself as a glorified coffee barista, such was the extent of her daily tasks.  She would go to work each morning dreading her day – after three years of college, she was making coffee?  Was this all her life had amounted to? 

Any teaching transmitted via a triple chain, we mention the first and last, but need not mention the middleman.
‘Rashi’ explains: Let’s say you have a tradition whereby a third rabbi heard a teaching from a second rabbi, who heard it from the first rabbi.  It is meritorious to mention a teaching in the name of the one who gave it.  In such a case, one need only mention the first and last and skip the middle rabbi.  For example, if Rabbi Eliezer quoted Rabbi Yehoshua bar Mamal quoting Rabbi Yehoshua, one may offer the teaching in the name of Rabbi Eliezer quoting Rabbi Yehoshua, skipping Rabbi Yehoshua bar Mamal.

Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: We have similarly learned in a Mishna.  Nachum the Scribe said:  I received the following teaching from Rabbi Miyasha, who received it from Aba, who received it from the Pairs of Rabbis, who received it from the Prophets, who received it as Oral Law from Moshe at Sinai.  If one sowed dill or mustard in two or three different places, he is required to leave a corner of each area for the poor.   Note that Joshua and Caleb are not mentioned, despite obviously being part of this chain of teaching, which clearly demonstrates that one may leave out the middleman.

The Torah came into your life via a chain of teachers that links all the way back to Sinai.  But, if every time you repeated a lesson, you had to mention every single one of those teachers and give them credit, you’d be here all day.  And so Rav Nachman avers that you only need mention the teacher from whom you learned the lesson and the original person who gave it over.  You may omit all the people in between.

Does that make them unimportant?  G-d forbid!  As Rav Nachman points out, Joshua and Caleb were integral to the transmission; without them we would not have the Torah!  All the middlemen are of the utmost importance, even if they don’t always get a mention. 

The success of any operation is dependent upon many people in the middle who often don’t get a mention.  Without Sally Jones and the other 400,000 individuals working on the Apollo project, Neil Armstrong could not have made his virgin voyage to the moon.  Sally’s work was not meaningless; if she would only have viewed herself as integral to the moonwalk, she would have run to work each day, knowing how vital a role she was playing in history!  Without her and her colleagues, Neil Armstrong would never have set foot upon our lunar satellite.

Sometimes we find ourselves in roles that are unfulfilling.  We wonder why we are filing documents, filling out forms, entering data, making coffee.  Life seems so dull and we feel so unimportant.  The secret to fulfilment is to start to see the big picture.  Take a step back and recognize that you are one small cog in a much larger machine that is accomplishing great things.  Without you, that machine would cease to function!

Do you change the sheets at the hospital?  Without you, lives would not be saved!  Do you sweep floors at a hotel?  Without you, major executive meetings would not be able to take place, maintaining a thriving economy!  Are you a supermarket check-out professional?  That’s right, I just called you a professional, because without your incredible speed, accuracy and friendliness, we wouldn’t have food to put on the table and we would be standing in line dreading the check-out operator who scowls and moves at a snail’s pace. 

The same is true of your community roles.  It really isn’t fair when the tenth man finally waltzes in for the minyan, twenty minutes late, and we place him on our shoulders and dance around the room for making the minyan.  You’re sitting there thinking, ‘I was the sixth man and I came on time.  What am I, chopped liver?’  Exactly!  Without you and the other eight, there would have be no tenth man!  As the middleman you might get no mention or credit, but you are vital to the minyan’s success!

When you pick up the candy wrapper on the shul floor, you are playing an incredible role in life – you have made the shul great!  But it’s just a little piece of paper – yes, but all those pieces of trash add up.  Without every individual doing their part, the shul would be unimpressive indeed – from the program volunteers, to the board members, to the fundraisers, to the candy-wrapper-picker-uppers!  Without all you middlemen, we would have no shul.  There would be no rabbi.  No president. 

It’s not easy being the middleman.  You don’t get the glory of walking on the moon.  But always remember that you are an integral part of the transmission.  Without you, the entire operation would fall apart.  May you merit taking pride in the vital role you play in life and giving it your all!