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Monday, 14 December 2015

How to Afford a Jewish Lifestyle on a Fixed Income

Daf Yomi Sotah 48

There was once a pious man called Yosef Mokir Shabbos.  Mokir means ‘the one who honours.’  Yosef gained his reputation and appellation for his unparalleled commitment to making Shabbos look like no other day, from the finest delicacies to the fanciest aged scotch whiskey.   He wasn’t a wealthy man, but everyone knew that if you wanted a good spread for Shabbos, just knock on Yosef and Osnat Mokir-Shabbos’s door. 

But Yosef wasn’t popular with everyone.  A local poritz (squire) was obsessively jealous at Yosef’s eternally good demeanor and popularity.  One day, he goes to a soothsayer and asks for advice as to how to deal with Yosef.  The soothsayer tells him there’s nothing he can do; in fact, Yosef was destined to inherit all of his wealth, according to the crystal ball.

The poritz is determined to avoid this terrifying fate and so he sells all his worldly possessions and buys a Cullinan diamond.  At first, he attempts to fashion it into a ring, but it is just too big.  And so he sews it onto a hat – historically the most expensive hat, prior to the Borsalino.   He is walking one day along the Brooklyn Bridge when a gust of wind sweeps it off his head and into the East River.   He shouts and screams but nobody hears a thing over the noise of the cars and trains.  Despondently, he goes home, his only comfort being that at least Yosef didn’t get his money.

Meanwhile, a hat-eating fish sees the beautiful piece and swallows it whole, but of course does not find it very satisfying.  Swimming a little further, the fish sees a delicious-looking prawn.  Literally taking the bait, the fish is swept up by the local fisherman. 
‘What a catch!’ he says to himself, ‘I could get a pretty penny for this fish.’ 

Everyone in town knows that Yosef Mokir-Shabbos would pay handsomely for a nice shtikel (piece of) fish and so off he goes to find Yosef.  Sure enough, Yosef pays the asking price for the beautiful fish.  But no sooner has he arrived home, than he cuts open the fish and finds the priceless diamond.   The rest of Yosef and Osnat’s life together was spent living in comfort, as major community benefactors.  And each week they would provide the entire town with fish in honour of the miracle bestowed upon them on account of their incredible devotion to honouring Shabbos!

Mishnah: When the Sanhedrin was abolished, music disappeared from the feasting-houses, as it says in Isaiah, “With song, they will no longer drink wine.”  When the first prophets passed, the Urim v’Tumim (prophetic power of the High Priest’s breastplate) ceased.  When the Temple was destroyed, the shamir worm (that carved the stones for the Temple) and the heavenly dough disappeared, and men of faith were no longer found in Israel, as it says in Psalms, “Save us, Hashem, for the pious are no more.” 
Gemara: Who are the men of faith?  Rabbi Yitzchak taught: These are the people who believe in the Holy One blessed be He.   For we have learned: Rabbi Eliezer the Great says: Anyone who has bread in his basket and says, ‘What will I eat tomorrow?’ is simply a person of little faith.  And this is the meaning of Rabbi Eliezer’s interpretation of the verse in Zechariah, “For they who disdain the day of the small.”  He says: What will cause the tables of the righteous in the future to be depleted?  Their smallness, i.e. that they did not have faith in the Holy One blessed be He.
Rashi explains: To spend their money on beautifying mitzvos, and charity, and Shabbos and Yom tov provisions.   

Why do people skimp on their tefillin purchase?  Or on their esrog purchase?  Why do they cut corners when it comes to tithing to charity?  Why do they not spend lavishly on Shabbos and Yom Tov and invite many guests?

It all comes down to one simple answer: a lack of faith.  When you believe that Heaven provides, you realize that spending money on mitzvos, charity, and Shabbos doesn’t cost you money; it makes you money.  These are investment dollars.  The greater the investment in Heaven, the greater the return.   As opposed to investment in stocks and bonds, investment in Heaven presents no risk whatsoever.

But sadly, most people lack faith.  They believe that the pot contains a finite amount of money.  If they spend it today, there will be nothing left tomorrow.  That’s as ludicrous as saying that G-d Himself is limited!  If you believe that Hashem has unlimited power, you understand that He has the power to recompense you a thousandfold!

But you say: Come on, let’s be honest, how many people buy a fish, cut it open and find a Cullinan diamond?  How many people win the lottery?  I’m on a fixed income and so if I spend too much money on a mezuzah, there will be less money to spend on my other needs, such as food and clothing!

That would indeed be true if you could completely budget for all potential outcomes on your fixed income.  But every good budgeter has a line item for miscellaneous expenses.  That column covers medical bills, car repairs, furnace and boiler blow-outs, et cetera, et cetera.  We can’t control those mishaps, can we? 

Our Sages teach that you can.  When you spend on mitzvos, charity, and Shabbos, Hashem takes that expenditure out of the miscellaneous column.   Once the money has been spent on cholent, it’s no longer available to pay for a flat tire.  And so G-d wipes that off the slate and your tire doesn’t blow.

Do you believe that?  The Gemara says that most people don’t, unfortunately.   And so the Gemara concludes that in the long run, most people end up with a depleted table, meaning that they have failed to cash in on all the potential reward they could have received, if only they had maintained their faith in Heaven to provide!

Don’t be a person of little faith.  You’re missing out on all Heaven has to offer you in this world!  May you merit a faith in Hashem that grows constantly, and provides your every need and want in this world and the next!

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