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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Opportunity of Humble Beginnings

Daf Yomi Gittin 57

There’s a popular social media segment called, ‘Where are they now?’  Years after their five minutes of fame – or in some cases, years of celebrity status – the reporters go looking for these former stars to discover what ever happened to them. 
Why did they stop their famous music or acting career?
Are they still wealthy or did they squander it all?
Do they miss the spotlight or are they happy they’re no longer trailed by the paparazzi?
In what ways, for better or worse, did their period of fame affect their lives?

Did you ever wonder what happened to some of our biblical heroes and villains after their stories in the limelight?  Believe it or not, when Haman was hanged on the gallows, it was not the last we heard of him and his family. . .

Rabbi Chiya bar Avin said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korchah: An old man from the inhabitants of Jerusalem told me that in this valley Nevuzaradan the captain of the guard killed two hundred and eleven myriads, and in Jerusalem he killed ninety-four myriads on one stone, until their blood went and joined that of Zechariah, to fulfil the words, “Blood touches blood.” He noticed the blood of Zechariah bubbling up warm, and asked what it was.
They said, “It is the blood of the sacrifices which has been poured there.” He had some blood brought, but it was different from the other.
He then said to them, “If you tell me the truth, well and good, but if not, I will tear your flesh with combs of iron.”
They said, “What can we say to you? There was a prophet among us who used to reprove us for our irreligion, and we rose up against him and killed him, and for many years his blood has not rested.”
He said to them, “I will appease him.”
He brought the great Sanhedrin and the small Sanhedrin and killed them over him, but the blood did not cease. He then slaughtered young men and women, but the blood did not cease. He brought school-children and slaughtered them over it, but the blood did not cease.
So he said, “Zechariah, Zechariah. I have slain the best of them; do you want me to destroy them all?” When he said this to him, it stopped. Immediately, Nevuzaradan felt remorse.
He said to himself, “If such is the penalty for slaying one soul, what will happen to me who have slain such multitudes?” So he fled away, and sent a deed to his house disposing of his effects and became a convert.
A Tanna taught: Naaman was a resident; Nevuzaradan was a righteous convert; descendants of Haman learned Torah in Bnei Brak; descendants of Sisera taught children in Jerusalem; descendants of Sennacherib gave public expositions of the Torah.

On Purim, we conclude the Megillah with the hanging of Haman and his ten wicked sons.  Most people assume that’s the end of the story.  From our Gemara, it’s clear that at least some of his grandchildren survived.  Not only did they survive, but they looked at the miraculous events around them and resolved to be counted among those who were swept up in the fervor to join the Jewish people.   Not only did they join the Jewish people, but years later when the Jews eventually returned to Israel, they became Torah scholars in Bnei Brak!

You can imagine the attitude displayed by most Jews towards those first grandchildren of Haman who converted to Judaism.   Or to Nevuzaradan who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters.
‘Feh, who do you think you are?  How dare you try to associate with our community!  If you think that overnight we’re going to simply forgive and forget, you can dream on!’  That’s the kind of thing they would hear as they walked down the street, trying to avoid the mean stares and rude comments.

With all that abuse, any regular person would absolutely have been forgiven for saying, ‘I really don’t need this in my life.  I made the effort.  They rejected me.  It’s on their head now.  G-d will take it up with them.’  They could have given up and walked away.  And who could have blamed them?

But that wasn’t their reaction.  They persevered.  They weathered the storm of abuse.  And consequently, they were recorded in the Talmud as eternal symbols of righteousness, despite all the odds!

Sometimes in life, we know what the right path is, but we feel we’re too far gone to return.  There’s just too much water under the bridge.  Even if we did manage to turn our lives around, what would people say?  What would they think?  How would they talk about us behind our backs?

When that feeling sets in, remember the grandchildren of Haman.  They never gave up!  Just like Nevuzaradan, history will be the ultimate determinant of what’s truly in your heart.  There is no shortage of people in history who have given up.  If you give up, you become just another number.  But if you persevere, you will be recorded in this world and in the Heavenly register as one of the greats of history!  The greater the challenge and struggle, the greater the victory and record! 

We don’t know much about Mordechai’s grandchildren.  They may have been wonderful, righteous people.  But considering their lineage, it was no big deal.  If you stem from humble origins – whether you’re from an unremarkable family or whether your own personal background leaves much to be desired – you have so much more opportunity for greatness than individuals with an ordinary everyday story!  Your efforts will not go unrewarded! 

If you think your life and family history are pointing to a life of mediocrity, think again.  Your humble beginnings are an incredible blessing – the Almighty has offered you the chance to become so much greater than the average Yossel!  You have been handed the opportunity on a silver platter!  May you take up His challenge and be recorded as one of the greatest ‘rags to riches’ stories of all time!