Daf Yomi Kiddushin 77
In December 1973, following the Yom Kippur War, the United Nations arranged a peace conference in Geneva. While Israel, Egypt, and Jordan were present, along with the United States and Soviet Union, Syria refused to attend. Representing Israel was prominent statesman and spokesman, Abba Eban. Eban was fluent not only in Hebrew and English, but at the conference displayed his impeccable Arabic linguistic credentials.
The efforts and compromises presented by Israel and the major world powers were, alas, for naught. Israel attempted to offer the Arab nations “peace with honour,” but the time was not yet ripe and they would not budge. Abba Eban departed the conference morosely quipping that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Concerning the priestly restrictions, the Torah states, “A woman who is a harlot, or desecrated, they shall not marry.”
The Rabbis taught: What is the definition of desecrated? Anyone born of an improper union (such as between a cohen and a divorcee).
The Gemara asks: Does that mean only if one was born desecrated? Why, a widow, divorcee, or harlot – who were not born that way – also become desecrated by cohabiting with a cohen!
Rabba answers: This is the meaning. What is the biblical definition of desecrated? One who never had an opportunity, since she was born of an improper union.
Ever dreamed of winning the lottery? The New York Times recently ran a piece asserting that most of its readers already had won the lottery. The mere fact that you were born in a certain country to certain parents and sent to certain schools has ‘won’ you hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars over the course of your lifetime! Imagine you’d be born to poor parents in a third-world country, or never been given the chance to immigrate to an industrialized country, or even been born a hundred years earlier, what opportunities you’d have missed out on!
The article went on to argue that if you look at most successful people, they very often got where they are today, because they were lucky to happen to be in the right time and place when the big break came along. And so success, claimed the author, is pretty random – just as random as winning the lottery!
While it’s true that we are very blessed to be living in the twenty-first century (especially as Jews with a State of Israel) and most of us have wealth that our great-grandparents could only have dreamed of, success in life is never random. Throughout our lifetimes we are presented with multiple opportunities for success. Some of us capitalize on these successes; others squander them away.
Because mazal – good fortune – is not just about receiving good breaks; it’s about acting upon those good breaks. Rabbi Paysach Krohn likes to say that mazal is an acronym for makom (place), zman (time), and lashon (language). Simply being in the right place at the right time is not enough; success means being in the right place at the right time and saying, or doing, the right thing.
Sadly, many people go through life, burdened with regret. ‘If only I had done this, if only I had said that.’ That’s the mark of missed opportunities. It’s not as if the good fortune never came; they simply failed to cash in their ticket when the Almighty sent them the winning Powerball numbers.
The good news is Hashem’s power is infinite. He has no shortage of opportunities to send your way. If you just keep your eyes pierced for His blessing, you will discover the mazal raining down! All you need to do is jump up and seize the opportunity, next time it comes knocking!
In life, we all receive abundant opportunities for success. Whether it’s a creative idea that pops into our heads, or a new person that enters our lives. May you never miss an opportunity to capitalize on your opportunities!