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Sunday, 21 August 2016

Rabbanit's Challah

Daf Yomi Bava Kama 82

Ask anyone who has tasted the Rabbanit’s Challah, and they will tell you that it’s the most delicious they’ve ever savoured.  But it wasn’t always like that.  For years, Batya didn’t have much success.  She tried this recipe and that recipe, but all to no avail.  Eventually she came up with a fabulous bobomayse: the sea level pressure in Edmonton combined with the dryness of the air were simply poor ingredients for bread-making. 

That was her story and she was sticking to it.  Until one day, she decided to give it another shot.  What prompted her renewed effort was the sorry state of affairs at our weekly shul shaleshudos (afternoon Shabbos meal).  You see, the challah was always stale, and the new trend was for people to leave shul and go home for the meal.  Unfortunately, that often meant that they didn’t return for Maariv (evening service).

Rabbanit to the rescue.  Determined to ensure we had a stable Maariv minyan, she set out afresh to bake challah, both for the house and the shul.  Lo and behold – admittedly along with a new and improved recipe – the challah turned out exceptional!  And that is the (okay, maybe a little dramatized!) story of the Rabbanit’s Challah

Ezra the Scribe enacted ten ordinances.  The sixth: He instituted that a woman should get up early to bake bread.
Why?  So that the bread would be ready for the poor.
Rashi explains: On days that she is baking, she should start early enough in the day to ensure the bread is ready in time for the paupers who come to the door.

Most people go through life only thinking about themselves.  I’m hungry, so let me bake some bread.   It doesn’t make you selfish – chances are you’re also baking for your spouse and kids.  Maybe even your parents.  But what about others beyond your personal ‘daled amos’ (private sphere)? 

Ezra’s question to his new countrymen was, how much effort would it take to throw in an extra couple of cups of flour for the needy?  He knew that if he wanted to build a great country, he had to begin by building a great society.  And so his message to the matriarch baking for her family was, how about you get up a couple of hours earlier, throw in those extra cups of flour, and be able to have fresh bread ready when the beggar comes to your door?  Suddenly you are serving society with relatively little additional effort!

Let me tell you about one family I know that excels in this regard.  Rabbi Moshe and Rebbetzin Miriam White of the Edmonton Kollel have (kene hora) a sizable family.  And so each week, the rebbetzin bakes up a storm for Shabbos.  But she doesn’t stop there.  She says to herself: If I’m already baking, let me throw in another bag or two of flour (not just a cup or two!) for people who might not otherwise have Shabbos.  And with that, she bakes another dozen loaves and delivers them to the Israeli kioskniks at West Edmonton Mall! 

You might not have the dedication of a Miriam White, but there are always little ways that you can benefit others once you’re already in the zone.  You’re already out shopping.  Would it break the bank if you threw an extra can of beans into your shopping cart to deposit into the food bank bin at the front of the supermarket?  You’re on the way to a simcha (celebration) – who can you think of that might need a ride?  You’re taking your kid to a birthday party – which of their friends would appreciate a ride?  Don’t wait for them to call you; you’re going anyway, pick up the phone and offer to pick them up!

Most mitzvah opportunities don’t cost a cent.  All it takes is a little thought beyond your immediate daled amos.  May you always think of others and the abundant opportunities you have to build a G-dly society on Earth!  

Stealing from the Poor

Daf Yomi Bava Kama 81

The tzedaka (charity) collectors in Bartosa had a problem.  Whenever they saw Rabbi Elazar they would be forced to run the other way.  Why?  Every last penny that he had on him, he would insist on giving away to the poor!  On one occasion, Rabbi Elazar was off to purchase a bridal dowry for his daughter.  But lo and behold, on the way, he bumped into the collectors.  Before they could stop him, he had thrust the entire amount into their hands and escaped into the distance. 

But now, what of the dowry?  All he could afford to buy was a single stalk of wheat, which he duly placed into his silo, in advance of the upcoming wedding.   When the big day arrived, his daughter went to claim her wheat stalk.  To her great surprise, she was unable to open the door.  A miracle had occurred – the Almighty multiplied that one stalk into hundreds of thousands of pieces of wheat.  So great was the overabundance that the door would not open! 
“See how the Almighty treats His beloved!” she declared incredulously.

King Solomon said: One may take a short-cut through another’s property.  As it was taught: If a person completed the harvesting of his field, and yet blocks entry to others into his field, what do they say about him?  What benefit does he get from denying us access through his property?  In what way is anyone causing him harm?  Concerning him, the verse states, “When you could be good, do not be called bad.”
The Gemara asks: Does Scripture really state, “When you could be good, do not be called bad?”
The Gemara answers: Indeed, it states something similar.  The Proverbs declare, “Do not withhold good from its owners, when you have the power to do it.” 

The Proverbs teach that one may not withhold good “from its owners.”  What does that mean?  In our case, the people who want to take a short-cut through the field don’t own it, it belongs to the farmer!  If he chooses to allow them to cross, isn’t he doing them a favour out of the goodness of his heart?

In Pirkei Avos we learn, “Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa says: Give Him of His, for you and yours are His.”  On a simple level, Rabbi Elazar is teaching that when you give tzedaka, you shouldn’t have the attitude that you are giving away your personal hard-earned cash.  No, it all belongs to G-d.  He gave you the money, He continues to be the true Owner of that money, and He is instructing you to give it away to the poor.  The right attitude to tzedaka is to constantly acknowledge that it’s not your money.

But the Lev Avos deepens our obligation to the poor based on the verse in Proverbs.  He explains: When the Almighty provides sustenance to the world, He creates exactly enough to go around.  The only catch is that He doesn’t initially apportion it to whom it truly belongs.  Some people get more than their fair share, others get less.  It is the responsibility of those who received more to redistribute the funds to their rightful owners.  And so the meaning of the Mishnah is: Give him – the poor person – that which is his!

In other words, when you give tzedaka, you’re not giving away your personal money to the poor.  You’re not even giving away G-d’s money to His children.  You’re redistributing the funds to their rightful owners!  If you were to hang onto it, it would be almost as if you were stealing from the poor.  The Almighty prepared exactly enough to go around; why are you hoarding wealth that is someone else’s due?!  And now we understand the verse, “Do not withhold good from its owners!”

That is the meaning of our Gemara.  Hashem placed exactly the right amount of His chen (favour) into this world to bring joy and blessing to all His children.  This farmer has completed his harvest and stands nothing to lose by allowing others to traverse his property.  That potential benefit is not his; it’s theirs.  And so by denying access, he’s not withholding something that belongs to him; he’s stealing Heavenly bounty from its rightful owners!

When you do good to others, you’re not doing them a favour; you’re giving them what is due to them!  Whether it’s tzedaka that you are giving or other forms of assistance – from a kind word to a helping hand, or even just a smile – the Almighty has already destined them to be the recipients of His bounty.  In fact, if you were to withhold that smile, you would be stealing their joy! 

In every situation in this world, Hashem created givers and receivers.  If you are fortunate enough that He created you a giver, don’t abuse your gift!  You have a duty to redirect Heaven’s bounty to its rightful owners.  The more successful you are at that redistribution, the more the Almighty will entrust you with His bounty.  That’s the meaning of our Sages’ dictum on the verse, “You shall surely tithe” – when you tithe surely, you will prosper! 

Don’t ever take the Almighty’s blessing for granted.  Some of it you were meant to keep.  The excess, however, was only given to you because He knows that you are better at handling money than a lot of other people.  May you handle Heaven’s bounty wisely!  

Friday, 19 August 2016

Open Sesame

Daf Yomi Bava Kama 80

Mar bar Rav Ashi was once standing in the Mechuza market when he heard someone prophesy, “The new Rosh Yeshiva (head of the academy) in Mechasya signs his name: Tavyumi.”
“Hey, that’s me!” he said to himself and off he went to Mechasya. 
Meanwhile, they were about to install Rav Acha of Difti as the Rosh Yeshiva.  When they heard Rav Ashi was in town, they sent a pair of rabbis to confirm their decision.  But he wouldn’t let them leave and so the yeshiva sent another pair.  Once again, he kept them from returning. 
The yeshiva board kept sending pairs of rabbis until they were ten in total.  At that point, Mar began expounding the law.  Sure enough, they were so impressed that they decided to install him as the Rosh Yeshiva, instead of Rav Acha.

Rav Acha bar Papa taught: A door of success that closes does not quickly reopen.
The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of this dictum?
Rashi explains the query: How hard must one pray for the door to reopen?
Rav Ashi answers: When one experiences challenges to success, it’s not easy to reopen closed doors and reignite the good fortune.
Rav Acha of Difti answers: One never again receives good fortune.
The Gemara responds: That’s not true!  Rav Acha of Difti was talking merely about his personal experience.

Often in life the door to a successful opportunity will close in our faces.  We wish, we hope, we pray that it will reopen and we’ll get another chance.  But, as the Gemara teaches, a closed door doesn’t reopen very easily.  Rav Acha spent his whole life praying that the door to the Rosh Yeshiva position would reopen, but alas, to no avail; causing him to conclude that once the door to success has slammed shut, one’s good fortune in life is over.

But the Almighty has no shortage of doors to open for you.  When He closes one door, it’s because He knows that it’s not the best path for your life.  Sure, you could wish, and hope, and pray for that door to reopen.  But it won’t reopen very easily, and Hashem is effectively telling you that He has better doors to open in your life.  Instead of focusing all your attention on this one opportunity that He knows is not your destiny, start expanding your horizon to see which new doors He is holding open for you! 

How many times do we look back and realize that the doors that closed were the best thing that could have happened to our lives?  Partners that were not for us.  Jobs that were going nowhere.  Investment opportunities that ended up mediocre.  At the time, those closed door seemed like the worst punishment.  You were so disappointed.  You felt like all your efforts were for naught.  And now, looking back and thinking about the alternate doors that opened, you can’t believe you were ever so fixated on that single opportunity!

Unfortunately, Rav Acha of Difti spent the rest of his life trying to pry open a door that the Almighty knew wasn’t the right destination for his personal mission.  Meanwhile, who knows how many other doors to success he failed to notice had opened all around him? 

When one door closes, trust in Hashem to open many more doors.  May the wrong doors in your life close as quickly as possible and may you recognize the right doors to enter!  

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Parking around the corner on Shabbos

Daf Yomi Bava Kama 79

The great Chasidic master, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once saw a Jew greasing the wheels of his wagon while wearing tallis and tefillin and mumbling away his morning prayers.  Instead of rebuking him for trying to rush through the prayers and multitask at G-d’s expense, the Barditchever turned his eyes Heavenward and declared, “Master of the universe, look at how holy Your nation is!  They even grease the wheels of their wagons with tallis and tefillin on!”

The Torah states, “If a man steals an ox, or a sheep, and kills it, or sells it, he shall pay five oxen in place of the ox, and four sheep in place of the sheep.”
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai taught: Come see how great is human dignity!  For an ox that walked on its own feet, the thief must pay fivefold.  But for the sheep, which he needed to carry upon his shoulders, he pays but fourfold.
Rashi explains: The thief carried the sheep upon his shoulders thereby embarrassing himself.  Therefore, the Almighty is softer on his punishment.

Often in life we’re quick to judge others.  After all, you’re a good person.  You’re making the effort to serve G-d.  It’s not easy to stay on track.   And most other people don’t bother.   They do whatever they feel like.  Some people have total disregard for Torah!

And so your gut reaction is aversion.  There’s a certain natural disdain you have for people who don’t share your values and make the same effort for G-d as you do.

But look at the way Hashem treats a petty thief!  Yes, he stole.  But in spite of his crime, the Almighty is still concerned for his welfare!  This poor fellow had to actually pick up the sheep and carry it on his shoulders for a quick getaway.  How embarrassing must that have been for him?!?

That’s the attitude we must have toward people who are not quite as spiritually-driven as we are.  Instead of distancing them, we should be feeling for them.   It can be embarrassing to be around those who are more connected to Torah.  Don’t make them feel any more uncomfortable than they already might feel!

You know that guy who parks around the corner instead of driving right up to shul on Shabbos?  He deserves a medal.  How about the lady who reroutes her shopping cart down the alternate aisle in the supermarket so that you don’t see her non-kosher food purchases?  She is a hero.

Well maybe not quite medal-deserving heroes!  But instead of looking at them as hypocrites and thinking, ‘Who are they kidding?’ it’s time to switch your approach to a Divine attitude.  Hashem looks at these people and says, ‘Wow, they’re actually suffering embarrassment on account of their behaviour.  What incredibly holy souls!’

In life, there are always two sides to every coin.  No matter how inappropriately someone appears to be behaving, with the right attitude, you can feel compassion for them.  Reb Levi Yitzchak didn’t see a fellow who was degrading his prayers, he saw a man who was wearing tefillin even though he had to rush off to work!  Can you imagine how that fellow must have felt when the rabbi ‘caught’ him multitasking?  And yet Reb Levi Yitzchak immediately assuaged his embarrassment by finding something positive and encouraging in his actions.

You can always find positivity in every person and every situation.  If you can’t see it, stop judging the other person for their behaviour, and start judging yourself for your inability to be compassionate.  May you always see the overwhelming goodness in every individual!