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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Learning to ride the storm

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 7

King Darius of Persia had a favourite Jewish advisor, called Daniel.  One day, his other ministers suggested that he issue a royal decree declaring that everyone must henceforth worship Darius alone.  Flattered by their suggestion, the king agreed.  Meanwhile, the conspirators ran off to seek evidence that Daniel was disobeying the royal edict. 

Sure enough, they discovered him worshipping the Almighty.  With a call to the royal officers, Daniel was whisked off to court to be executed.  For his crime, he was thrown into a den of hungry lions that had been starved for a number of days prior, in order to ensure they would gobble up the first offering that came their way. 

Three days later, King Darius and the ministers rolled away the rock at the mouth of the den, only to find Daniel sitting there calmly engrossed in prayer. 
‘Clearly the lions weren’t hungry,’ suggested the ministers.
‘Right,’ said the king, ‘we’ll test that theory.’  And with that, he had all twenty two ministers thrown into the den, where they were devoured with gusto by the starving lions.

Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah levied a city wall tax on the rabbis.
Reish Lakish cried, “Rabbis do not need protection!”  For the verse states, “Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sand.”  Were I to count whom?  If you say it refers to the righteous, are they more numerous than the sand?  For if, concerning all of Israel, it states that they are “like the sand upon the seashore,” how could the righteous be more numerous than the sand?  Rather, this is the meaning: Were I to count the deeds of the righteous, they would outnumber the sand.  Now, reason as follows: If the sand, which is fewer in number, is able to protect against the sea, the deeds of the righteous that are more numerous, are they not obviously able to protect them?

How did Daniel survive the lions’ den?  How did Avram survive the fiery furnace of Ur Kasdim?  How did Yosef survive the pit filled with snakes and scorpions?  How did Chanania, Mishael and Azaria survive the burning flames?  They were all protected by their good deeds.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov teaches, “One who performs a mitzvah earns an advocate and one who does a sin earns an accuser.  Repentance and good deeds are like a shield before the turmoil.”

Every good deed you do creates a guardian angel that protects you from the chaos around.  The more good deeds you do, the stronger the force field becomes.  Nobody ever said that bad things won’t happen; this world is a crazy place.  But when you do mitzvos, you are afforded greater protection from the craziness.

We say the same thing in the Unesaneh Tokef prayer on the High Holy days, “And teshuvah, prayer and charity remove the severity of the decree.”  Many machzorim mistranslate this line, implying that we can remove the evil decree.  Most of the time we can’t.  But what we can pray for is that the ‘evilness’ of the decree, its severity, is somewhat blunted.  How do we blunt it?  With good deeds which act as a shield to protect us from the turmoil.

Now the more good deeds you do the more protected you will be.  And so in the cases of our righteous leaders like Avram, Yosef, Daniel, Chanania, Mishael, and Azaria, their merit was so great that even the beasts and flames could not touch them.  We might not all be able to attain that incredible level, but we can go a long way towards protecting ourselves from the confusion around us, whether they be financial crises, health pandemics, or difficult people.

The world is a chaotic place.  But you can protect yourself and your family from the elements.  May you build a strong force field of good deeds to ride out the storm of life!  

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