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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Who are your heroes?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 6


Many years ago, Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, the Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia, visited Edmonton.  He was very gracious and, in addition to his lectures and classes, allowed people to take pictures with him.  It was before I came to the city, but I’m well aware of his time here, because one of the community members proudly displays a picture of Rav Shmuel and their five year old son on their mantelpiece. 

At the time the picture was taken, the family was not yet Shomer Shabbos.  Why did they care?  Why was the photograph important to them?  Why did they prominently feature it all these years so that nobody who comes to the house ever misses it?

Abaye taught: If there were two houses on either side of a public thoroughfare, each one must make a fence on half of his roof; not opposite each other, but overlapping.
Rashi explains: The overlap ensures that neither can see the other’s private activity.
The Gemara asks: Why mention the public thoroughfare?  Even if they were alongside one another in a private area, the law would apply!
The Gemara answers: It is necessary to teach that the law is also true in the case of the intervening public thoroughfare.  Why?  I might have said that one could say to the other that he need not reciprocate the fence construction, since the one who desired privacy would anyway have to conceal his activities from the public.  Therefore, this law teaches that he could respond, ‘The public look up at me during the day, while you see me at night too.’  Or, ‘The public watches me when I’m standing up, but not when I’m sitting down; you watch me whether I’m standing or sitting.’ ‘The public watches me when they’re focused on me; when they’re not focused on me, they don’t see me; you automatically see me.’

In previous generations, people spent much more time working hard to make ends meet.  Baruch Hashem, in the twenty-first century, we have a significantly greater quantity of free time on our hands.  And thus, the entertainment industry today is booming like never before.  We follow more sports, buy more music, and watch more TV and movies than there are hours in the day!

And it doesn’t stop there.  Not only must we watch the entertainers do their thing, we also need to know everything about them.  Where do they live?  Who are they dating?  Are they on the brink of divorce?  Are they having a baby?  Do they like each other in real life?  Which events did they attend?  What clothes and food do they enjoy?  What are their political views? 

Seriously?!  Who cares?  Just because they play a good game of football, why should their political affiliation make a difference to my life?  Just because they make good music, why should their personal relationships matter to me?  It’s utterly irrelevant! 

And yet there’s an entire industry spun off from the entertainment industry that knows that the public looks up to entertainers.  They want to know what they’re doing, day and night.  They want to know the ups and downs of their lives.  They’re focused on them, watching their every move.  

In life, human beings look for heroes.  We seek successful people to look up to and model our own lives after.  We don’t just want to know how they’re entertaining us, but what makes them tick?  What sets them apart?  By knowing every detail of their lives, we feel almost as if we are being swept up in their success.  We feel their highs and lows, we rejoice as they rejoice, weep as they weep.  They are our heroes.

But we must always ask ourselves: are we choosing the right people to look up to?  Yes, they may be great entertainers, but does that truly qualify them as role models for ourselves and our children?  Do our kids really need to be exposed to the tabloid magazines and the crazed efforts of the paparazzi?

When Rav Shmuel came to Edmonton, the five year old boy’s family was not yet observant.  And yet today, they are a shining example in the community.  The young man left town to study in a yeshiva high school and subsequently went off to Israel to yeshiva.  He now works diligently in his non-yeshiva field, but is completely dedicated to Torah and mitzvos – truly a model Jew for all to see. 

How did that happen?  Because his parents made it clear to him who his heroes should be.  At the time, perhaps they weren’t quite ready to take the plunge.  But they always made it abundantly clear to the kids which direction they were heading in.  What true success means.  Whom to look to as models of greatness in life.

Who are your heroes?  Do you revel in stories of people who changed the world?  People who made this world a better place, physically and spiritually?  Whom do you talk about at the dinner table?  True movers and shakers or simple moviemakers?  Good sports or rich sportspeople? Great scientists or confused scientologists?  Spiritually profound leaders or spiritually corrupt fame-seekers?


Great people stand on the shoulders of even greater people.  If you seek true, meaningful greatness for yourself and your children, you need to look to the right heroes.  May you look up to and model your life on heroes who have chosen eternal greatness!