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Saturday, 4 March 2017

Hashem loves surprises!

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 40

One of the most famous and successful ad campaigns of all time was produced by Mastercard.  Each video segment presents an incredible scene that culminates in a moment that is ‘priceless.’  The tag line then follows: ‘For all other things in life, there’s Mastercard.’


One video, for example, shows a zookeeper feeding an elephant and sneezing all along.  The fellow then goes home, forgetting to lock the cage.  Out walks the elephant who proceeds to the deli to buy some soup with a Mastercard.  Next, it’s on to the department store for a blanket.   And finally, the drugstore for some cold and flu medicine.  All of these purchases are made with the Mastercard.  The elephant then makes his way to the zookeeper’s home and delivers the goods.  The segment concludes, “Making someone feel better: Priceless.  For all other things in life, there’s Mastercard!”

Rav Yehuda taught: One cannot collect money based upon a gift made in secret.
What is the meaning of a secret gift?  Rav Yosef taught: It means that one instructs witnesses, ‘Go and hide and write out a gift document to so-and-so.’
Rashbam explains: We are concerned that he may have already signed the property over to someone else.

I want to paraphrase Rav Yehuda’s teaching: You can’t put a price on a secret present.  Put differently, surprises are priceless! 

Everybody likes (good!) surprises. Surprises keep things fresh and add spice to your relationships. Maybe you call your grandmother each week before Shabbos.  Surprise her and call on an ordinary Tuesday!  Maybe it’s been years since you sent your sister Mishloach Manot.  How about you surprise her this year and order her a gift out of the blue!  Maybe you always stop at Starbucks on the way to work.  How about one day you surprise your colleagues with a bulk coffee for the entire office!

And, of course, you always want to find ways to keep your marriage fresh and exciting!  Maybe it’s been a while since you took your wife flowers.  You don’t need to wait until her birthday or your anniversary.  Surprise her with flowers on a regular day!  Or when was the last time you wrote your spouse an affectionate note or letter?  Yes, with a pen and paper! Or better yet, nice stationery!  When was the last surprise birthday party you planned for them?

I was speaking to a fellow in his sixties and he mentioned an upcoming significant wedding anniversary.
 ‘So do you plan to surprise your wife with a party or something special?’ I asked.
‘Oh, we’re too old for surprises,’ he replied. ‘At our age, we risk having a heart attack!’

How ridiculous!  Everyone, at every age, loves a nice surprise.  For my mom’s sixtieth, I took twenty-month old Jamie-Anna to Australia.  Now, before going any further, I want you to imagine this rabbi getting on a plane with his baby daughter.  The first leg of the trip was a small plane from Edmonton to San Francisco.  I’m about to descend down the jetway, baby in one arm, bag in another and they call for volunteers to check their carry-ons.  I think, ‘Great, that’ll save me some hassle,’ and I gladly hand it over as I always do, taking just my laptop bag with me.  I’m then making my way onto the plane, when I suddenly realize that I have no diapers or wipes or changes of clothing for the baby. . . .

Anyway, suffice it to say, along with a few other adventures along the way, we finally made it to Australia.  Can you imagine the look on my mother’s face, as she hears the pitter-patter of little feet wandering up the hallway in my parents’ home?  She was flabbergasted, speechless, and once she’d recomposed herself, overjoyed!  You see, everyone loves a good surprise!

And if it’s true of our personal relationships, it’s also true of our spiritual relationship.  Okay, let’s be honest – given the whole Divine foreknowledge thing, it takes a lot to surprise the Almighty!  But even if He’s not exactly shocked, He still sheps nachas when you suddenly do something unexpected for Him.  Maybe you don’t always come on time to shul and you decide to surprise G-d by showing up early one day!  Maybe you don’t always focus on your bentching and one day you decide to surprise G-d by reading every word from the bentcher and thinking about the meaning!  Believe it or not, even the Almighty loves surprises!


Surprises are the secret gifts in life that are priceless.  May you constantly seek ways to enrich your personal and spiritual relationships to keep them fresh and exciting!