Shaarei Shamayim

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SHOFTIM 5777

SHOFTIM 5777

There’s an amazing blessing that’s found at the beginning of the morning service. It’s an incredible statement, and yet, most of us who recite it pay little attention to it, even though it has become customary to recite it while putting on one’s shoes in the morning: Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeynu, Melech haOlam she-asa li kol tzarki(Blessed are You, Hashem our Gd, Ruler of the universe, Who has provided me with all my needs).

Many of us who pray every morning are often in a hurry to get to work. Our minds are already focused on what awaits us when we arrive there. How will we deal with this or that? Will there be a crisis or 2? And yet, if we took this bracha more seriously, how different all that would be! If Gd has already provided me with all that I need, do I really have to be so agitated and so concerned with what’s waiting me at the office?

2 people taught me the deeper meaning of this blessing. One was a 23-year-old, and one, a woman in her 80s. The 23-year-old was Chris Lopez. It was a few years ago at Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter—Yankee super star shortstop—hit 5 for 5 that day. And more important, one of those 5 hits was the 3,000th hit of his career. The crowd went wild with cheers, as Jeter became one of the very few in baseball history to reach this milestone. But what I want to talk about is not the hit, but the catch. Jeter’s 3,000th hit was a home run and was caught by Chris Lopez. What did young man do? He gave it to Derek Jeter!

What?? Chris Lopez knew that this ball was very valuable. In fact, it was estimated at the time to be worth as much as a quarter of a million dollars! When reporters asked him why he returned it he said: “It is not mine. It belongs to Derek. He earned it, not me.” It turns out that Chris did get some rewards. The Yankees gave him autographed balls, baseball caps, jackets and a season’s pass. Listen to what he said when he accepted these gifts: “I have enough, and I don’t need anything more. I would not want to have something that does not really belong to me.”

Isn’t that impressive? Who do you know who would say what this young man said: “I have enough, and I don’t need anything more?” When I heard his words, it brought me a new understanding of this bracha. What this bracha—sheh-asa li kol tzarki, blessing Gd Who has provided me with all my needsmeans is: “I have enough. I don’t really need to accumulate more. Gd has given me all that I really need.” Isn’t that a wise way to start your day?

If you can say this and mean it, then the pressures that await you as you go through your day will feel much easier to handle. If we already have enough, if Gd has given us all that we really need, then whether we get a little more money or a little less…we can live with what we have and be grateful. I think the Sages in their wisdom bid that we say this as we begin our day—before we go to work or begin our daily routine—because if we begin our day with this attitude, then the pressure to produce is diminished and we can start our day with less tension and stress.

The 2nd person who taught me this lesson is Francis Zaglin. Most of us know Francis as a sweet old lady. In her earlier years she was a teacher and literally changed the lives of many of her students—some of which still keep in contact with her today. She lost her dear husband Marion about a year and a half ago. Since then she’s been in and out of the hospital several times with various medical issues. Each time I visit her I make a mishebeyrach prayer for her health. I ask her how she’s doing and each time she tells me: “Rabbi, I’ve had a good life. I have so much. I have wonderful children and grandchildren. They take such good care of me. I had a wonderful husband for 64½ years, and I have many marvelous memories. Hashem has been good to me. There’s nothing more that I need.”

The 1st time I heard her say this while lying in a hospital bed, I was taken aback and didn’t know how to respond.  I finally said, “Then you’re a very lucky woman.” But how can you say “you’re a very lucky woman” to someone in a hospital bed? She responded: “Yes, I am a very lucky woman rabbi.” And she squeezed the hand of her daughter Ellen—always at her side—a bit tighter as she smiled.

As I was leaving, Francis thanked me for coming, and, later, in retrospect, as he was driving home I realized that it was I that should be thanking her. She opened my eyes and her words resonated within me—what an amazing attitude. Here was an elderly woman, ill in a hospital bed who said in all seriousness: “There’s nothing more that I need from Gd. I’ve had a good life. I have a wonderful children and marvelous memories. What more do I need?”

Today’s Torah reading contains a short, but powerful passage that teaches this truth. After Moses warns the children of Israel not to be like other nations that don’t appreciate how Gd has blessed them, he says: Tamim tih’ye im Hashem Elokecha (You shall be whole with Hashem your Gd). What does it mean to be “whole with Gd”? Rashi, in his commentary explains: “Walk before him with wholeness… no matter what comes upon you, accept it with wholeness, and then you will be His people and His portion.”

Don’t question Gd’s management of the world—that Gd should have blessed you with more of this or that. Understand that life’s blessings and challenges are put before you to help you perfect your soul. And so, yes, strive for more—to have more and to be more—but, as Rashi puts it, “no matter what comes upon you, accept it with wholeness; then you will be Gd’s people.”

This is the 1st Shabbat in the Jewish month of Elul—the month before Rosh Hashanah. Most of us will come to shul on the High Holy Days with a shopping list of things we need from Gd. We’ll say: Avinu, Malkeynu, give us this; Avinu, Malkenu, give us that. We’ll think of all the things that are lacking in our lives, and we’ll ask Gd to please give them to us in the New Year.

Let me say in all seriousness that Francis Zaglin should be our role model when we come to pray on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Pirke Avot (4:1) asks: Eyzehu ashir (Who is rich)? Hasameyach b’chelko (One who is satisfied with whatever he has).

There’s a story of an old woman who comes to shul on Rosh Hashanah. In the middle of the Amidah she pauses and says: “Dear Gd, thank You; thank You; thank You! I had such a wonderful year. Thank Gd my health is fine. Thank Gd my children are fine. Thank Gd the business my late husband left me is doing well enough that I have all that I need. So I thank You, dear Gd, for a wonderful year. But before I ask You to bless me in the coming year, I want to bless You in the New Year. So with what can I bless You…with wealth? The whole world is Yours. With health? I guess you can take care of Yourself.” She pauses to think for a moment and then says, “Gd, I bless You that in the New Year You should have nachas (joy) from Your children, that you should be proud of your children!”

What if we could be like this woman and like Francis Zaglin? What if we could say to Gd on Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur: “Thank You, Hashem, for all that You have given me this past year” instead of saying to Gd: “Gimme, gimme, gimme, give me this, and give me that and then I promise You that I’ll be grateful.”

I don’t know if any of us have the willpower and the wisdom to say what Chris Lopez said on the day that he caught Derek Jeter’s ball: “I don’t need it, and I didn’t earn it. He did.” And I don’t know if any of us have the willpower and the wisdom of Francis Zaglin when she pressed the hand of her daughter Ellen in that hospital bed and said: “Hashem has blessed me with so much. There’s nothing more that I need.”

I hope that we can have at least a little bit of the wisdom and gratitude they had. For if we can say what these 2—one young and one old—were able to say, how blessed our lives will be.

Therefore, I ask you to join me now and say with me the blessing that a Jew is supposed to say every morning: Baruch Ata HashemElokeynu Melech haOlam, she-asa li kol tzarki (Blessed are You, Hashem our Gd, Ruler of the universe, Who has provided me with all my needs).

May we say this bracha every morning and may we learn its truth and carry it with us, inside us—at work, at shul, on the High Holy Days and everyday—for if we do, our prayers will be different and our lives will be too. Amen!

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