Shaarei Shamayim

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EKEV 5778

EKEV 5778

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the “Wayne’s World” movies starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey of Saturday Night Live fame. Ok, it’s not an earth shattering event. However, there was one shtick they were famous for that rings true in today’s Torah portion.

Wayne’s World began as a sketch centered on a local public-access television program in Aurora, Illinois, hosted by Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers)—an enthusiastic long-haired metalhead—and his timid and high-strung metal-loving sidekick Garth Algar (Dana Carvey). Wayne lived with his parents and broadcasted his show “live” from the basement of their house every Friday evening at 10:30. The shtick I refer to comes from a scene where Wayne and Garth somehow get to meet Alice Cooper backstage. When he asks them to “hang out” with him they get on their knees, bow and say: “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.”

My friends, who is worthy? Who is worthy of all the blessings Gd showers upon us? In today’s parsha, Gd tells the Children of Israel that were about to enter the Promised land over and over again, that they will inherit the land not because they are worthy. They’re not! They sinned again and again with sins like the Golden Calf and the incident of the Spies. No, they’re not worthy. So why will they inherit the Promised Land? Because Gd loves them and because he loved their fathers to whom He promised that their children will inherit the land.

We are not worthy. As it says in Kohelet (7:20): “There is no one so righteous on earth that does only good and never sins.” Then why does Gd provide us with so much? It’s like a parent who gives his child a home, food, clothing and other gifts. Is it because the child deserves it? No, it’s because the parent loves them. Gd gives us so much because He loves us. 

Some people use the understanding that they’re not worthy as an excuse not to pray, asking, “Who am I that Gd should be listening to my prayers? I’m just a sinner and have not done as much as I should have to help my fellow man and follow the Torah.” Good point! How many of you feel that way? Nevertheless, the sages learn from the Torah that Gd longs for our prayers.

In the 2nd chapter of the Torah (Gen. 2:5), Gd tells us that before He created man: “He had not brought rain upon the earth because there was no one to work the soil.” The Talmud (Chulin 60b) elaborates and tells us this was because there was no one to recognize the goodness of Gd and His gift of rain and pray for it. This, the Talmud says, teaches us Gd longs for our prayers. Gd doesn’t need us to be worthy. He needs us to appreciate His gifts and be grateful.

We may not be worthy, but how much are our lives worth? I once had a congregant who died. Do you know why he died? He was in his early 70’s and was bluntly told that he needed a very expensive and experimental operation, but because of his age his health insurance policy wouldn’t pay for it. If he were younger, they might have. So he and the family talked it over and he decided that since he may not survive the operation and the family would then be bankrupt that he would not have the operation. Whoever wrote that policy may have been very smart, but not very wise. He may have been an actuary, he may have been computer literate, he may have known all the odds, but he just didn't know what a human being is worth—not when you think of a human being as nothing more than a statistic.

Judaism never allowed for that. In our tradition every life is sacred…every life is unique…every life is a whole world in and of itself. Remember those 12 boys in Thailand that were trapped in a cave with their coach in June for 18 days? Monsoon rains flooded the entrance and trapped them deep inside. Waiting for the rains to stop and drain might have taken months. Rescuers were at a loss how to proceed until the Israeli tech company, Maxtech, stepped up to help. Thailand offered to buy their technology which helped find the boys and communicate with them, but the Israeli company joined the rescue team without charge. In almost every disaster in the world Israel sends hundreds of personnel on search-and-rescue missions along with teams of doctors and medics—risking their lives in foreign countries for people they never met—all in the hope of saving a life.

Why do they do it? Why do they risk the lives of hundreds in the hope of saving a few they never met? Aren’t hundreds of people worth more than 1 or 2? Not in the Jewish tradition. In our tradition, every person, with no exception, is of infinite value. And Israel understands that. That’s why Israel will trade 400 Palestinian prisoners for 1 or 2 Israelis. As the movie Schindler’s List concludes—quoting the words of the Talmud Sanhedrin 4:5: “He who saves one life is as if he saved an entire world.”

Do you know why we sit Shiva for 7 days? Because the world was created in 6 days and completed with Shabbat on the 7th and every single person is a complete world in and of himself or herself, with infinite value and potential. And that is why in a dramatic statement in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) we are told that every human being is obligated to say: Bishvili nivra ha-olam (For my sake the world was created). What an incredibly powerful statement: “For my sake the world was created.”

The Chassidic master Simcha Bunim of Peshischa advised that a person should always carry a piece of paper with him. On one side he should write this passage from the Talmud, “For my sake was the world created,” and on the other side he should write the verse from the Torah (Genesis 18:27), Va-anochi afar va-eyfer (I am but dust and ashes). Whenever one gets depressed one should look at the former, and whenever one gets arrogant one should look at the latter. In this fine Chassidic tradition, let us make such a piece of paper and carry it with us always. 

My friends, no one is perfect, not even the most righteous person. Low self-esteem, low self-worth is evident in others when they’re paid a compliment. Some will offer thanks while others dismiss it because it’s hard for them to receive praise. I know I sometimes fall into that category. Your ability to receive and give love determines your self-worth. So receive Gd’s love even though you don’t deserve it. Show Him your love and appreciation by following His ways. If you do so your sense of self-esteem and self-worth will grow stronger and stronger.

Let me conclude with the words of Moses in our parsha (Deut. 10:12): “Now O Israel, what does Hashem your Gd ask of you? Only to be in awe of Hashem your Gd, to go in all His ways and to love him, and to serve Hashem your Gd with all your heart and with all your soul...for your own good.” A few verses (21) later Moses tells the people, Hu t’hilatcha (Gd is your praise). What does that mean? It means that when you love Gd and follow Him, you allow the image of Gd within you to manifest and then you attain great worth, worthy of praise.

So yes, along with Wayne’s World we can bow and say “We’re not worthy.” But we can be worthy of praise. It’s up to us. Amen!

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