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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Living the Good Life (Shabbos 23)


On his way to shul, Rav Huna would often pass by the home of Rabbi Avin the carpenter. Noticing that Rabbi Avin would habitually kindle a multitude of lights in honour of Shabbat, he declared, “Two great men will emerge from this household.”  Sure enough, two of our greatest Sages came from the family: Rav Idi bar Avin and Rav Chia bar Avin.

On his way to shul, Rav Chisda would often pass by the home of Rav Sheizvi’s father-in-law.  Noticing that they were similarly habitual in their kindling of a multitude of lights in honour of Shabbat, he declared, “A great person will emerge from this household.”  Sure enough, their daughter eventually married Rav Sheizvi.

אָמַר רַב הוּנָא: הָרָגִיל בְּנֵר הָוְיִין לֵיהּ בָּנִים תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים. הַזָּהִיר בִּמְזוּזָה — זוֹכֶה לְדִירָה נָאָה. הַזָּהִיר בְּצִיצִית — זוֹכֶה לְטַלִּית נָאָה. הַזָּהִיר בְּקִידּוּשׁ הַיּוֹם — זוֹכֶה וּמְמַלֵּא גַּרְבֵי יַיִן. רַב הוּנָא הֲוָה רְגִיל דַּהֲוָה חָלֵיף וְתָנֵי אַפִּתְחָא דְרַבִּי אָבִין נַגָּרָא. חֲזָא דַּהֲוָה רְגִיל בִּשְׁרָגֵי טוּבָא, אֲמַר: תְּרֵי גַּבְרֵי רַבְרְבֵי נָפְקִי מֵהָכָא. נָפְקִי מִינַּיְיהוּ רַב אִידִי בַּר אָבִין וְרַב חִיָּיא בַּר אָבִין. רַב חִסְדָּא הֲוָה רְגִיל דַּהֲוָה חָלֵיף וְתָנֵי אַפִּיתְחָא דְּבֵי נָשָׁא דְּרַב שֵׁיזְבִי. חֲזָא דַּהֲוָה רְגִיל בִּשְׁרָגֵי טוּבָא, אֲמַר: גַּבְרָא רַבָּא נָפֵק מֵהָכָא. נְפַק מִינַּיְיהוּ רַב שֵׁיזְבִי

Rav Huna said: One who is habitual in the kindling of lights on Shabbat and Chanukah will be rewarded with children who are Torah scholars. One who is meticulous in performing the mitzvah of mezuzah will merit a beautiful house.  One who is meticulous in performing the mitzvah of tzitzis will merit beautiful garments. One who is meticulous in performing the mitzvah of kiddush of the day will merit to fill many jugs of wine.

אָמַר רָבָא: דְּרָחֵים רַבָּנַן, הָווּ לֵיהּ בְּנִין רַבָּנַן. דְּמוֹקִיר רַבָּנַן, הָווּ לֵיהּ חַתְנָווֹתָא רַבָּנַן. דְּדָחֵיל מֵרַבָּנָן, הוּא גּוּפֵיהּ הָוֵי צוּרְבָּא מֵרַבָּנַן. וְאִי לָאו בַּר הָכֵי הוּא, מִשְׁתַּמְעָן מִילֵּיהּ כְּצוּרְבָּא מֵרַבָּנַן

Rava said: One who loves Sages will have children who are Sages. One who honours Sages will have sons-in-law who are Sages. One who reveres the Sages will himself become a Torah scholar. And if he is not capable, his statements will be received like those of a Torah scholar.

Rav Huna offers a number of sensible recommendations. They all seem very straightforward.  But a careful reading reveals the difference between those who adhere to his extraordinary guidelines and those who take the path of least resistance.  Going the extra mile produces results that are above and beyond.

Let’s begin with the advice to be habitual in the kindling of Shabbat and Chanukah lights.  In some homes, 6:03pm candle-lighting time means that the candles have been lit and are shining bright by 6:02 and a half.  Like clockwork. Often even earlier.  So that when people pass by their homes on the way to shul, an aura of tranquillity and sanctity emanates from the house.  You can tell that Shabbat has arrived.   That’s what Rav Huna and Rav Chisda felt when they passed by the homes of Rav Avin the carpenter and Rav Sheizvi’s in-laws respectively. 

Other homes, 6:03 is code-word for 6:21, because everyone knows that there’s really an additional 18 minutes until Shabbat!  And so at 6:20, they’re fumbling around looking for candles and shouting at one another about whose job it was to get it all ready.  If that sounds at all familiar, it’s really not difficult at all to switch gears.  It’s all about the habits we keep.  If you simply get into a pattern of getting ready earlier – don’t think 18 minutes, think a half hour – you’ll find the entry into Shabbat a whole different experience. 

When children see that, they feel the warmth and embrace it.  Hence, the merit of the children and children-in-law who emerged from those homes.  And that’s why Rava talks about begetting righteous children-in-law.  The examples we set for love, honour, and reverence of Torah and its scholars permeate our lives, and impact the minds and hearts of our family members, influencing the lifestyle decisions they eventually make.

What is the difference between fulfilling the mitzvah of mezuzah and being meticulous in the mitzvah?  Many people seek to minimize the ‘damage’ of their mezuzah bill, by finding the cheapest scrolls available and finding leniencies for which doorways actually require the affixing of a mezuzah.  Sure, they’ve executed their duty of placing a mezuzah, but at the same time, they’ve done whatever they could to avoid paying any more than absolutely necessary.

But a mezuzah is a mezuzah!  Why should you pay £50 when you can find one for £30?  To answer that question, think about the price of an automobile.  Why pay £200 grand on a Lamborghini when you can get by with a £10k Kia? They both get you from point A to B!  Rav Huna’s advice is wonderful: In our tradition, it’s not a question of either/or.  You don’t have to sacrifice physical and material comforts for the spiritual.  You can have it all, because everything is intrinsically connected. 

You don’t really need a home with beautiful furnishings.  All you really need is a roof over your head.  But Judaism is entirely comfortable with the pursuit of the good life. God wants you to have the nicest home possible.  Hence, Rav Huna’s advice: Value your spiritual home-furnishings, and you will merit a gorgeous home.  Nice mezuzos will bring both spiritual and material blessing into the home. 

Let’s talk about tzitzis.  Strictly speaking, if you happen to own a four-cornered garment, then you are obligated to tie tassels onto the corners.  But nowadays, who owns a four-cornered garment?  Theoretically therefore, there should be no need for tzitzis anymore.  But with that attitude, nobody ever would have worn tzitzis.  Even in ancient times, when they cloaked themselves in large four-cornered robes, an easy way to opt out of the obligation was to cut off or round one of the corners. Hence the expression ‘cutting corners’!

But when you think about it, we don’t really need to wear fancy brand-label clothing either.  We could get by buying our suits off the rack at Walmart.  So it doesn’t fit perfectly, and it is last decade’s style.  Does it really make a difference?  But that’s not Judaism’s view of matters.  You are a prince and a princess of the Supreme King of Kings.  Your Father wants you to look like royalty!

We wear tzitzis despite not really needing to in order to demonstrate our love for mitzvos.  We’ve deliberately chosen to don a four-cornered garment and obligate ourselves in the mitzvah.  We’re not looking to cut corners.  We want to wear the finest spiritual garments available.  And with that, we merit wearing the finest physical garments.

And finally, let’s turn to Kiddush wine.  I marvel at how often we have Shabbat guests who are surprised when I open a nice bottle of wine and proceed to pour it into the becher (cup) for Kiddush. ‘We never knew you could use real wine for Kiddush,’ they exclaim, ‘We always thought it had to be sweet sacramental wine.’  And so all week long, they’ll partake of the fanciest wines.  But comes the great mitzvah of Kiddush on Shabbat, and they’re drinking sweet wine or grape juice.  Not that they really like the taste, but ‘that’s what we’ve always done.’ 

The truth is, we didn’t always drink sweet wine for Kiddush.  It’s not clear when or how it happened, but somewhere along the line, Jews forgot the art of fine winemaking.  In Talmudic times, we loved good wine.  In the medieval ages, we loved good wine.  And then, as we were no longer able to own agricultural property, good wine became a scarce commodity in the Jewish community.  Nowadays, thank God, we have returned to our glory days, with some of the world’s finest wines coming out of Israel and kosher wineries around the world.  If you secretly dream of owning a nice liquor collection, Rav Huna suggests using only your best wines for the mitzvah of Kiddush.

Judaism teaches that you can have it all.  The secret to the good life is to value material blessing and utilize it for spiritual pursuits.  Since the physical, material, and spiritual are all intertwined, all you need to do is turn on Heaven’s tap and the blessing will flow to every area of your life.  May you offer the very best of your material blessing to Heaven and enjoy the good life that will then flow to you!

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