Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach once bought a donkey and found a gem in the carrying case which came with it. The rabbis congratulated him on the windfall with which he had been blessed. “No,” said Rabbi Shimon, “I bought a donkey, but I didn’t buy a diamond.” He proceeded to return the diamond to the donkey’s owner, an Arab, who remarked, “Blessed be the God of Shimon ben Shatach.”
A non-Jew once approached Rabbi Safra and offered him a sum of money to purchase an item. Since Rabbi Safra was in the midst of prayer at the time, he could not respond to the man, who interpreted the silence as a rejection of his offer and therefore told him that he would increase the price. When Rabbi Safra again did not respond, the man continued to raise his offer. When Rabbi Safra finished, he explained that he had been unable to interrupt his prayer, but had heard the initial amount offered and had silently consented to it in his heart. Therefore, the man could have the item for that first price. Here too, the astounded customer praised the God of Israel.
We have so many opportunities to demonstrate the beauty of the Torah’s ethics. We accomplish three mitzvos by doing so: (1) practicing honesty, (2) kiddush Hashem (sanctifying the Divine Name), and (3) making the Divine Name beloved, according to the above Talmudic interpretation of the Scripture.
Today I shall…
try to act in a manner that will make the Divine Name beloved and respected.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 15″
Easier said than done.
Yeah, kind of shocking that I should say that, isn’t it? It’s easier to say that I shall love my God and make the Divine Name beloved than to actually live out those words on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.
Intention is wonderful, but real life and human nature tends to get in the way much of the time. That’s why we aren’t all tzaddikim (Righteous Ones), for only a truly righteous person who is close to God can maintain a consistent lifestyle of graciousness, humility, and kindness. The rest of us tend to get tripped up time and again by our emotions, our faults, and our bad habits.
We also get tripped up by our ambitions and most of us, in planning ahead (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), tend to keep our eyes on the end goal at the expense of looking where we’re placing our foot and what (or who) we may be stepping on.
This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.
A man came to the town of Krasny, Russia, and publicized he would balance himself on a rope tied on both sides of a river. Rabbi Chaim Krasner, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, brought some of his students to watch the man perform. Rabbi Chaim’s students, noticing how their teacher concentrated deeply on the man, asked why it caught his interest.
“I was contemplating how this person puts his life in danger to walk across the rope. If he would think about how much money he will receive for his act, he would surely slip and fall. The only way he can keep his balance is to free his mind from every other thought, and concentrate completely on each step. If his mind would wander for even a moment, he would fall into the river. That is the level of concentration we too must master.”
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Concentrate on your Next Step, Daily List #567″
Whether you prefer to rely on Yoda or Rabbi Chaim Krasner, the essential message is the same. While we have always been taught to keep our eyes on the goal, which for Christians is the person of Jesus our Lord, we must still be mindful of each step we take in order to walk a straight path to that goal. The tightrope walker wants to make it to the other end of the rope, but if he doesn’t concentrate on where he’s placing his feet each step of the way, even with his eyes on the goal, he’ll never make it.
I’ve talked before about how we can twist a particular religious or educational practice into an excuse to be hurtful and denigrating of others. And as we saw in the testing of our Master in the desert, even the Adversary can use Scripture to accomplish an evil purpose.
The ends do not justify the means. If they did, then it would be appropriate to murder an abortion doctor in order to prevent the killing of unborn children. God does not sanction the breaking of His own laws in order for us to create the illusion that we’re serving Him. It’s not just the goal that’s important, it is what we do with every moment of our lives to achieve the goal. If we feel we need to hurt another human being in order to get to where we think God wants us to be, we’ve already failed.
From my father’s guiding instructions: Keep away – to the ultimate degree – from a campaign of attack. Not because we lack the means of prevailing or because of timorousness, but because we must consecrate all our strength exclusively to strengthening our own structure, the edifice of Torah and mitzvot performed in holiness and purity. To this we must devote ourselves utterly, with actual mesirat nefesh, (self-sacrifice) not merely with potential mesirat nefesh.
Tuesday, Elul 14, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Keep your eyes on the goal but be aware of where you’re stepping. Concentrate, not on repelling the perceived “attacks” of others, but on strengthening your own morality and spirituality. Rely on God so that you can learn to be reliable to others. Seek peace with God so that you can be a source of peace to everyone around you. Behave in a manner, even toward your “enemies,” that honors the Name of God so that you too can be considered honorable.
To do otherwise desecrates the Divine Name, ruins your reputation with others, and leads to your own downfall.