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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 25 Jan 2019 08:20 PM and ends Sat 26 Jan 2019 09:20 PM
א' שבט ה' אלפים תשע"ד
In my weekly email of a few months ago, I wrote about a recent visit to the opening of a local supermarket. I described my encounter with the national CEO and the life lessons I learnt from his single-minded dedication to business.
One of my subscribers is an editor at the local Jewish newspaper. He liked the piece, modified it a bit and re-published it the following week.
The next week the paper printed a Letter to the Editor attacking me and my article. The reader was not impressed with the willingness of a Rabbi, a supposed man of G-d, to stray in foreign pastures and profess admiration for a non-Jewish businessman. Was my connection with Judaism so tenuous, he wondered, that I was forced to look outside my own religion for role models and inspiration?
Was my attacker correct? Was I acting disloyally to Yiddishkeit with my willingness to reach out of the fold for inspiration?
Of course not.
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic revolution taught that every event that occurs, no matter how seemingly insignificant, happens for a purpose and from every person we meet we can learn profound lessons in our service of G-d.
There is no such thing as coincidence and no moment of life is wasted. Wherever we go, whomever we meet, we should be conscious of this G-d given opportunity to grow and be ever ready to answer His call.
We are the sum of our experiences and our success in life depends on our willingness to follow the signs that point us on our way.
Pharaoh Bearing Gifts
The Torah reading this week is a continuation of the series of confrontations between Moshe and Pharaoh preparatory to finally allowing the Jews to leave Egypt. At the conclusion of the 9th plague, Darkness, Pharaoh was negotiating the terms of surrender.
Pharaoh summoned Moshe and said, “Go and worship G-d! But your flocks and your cattle must remain”.
Moshe replied, “Not only will we take our own cattle but you will provide us with sacrifices to offer G-d
In a 1986 discourse the Lubavitcher Rebbe posited an incredible insight from this conversation. A person could wonder, said the Rebbe, why a Jew has to seek elsewhere for inspiration and connection to G-d. The Jews had their own cattle, they should have taken those with them to the desert and be satisfied; why demand that Pharaoh supplement their resources? Similarly, one could argue, we Jews have the Torah, a sufficiently ’Kosher’ source of religious stimulation, why look elsewhere; learning life lessons from non-Jews and unbelievers?
Moshe was pointing out that not only is it permissible to glean inspiration from non-kosher sources, sometimes it is even a mitzvah. A believing Jew knows that from every person he encounters, he can learn a lesson and even the Pharaohs of this world can contribute cattle to the service of G-d.
It’s not that Torah is not sufficient, G-d forbid, rather Hashem expects us to bring Judaism into our daily life and mine inspiration from the mundane moments of our everyday reality. Moshe wanted Pharaoh’s contribution to the cause of holiness and we need to realise that the walk-on characters of our life are messengers of revelation.
Our job is to walk through the world with sufficient humility to learn from everyone and with our eyes wide open, ready to read G-d’s messages to His people.