From The Rabbi's Desk
Thought For The Week

Interest Rate Hike - A Great Idea

As I am not an economist and as someone who, like everyone else, feels the pinch of the rate hikes, I am naturally not giving my "financial expertise" on the Parsha thought.

One of my Roshay Yeshiva was once giving a shiur when one of the Bochrim fell asleep. Not known for his timid and mild manner, the Rosh Yeshiva banged loudly on the table and let the Bochur "have it". When the Bochur apologised saying that he was tired (understandable, Yeshiva started at seven in the morning and ended at ten at night). This excuse was absolutely not accepted by my Rosh Yeshiva who, not known for his "delicacy" said "Nonsense! If you were watching a movie (which was a no-no) you wouldn't be sleeping. You are not tired! You are not interested!"

There is a fascinating Talmudic story (Bava Metzia 84a). Rabbi Yochanan (the author of the Jerusalem Talmud and a man who was very good looking) was bathing in the Jordan river. Raish Lakish, who at the time was a thief, jumped from one side of the river to the other (indicating his tremendous physical strength). Upon seeing this, Rabbi Yochanan said that he should use this marvellous strength for studying Torah. Raish Lakish responded that your good looks should be for women. Rabbi Yochanan said "if you do Teshuva and commit yourself to Torah, I will give you my sister as a wife who is even more attractive than I am". Raish Lakish accepted the offer (and ended up becoming a great Torah scholar). However, when he tried to now jump back to the other side of the river, he found that he was no longer able to. Rashi explains that the reason for this is that the moment he committed himself to Torah, he immediately became physically weakened.

Oddly enough however, in this week's Parsha, we encounter a story that appears to totally contradict the idea that Torah study and observance weakens physical strength.

We are told how Ya'akov, when fleeing his brother, arrives in the country of his uncle Lavan. Upon arrival, he notices the shepherds all loitering around a watering trough. When he asks why they are not doing their job, namely give the animals to drink and continue to let them graze, they responded that they were unable to give their animals to drink because the well was covered by a rock so large, they needed to wait for all of the other shepherds to arrive and assist. As this conversation unfolds, Rachel is approaching with her father's flock. As soon as he sees her, Ya'akov single handily removes the massive boulder, as Rashi points out, like removing a cork from a bottle, with absolute ease. (It should be noted that the exact same event transpires with Moshe when he flees Egypt to Midyan.)

Given the story we saw before in the Talmud, surely Ya'akov, who spent fourteen years studying day and night in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, Ya'akov whom the Torah calls an Ish Tam, a sincere individual who is a yoshev ohalim, dwells in the tents (the tent of Torah study) should have been physically week and incapable of this remarkable feat.

Equally perplexing is why it is that in a moment of determination of Raish Lakish to adopt a life of Torah study and observance, even prior to studying anything, in that single moment he became so weakened that he was unable to jump back to the other side of the river.

Rabbi Ya'akov Neiman, in Darkei Mussar makes a very pointed observation. Strength and ability are generally not natural but achieved. Put slightly differently, if one has a desire to do something, one finds the internal reserves to pursue that passion, that desire and that goal. He notes that in Yeshiva it is not uncommon to see weak and feeble young men who have the stamina to sit and learn hour on end, day and night with very little sleep. On the other hand there can be a sportsman who has unbelievable strength and fitness, but after five minutes sitting in Yeshiva will be sapped of strength and will fall asleep exhausted.

The difference lies not in ability, but in interest. Raish Lakish was interested in theft and pleasures of the body. The moment however that he changed his outlook and developed a desire for the spiritual, for Torah study and observance, he did not become physically weaker. Rather, the physical prowess and ability he possessed was no longer of any import to him. It is not that he could not jump to the other side, he had no interest in doing so. With this we can understand that though Ya'akov was a great Torah giant, he was not physically weak. He simply had no desire to do weights and display his muscles. When, however, his future wife appeared, in order to help her he removed the rock and thus displaying his immense, though in his eyes inconsequential, physical strength.

I believe this point has been brought home to us in South Africa through the Chief Rabbi's Shabbos project. We tend to think that we CANNOT keep Shabbos. It is too difficult, too onerous, too much of a commitment. Though there may be truth in this, the Shabbos project has shown us that when we want to, we actually can do it.

We do not need to foster an ability, which we innatelyhave, we only need to create a desire. With a small hike in our personal interest rate, we can make an amazing investment that will yield tremendous returns.

Shabbat Shalom.
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Rabbi Gidon Fox