Life, the Bigger Picture -- Say Cheese!
Each man, his sanctified offerings, they shall be his. (5:10)
In a literal sense, the above verse teaches us that while each person
must separate a percentage of his earnings and produce to be given to
the Kohanim, it is his choice to which Kohen they should be given. A
Kohen may not come and demand his due, but rather each man's
offerings shall be his - to decide to whom they are given. (Rashi)
On a different level, commentaries find in this verse a basic yet essential
lesson that we would do well to repeat to ourselves constantly: All we
really stand to profit from our short lives upon the earth are the
moments of Torah and mitzvos we shrewdly put aside. Although we may
expend much time and energy in building our homes, making sure our
cars run smoothly, our wardrobes are up to date, and our finances in
order, none of that will make much of a difference once the plug is
pulled on our feeble existence and we take up eternal residence in our
ethereal dwellings. Then, our status won't be determined by our
clothing, our cars, our carpets or our condominiums, but by the time we
put aside for the "finer points" of life - Torah, mitzvos, and a measure of
holiness. Each man, his holy things, those shall be his - forever.
Let us imagine a man with three friends. He would introduce them as
follows: One friend is very dear, and they speak regularly. The second
friend is a good friend, but they aren't as close and talk on occasion. The
third friend is really no more than an acquaintance with whom he meets
up from time-to-time; they are on friendly terms, but there is no great
love between them. This is the pecking order of his friendships, as he
Now one day, this man was summoned to come before the king. He
was being accused of a crime he didn't commit, although in those days
that didn't necessarily make a difference. Once it became known that a
person had been issued a summons, he was considered a marked man,
and even being seen together with him was risky business. Thus, when
he asked his first and best friend to come with him to the royal court to
beseech the king to absolve him of the false accusations, it should come
as no surprise that friend number one suddenly made himself scare. "You
have to understand," he explained, "I've got a wife and kids to care for...
I can't allow myself to become implicated in your affairs."
Friend two was slightly more receptive. "I will accompany you to the
palace," he said. "I'm not scared of being seen with you. But that's as far
as I go. Once I enter the palace gates, who knows if I'll ever come out?!"
To his utter surprise, it was his third and (he thought) most distant
friend who came through in his time of need. "Don't worry," he said, "I'll
be there for you, and I'll do what I can. Truth be told, I have met the
king before, and my word is a word to him. I think he'll be swayed by
my testimony over your innocence." Indeed, it was his last friend - the
one he almost forgot he even knew - that came through for him in the
The first friend, says the Chafetz Chaim, is our money and worldly
possessions. We are fondly attached to them, and invest much time and
energy into our relationship. In the end, when the King of Kings
summons us to testify before His Heavenly court, they don't accompany
us; we leave everything behind.
The second friend is our family and friends. They escort us to our final
resting place, but having said the appropriate prayers and consolations,
they return home and get on with their lives. We are but a distant
The final friend - the one we give the least consideration and attention -
is our spiritual accomplishments; our Torah, our mitzvos, and our ma'asim
tovim (deeds of kindness). Ignored and neglected though they might be,
they alone will stand with us at our moment of reckoning and do their
best to testify on our behalf.
He once said a different parable to express a similar thought: A penniless
pauper once travelled to Africa in hopes of earning some money with
which to support his undernourished family and marry off his soon-to-
be-of-age daughters. After a short while he realized there was a great
lack of meat and dairy products; due to the extreme heat the herders
had a hard time keeping their livestock well-fed. He began to deal in
livestock, and was quite successful. He gained a name for himself as a
reliable source of meat and dairy products, and after a few years he had
amassed a small fortune. He decided the time had come to return home
and share the spoils of success with his family.
But this poor soul had become so enamoured with his precious meats
and cheeses that he decided the best thing he could possibly do for his
family would be to convert all his wealth into cheese, which he would
ship back to Europe on a ship, and sell it there for even greater profits.
Standing at the docks overseeing his massive cheese shipment, he was
approached by a jewel dealer, who in the mine-laden mountains of Africa
were a dime a dozen. "Mister, how about you give me a few bundles of
cheese and I give you a nice diamond ring for your wife, and gold-
earrings for your children?"
At first he was adamant; he would not give away any of his precious
cheese for something so abundant and plentiful as jewels and metals. In
the end, he figured he could afford to give away a few blocks of his
massive cheese stock, and so he bought the diamond for his wife and the
earrings for his daughters.
Of course by the time his ship docked in Europe, the stench from the
rotting cheeses had become unbearable. His wife, who had waited years
to reap the fruits of her great sacrifice, soon realized there was nothing.
Her only consolation: The large stone in her ring, and the heavy, pure
gold in the earrings brought enough money to marry off all their
daughters to respectable mates.
What a fool this man was! Even had his cheeses stayed good, how could
he have thought they would have been worth very much back home?
Milks and meats were no great metziah in Europe where there was
plenty of water and grass for cattle to feed on. Imagine if he had only
taken his profits and invested them in precious stones, which were
plentiful in Africa, and scarce back home. Why, he would have been
wealthy beyond imagination!
And what fools we all sometimes are, says the Chafetz Chaim. When we
finally finish our short stay here on Earth, and ascend on High, we will
be forced to give an account of how we spent our precious days here
in the material world. Realizing we have invested most of our time and
energy in achieving material comfort and financial success, we will be left
speechless when we see that our "fortunes" are worth nothing at all.
Save for the little "stuff" we may have picked up along the way - a
tzedaka here, a chessed, Torah study, mitzvos - the things which we
unfortunately gave too little thought when we had the chance.
Of course our hindsight then will be twenty-twenty; but it won't get us
anywhere. Luckily, we have gedolim like the Chafetz Chaim who with a
touch of biting humour give us a wake up call to get our cheshbonos in
order before it's really too late.
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week's publication is sponsored by R' Shlomo Eliezer
Isaac, in memory of his sisters, Tzipporah and Hadas, daughters of R'
Moshe Yehudah a"h, who were killed al kiddush Hashem 14 Sivan
5704. And in memory of their grandfather, R' Eliezer ben R' Chaim
who died on 22 Sivan 5697. And in memory of their grandmother,
Esther bas R' Yitzchak, who was killed al kiddush Hashem 25 Iyar
5704. And in memory of their grandmother Hadas bas R' Shraga, who
passed away 11 Sivan 5697. ******
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org