THE COSMIC BILLFOLD
Rabbi David Bogart
Everyone sat at their desks anxiously waiting for their first session of pilot class to begin. Precisely at seven, the instructor walked into the room and began to hand out pilot instruction manuals.
Everyone sat at their desks anxiously waiting for their first session of pilot class to begin. Precisely at seven, the instructor walked into the room and began to hand out pilot instruction manuals. Each student received their instructions for flying with the understanding that in their hands lay the key to survival - to follow the rules, regulations, and advice meant safety and the ability to deal with the dangerous situations that would inevitably occur. But to disregard, forget, or fail to learn this vital information could very well mean death.
The Torah is our Book of Life. Often referred to as Torat Chaim - Instructions for Living, the Torah guides and teaches us in every aspect of life: friendship, marriage, love, respect, desire, charity, property ownership, business ethics, morality, and conversation, to mention just a few. This unending list pervades our lives from the time we are brought into this world until we are laid to rest. Shavuot commemorates the day when we received our manual for living.
To illustrate how even a simple mitzvah of bein adam l'chaveiro (the laws which regulate how we are to act and respond to one another) can have a profound impact upon our lives, let me present to you the following true story: Jane was a young Jewish woman in search of the meaning of life. Jane had dabbled in the occult and various far out eastern religions, but she finally settled upon an Indian religion which spoke about karma and her connection to the cosmos. Her swami was very philosophical and esoteric, and Jane felt that she was, at last, on the road to learning the meaning of life. Jane decided to visit her master in India. As an afterthought, she decided to pass through Israel for a few days to visit relatives of her grandparents. As fate would have it, she thought to visit the Western Wall, so she caught a bus to Jerusalem.
As she stepped off the bus at the central bus station to search for a connecting bus to the Jaffa Gate, a man wearing a black hat, a very dark suit, and silly looking strings dangling along his thighs accosted her and asked her for the time. Startled, Jane replied. Now that Rabbi Meir Shuster had his opening, he went for the jugular: Where are you from? What brings you to the holy city? What makes your life meaningful? May I give you a lift? A bit wary, Jane accepted the rabbi's offer for a ride down to the Jewish Quarter. Jane described to the rabbi her search for meaning, including her love for her new found Indian religion. After visiting the Wall, Jane consented to go to one more "Jewish" place before departing the Holy Land.
She found herself sitting in a classroom with a group of other women at a seminary in a neighborhood high up on a hill with a wonderful view. She agreed to sit in this one Jewish class which was supposed to be discussing the divine revelation to mankind, a Jewish Nirvana if you will, our connection to the cosmos. However, Jane listened with more and more frustration as the conversation went back and forth from student to rabbi - 45 minutes of discussion about returning a lost object: Are there any identifying marks, where was the object found, is it likely that the person would have given up hope of ever finding it again, etc. Jane could stand it no longer. This has nothing to do with our connection to the cosmos! or the meaning of life! Jane didn't mean to blurt out, but she did. The instructor replied that this was the point, we are the cosmos and we are all connected. But Jane did not stick around to here the rest of his pontification - she had heard quite enough.
Jane woke to the stewardess's voice that the aircraft was cleared for landing in India. She was excited about the thought that she would be reunited with her beloved swami. But even so, Jane could not shake the comment of the rabbi back in Jerusalem - "That is the point: we are the cosmos."
Jane's swami met her at the gate with the traditional Indian swami greeting. As they walked outside, she could not help but notice the cows that wandered around freely. She saw starving people and well-fed cows. Jane asked about this imbalance, but all her swami answered is that the people are fulfilling their part to the cosmos and that all others need to let the karma of these "unfortunates" commune with the cosmos without any interference.
As they walked along the sidewalk, they spotted a wallet in the gutter. When the swami picked up the wallet and placed it in his tunic, Jane asked him what would become of the wallet and the money inside of it. The swami explained to Jane that he was meant to have it, it was his destiny. The cosmos expected him to use the money from the wallet to support his meditations and teachings. Jane protested that surely the person who lost the wallet would miss it. The swami again explained to his student that the former owner of the billfold was meant to lose it, it was his bad karma; the cosmos was rearranging the ownership of the money.
It was at that instant that Jane understood the teachings of the rabbi in Jerusalem. Her swami was stealing that wallet regardless of whether the karma was good or bad. His actions were wrong. The end of the story is that she returned to Israel and now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children and is leading a profoundly Jewish life.
On the holiday of Shavuot we reaffirm our acceptance of the Torah into our lives by learning, understanding, and performing Hashem's instructions for living. Living a Torah lifestyle cements our partnership with our Maker and causes positive bonds to be built among mankind, or the cosmos, if you will.
Rabbi David Bogart writes from Atlanta.
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