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A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

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by Mendel Starkman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Roger had always been known as a great salesman. Regardless of what was being sold - be it used cars, stationary or shares in a mutual fund - Roger could always come up with a buyer. His marketing prowess and pushy personality led him to great success in his field. So when a manufacturer hired him for a challenging sell, he thought he was prepared for the task.

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Roger had always been known as a great salesman. Regardless of what was being sold - be it used cars, stationary or shares in a mutual fund - Roger could always come up with a buyer. His marketing prowess and pushy personality led him to great success in his field. So when a manufacturer hired him for a challenging sell, he thought he was prepared for the task.

It was the coldest week in February, and an air-conditioner manufacturer was trying to unload some inventory. Roger gave the job his all, but fell short of making a sale. He haggled and pushed and tormented prospective customers. Yet, even he, with his extensive marketing experience, was unable to sell the disfavored air-conditioners. Clearly, there was a specific selling season in which they would be very "hot" items. But attempting to sell them out of that season was much more difficult.

In his commentary to this week's Torah portion, the Chofetz Chaim, the foremost leader of Torah Jewry at the turn of the 20th century, presents a very powerful parable. The lesson from this parable is especially important to consider now, during the aseret yimei teshuvah - the few critical days that lie between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Two sisters had married, one to a rich man, the other to a pauper. They moved apart, and the sisters had not seen each other in many years. Finally, the poor sister decided to visit her wealthy sibling. As she approached her sister's house, she was greeted by a finely dressed maid.

The maid escorted her into the home, which was more of a palace than a house, and was dazed by its absolute elegance and glamour. She gazed dumbfounded at the exquisite rooms and atriums, each one highlighted by fixtures of pearl, ivory, and gold. When reunited with her sister, she could not help noticing her sister's fine jewelry and clothing. The poor sister stood motionless, staring at her sister, barely believing that she was related to the queen who stood before her.

The sisters embraced and began to speak. When the conversation eventually turned to their respective social positions, the poor sister commented about her sister's glum appearance.

"Why do you look so sad?" she asked. "You have everything that you could possibly ask for in life! Even if you do lack some luxury, you will undoubtedly receive it if you ask. What could possibly be upsetting you?"

"Indeed," the rich sister responded. "My husband is a very prestigious and wealthy man. He gives me everything - the finest clothing, jewelry, and foods. But all this is worthless because he does not respect me as a person! He treats me like one of the maids and embarrasses me before the noblest dignitaries!

"Although you are poor, your husband respects you and cares about your feelings. While you may lack material wealth, you have a rich relationship with your spouse. That is worth much more than the empty jewelry that my husband throws on me."

In the same way, each one of us should stop to consider our relationship with the Torah. There are communities that are blessed with wealth, and they shower their Torah with that wealth. The Torah is dressed in the most ornate velvet covers, adorned with silver crowns and housed in an ark of gold. The Torah is kept and read in the most beautiful synagogue building.

Yet, all that glamour is meaningless if the people do not follow what the Torah has to say. It's easy to contribute to the physical beauty of the Torah. But, as the rich sister confided, it is the emotional concern and dignity that builds the relationship - not the empty beauty and wealth. If we really care for the Torah, we must learn its laws and lessons, and inculcate them into our daily lifestyles.

To find the Torah's lessons, we do not need to look very far. At the end of this week's Torah portion, Moses ends his soliloquy to the Jewish people.

He concludes by telling them to be careful about all the things he had warned them and to pass on the Torah to their children. "[The Torah] is not an empty thing from you, for it is your life," Moses tells them (Deuteronomy 32:46-47). Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that the Torah is "not an empty thing" because there is no statement in the Torah that is devoid of meaning and cannot be derived to teach us a lesson. As an example, Rashi quotes a verse from Genesis (36:22) which informs us that "Lotan's sister was Timna." At first glance, this verse does not seem to pack any meaningful punch.

However, Rashi explains that Timna was a member of Lotan's royal family, and we know from another verse that she became a concubine to one of Abraham's grandsons. She was a princess, yet she gave it up just to be associated - not even as a wife - with Abraham's family. Hence, this seemingly insignificant verse actually teaches us about the greatness of Abraham.

This is just one example. The Torah is saturated with meaning and lessons. It is our job to learn those lessons and apply them to ourselves.

In his famous treatise on teshuvah (repentance), Rabbeinu Yonah, the classic 13th century commentator, discusses several methods by which we can rouse ourselves to repent. One method is to develop an attitude that we will listen to and act upon the guidance and rebuke of those who are wise in Torah. A person realizes that he does not know everything and therefore decides that from now on, he will adapt to whatever procedure Torah scholars instruct him. This change in perspective immediately transforms the individual into a new person. Although he does not yet know what is right, he has set himself on track to learn what is right. Once he has concluded to follow whatever he will soon learn, he is given credit for all those mitzvot that he will later perform. The change in perspective is the turning point that enables him to learn and grow.

We are currently standing in a very special time of the year. During these few days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our lives hang in the balance and the outcome of the new year is being determined in heaven. The judgment for the coming year was made on Rosh Hashanah and will be sealed on Yom Kippur. During this period, our actions are scrutinized, and while we beseech Hashem to grant us a healthy, prosperous year, we introspect and analyze our deeds. We look for ways to improve ourselves in the coming year and try to show our intended improvement as a merit for which He should grant us a good year.

Our sages teach us that when the prophet Isaiah said to "seek out Hashem when He is found," (Isaiah 55:6) he was referring to these days. While Hashem accepts teshuvah all year round, these ten days are especially prone for His acceptance. Taking on an attitude to follow whatever the Torah says is a powerful merit that we can show for the coming year.

Roger, the salesman, learned the hard way that there is a specific season for air conditioners. While there may be some interested customers during the coldest days of February, they will be rare and few. Otherwise, the units must be sold in the summer - when there is a ready market for them.

In a similar way, there is currently a ready market for teshuvah. These ten days are when Hashem is the most accepting of our repentance and we should take advantage of this precious time. As we look for ways to improve, we should be sure to gauge our relationship with the Torah. It is easy for us to contribute to the physical beauty of the Torah, but do we listen to what the Torah has to tell us? The Torah has so many meaningful lessons. It is our job to learn and inculcate them into our lives. Finally, as we try to show Hashem on what merit He should grant us a good year, we should again think of our relationship with the Torah. It is a tremendous merit if we determine that we will follow whatever we learn from the Torah and its scholars. May Hashem grant our entire nation a year of health, prosperity and peace.

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Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in New York.

You are invited to read more Parshat Ha’azinu articles.
You are invited to read more Yom Kippur articles.

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