ALL IN THE HEART
The single short chime of his digital watch announcing the time 4:30 P.M. startled and awakened Jon from his daydream. The glass of Coke slid quickly off the tray and landed straight on the floor.
The single short chime of his digital watch announcing the time 4:30 P.M. startled and awakened Jon from his daydream. The glass of Coke slid quickly off the tray and landed straight on the floor. It smashed against the black and white tiled floor, shattering glass in all directions. Dark liquid quickly spread over eleven tiles, forming a slippery puddle of soda right next to the table Jon was waiting on. "Man, I'm sorry sir - I just don't know where my mind was."
Indeed, Jon was not concentrating on balancing the tray. Of course, with his face flushed red, he was fully focused on the situation at hand. Jon's summer job as a waiter began at 9:00 every morning and ended at 5:00 every afternoon. Usually by 4:30 he was anxious to leave; today was no exception. Although his hands, eyes, and ears were always busy serving juicy hamburgers, greasy fries, and soft drinks, Jon's mind would constantly wander to the night's upcoming baseball game. Summer baseball was Jon's favorite pastime. He loved the excitement and camaraderie so much that visions of sliding squarely into home and racing after high pop flies constantly filled his mind. Jon focused on hitting home runs rather than serving meals. Today he faced the consequences with a mop instead of a Louisville Slugger.
Everybody is familiar with this feeling of "my mind is elsewhere". Certain things which we consider more important - whether it is paying the electric bill or taking a much deserved vacation - tend to draw our attention away from balancing the tray or whatever else we might be doing. Indeed, people can spend most of their day performing tasks that are not necessary but are of primary importance, as evidenced by their daydreaming about other matters. Jon, for one, spends nearly two-thirds of his waking hours in the restaurant, but his major occupation in terms of hours doesn't indicate his heart's true focus.
Similarly, many Jews spend long hours at work, but this time allocation of Jewish professionals does not reflect what should be their ultimate aspiration in life, the aspiration that we express twice daily when reading the Shema prayer: "You shall love Hashem with all your heart." Despite all of the time we spend doing seemingly mundane activities, the heart of a Jew truly yearns to grow in Torah and to build a relationship with his Creator.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the great leaders and Torah scholars in America of the past generation, highlights this concept in a perplexing statement that Moses makes to the Jewish people in this week's Torah portion: "You have seen everything that Hashem did before your eyes in the land of Egypt. . .the great trials that your eyes beheld, those great signs and wonders. But Hashem did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day" (Deuteronomy 29:1-3).
The Jews had complained on ten separate occasions about the inhospitable desert conditions in which Hashem had placed them, but never did they acknowledge all of the great miracles which Hashem performed for them in Egypt and in the desert over the past forty years. Hashem constantly proved His dedication to the Children of Israel, but they always responded with rebellion and dissent. Finally, on that day, at the end of their journey in the desert, Moses perceived that the Jews were ultimately dedicated to Hashem.
One particular event swayed Moses' opinion about the Jewish people. At the very end of his life, Moses copied over the Torah and attempted to give the scroll to the family of Levi; they, more than any other tribe, were to dedicate their lives to studying and teaching Hashem's precious book to the Jewish people. Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, relates that the rest of the Jewish people joined together and said to Moses that they had also been present at Mt. Sinai when Hashem gave the Torah. They claimed that presenting this special Torah scroll to the Levites could one day cause them to say that the Torah was given to them exclusively.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that, in reality, the family of Levi would never make such an audacious claim; of course the whole Torah, even the laws specifically applying to the Levites, were given to the entire Jewish people. Rather, the other tribes suspected something more subtle. Non-Levites, who must spend long hours at work earning a living, feared that the Levites, who have the opportunity to spend their entire day immersed in Torah, would claim exclusivity in the areas of teaching Torah and resolving complicated matters of Jewish law. The non-Levites wanted to assure a place for themselves among the experts in Torah.
By demanding an active role in perpetuating the Torah, the Jewish people displayed their hearts' true focus and reassured Moses that they had their priorities straight. Income is a definite necessity, but no matter how much effort we rightfully devote to other endeavors, Jews must remember that the Torah and our relationship with Hashem remain our true life goal.
Yosef Rodbell, a third-generation Atlantan, is a senior at Yeshiva University in New York.
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