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DIAMONDS, RUBIES -- AND MILK?

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"A man's sanctified items shall be his" (Numbers 5:10).

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"A man's sanctified items shall be his" (Numbers 5:10).

Once there was a hard-working man who was having a difficult time making ends meet. Because he was unable to make enough money to support his family, he decided to go on an extended business trip in a far away land where he hoped to be more successful. Upon his arrival, he quickly became involved in the sale of dairy products, items which were scarce in that land. Milk brought a high return and he soon grew quite wealthy.

When, after several years, he was satisfied that he had made a fortune which would provide comfortably for his wife and family for the rest of their lives, he prepared to return home with his newly acquired wealth. However, reasoning that he could also sell his milk at home, he decided against transporting his gold and silver coins and instead repurchased many barrels of milk which he promptly loaded onto his ship, hoping that he could increase his profits even further. At the last minute, just before his ship was to set sail, a merchant selling diamonds and precious stones for an extraordinarily low price approached him. After much convincing and persuasion, the man agreed to exchange a small portion of his valuable milk for some of the merchant's precious, yet inexpensive gems.

After many days of travel, the man finally arrived at his home port where his family anxiously awaited his arrival, excited to discover what treats their husband and father had amassed over the long years. When they began to unload the hundreds of chests of merchandise, they were immediately overcome by an incredible stench. It soon became apparent that his thousands of gallons of milk had spoiled during the long voyage. Frustrated by the many years of separation and unable to believe her husband's stupidity, his wife began crying bitterly. "How could you invest your entire savings in milk, something which anyway sells here for next to nothing. You should have purchased chests of precious gems for cheap, and sold them here for millions. With what will you support us now!" Realizing his horrible blunder, the man was left with nothing to respond.

Eventually he remembered that he had, at the last minute, purchased a few boxes of precious stones, and he used those to support his family for some time.

So is the life of man. We come to this world for a short time, thinking that we will turn a huge profit by investing in its many fleeting pleasures. Food and drink are cheap; glory, honor, and pleasure await us at every corner. We fail to consider the valuable diamonds and precious gems, the Torah and mitzvot, which can be acquired here for so little. And when our time comes to leave this world and return home, all we have to take with us are our fun and games - our spoiled milk. Of course we amass a few precious gems over the years, but our heart yearns for the many lost opportunities when we could have made millions and prepared for ourselves a wonderful place in the real world, the World to Come.

With this parable, the Chofetz Chaim, the saintly Torah scholar and leader at the turn of this century, homoletically explained the above verse in this week's Torah portion. Not our money and not our fame - only the mitzvot that we do and the Torah that we learn are really ours to take with us.

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Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Baltimore.

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