COUNTDOWN TO SINAI
Following their miraculous exodus, the Jewish people spent 49 days traversing desert terrain from the confines of Egypt to the foothills of Mt. Sinai. This marked the beginning of a journey that would forever change their collective course in history.
Following their miraculous exodus, the Jewish people spent 49 days traversing desert terrain from the confines of Egypt to the foothills of Mt. Sinai. This marked the beginning of a journey that would forever change their collective course in history. They spent those seven weeks spiritually preparing themselves - dry cleaning their souls - to make themselves fitting to consummate their relationship with G-d as His chosen nation through the receiving of the Torah.
Ever since, these 49 days are marked by the counting of the omer each night, beginning with the second night of Passover and extending until the festival of Shavuot. Tragically, in the days of the great Rabbi Akiva, this period also distinguished itself through the tragic death of thousands of his students. As such, we mark these weeks as ones of mourning for their unfortunate demise.
Our sages teach that the major impetus for the death of all these wise students was because, on their level, they showed a lack of respect for one another. As is too often seen, this malaise has in no way died down. It is, therefore, our duty to rectify this situation in our own daily lives. In fact, many synagogues recite "Ethics of Our Fathers" every Shabbat during this period to help us in correcting our ways.
As we count down to the receiving of the Torah at Sinai, the following story may inspire us to work towards rectifying the lack of respect and senseless hatred which prevails in all of our communities.
Charles was a very wealthy man. He had spent many years brokering huge mergers between multinational corporations, and his stock had skyrocketed. At the age of thirty, he was already worth 600 million dollars. For his 35th birthday, he bought himself a hundred acre ranch in Utah. Soon he had made it onto the list of Forbes richest 100.
The problem with Charles was that he never gave charity his entire life. Every day poor people and organizations would come to his office making their plea, but to no avail. Charles was a miserly scrooge and didn't want to part with any of his money - not even a penny of it.
Just after his 40th birthday, Charles tragically died in a bizarre boating accident while vacationing on his yacht. As he went up to the gates of heaven, Charles noticed a long line of people twisting around several clouds waiting to get in. As each person passed through the gate, an angel would ask, "How much charity did you give during your lifetime?" The person would respond with a dollar amount, and would be allowed to pass through. As the line moved along, Charles got a bit worried as he knew that his charitable contributions didn't amount to much. Finally, it was his turn.
"How much charity did you give during your lifetime?" the angel asked Charles.
"To be honest with you, I really didn't give much money to the poor." As he said this, Charles reached into his back pocket and pulled out his checkbook. "But, I'd be more than happy to rectify the situation." He opened up his checkbook. "Just tell me who to make the check out to."
A bit startled, the angel looked at Charles and said, "Sorry, but we don't take checks here. We only accept receipts."
The story makes a pensive point. We are put here on earth for a finite amount of time. It is during that duration which we call "life" that we are blessed with the opportunity to not only give charity, but to do many acts of kindness.
There is a story told about the Vilna Gaon, perhaps the greatest Torah scholar of the past few centuries, who was seen crying as he lay on his deathbed. "Why are you crying?" his students asked. "You are about to be reunited with your Creator."
The Vilna Gaon responded: "The reason I cry is because after I die, I will no longer be able to perform Hashem's mitzvot. While alive, for a few pennies one can do a mitzvah and earn eternity. Soon that wonderful opportunity will be gone."
The time is now. The challenge is upon us. If we thought about it, we would realize that every moment of every day we are given the opportunity to do a good deed. We can make a friend or colleague feel better by asking about their well-being. We could bite our tongue when somebody chastises us in order to prevent a bitter argument. We could take out the garbage without anyone asking. We could give a little more to charity. We have five more weeks until we arrive at Mt. Sinai and G-d graciously gives us His Torah. Will we be ready?
Benyamin Cohen, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a senior at Georgia State University.
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