Saturday, November 03, 2012

We Must Not Spurn God's Gifts

I am reading Out of the Depths: The Story of a Child of Buchenwald Who Returned Home at Last by Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. The book is extremely moving, and I thank Marc, who recommended it to me. (Heshy says my parents also told me to read it, but clearly that fell on deaf ears at the time). I came across a passage in the book that really caught my imagination.


Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach once spoke to Israel Meir and asked him about the story of King Ahab and Naboth. He questioned, "What happens to Elijah is clear, and what happens to Ahab is clear, but the question is, why did all this happen to Naboth? He has a vineyard in the Jezreel Valley that the king desires, but he refuses to sell it, because it is the heritage of his ancestors. Far be it from me before the Lord that I should give you my ancestors' heritage, Naboth protests. Why was he punished? Why was he condemned to death?"

In explanation, the rabbi told Israel Meir a midrash about Naboth's punishment:
God endowed Naboth with the most beautiful singing voice of his generation. Three times a year, when the Israelites would make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Naboth would sing on the Temple Mount, and all the pilgrims enjoyed the beauty of his son. Then one day, pride went to his head; he was swayed by the admiration of the crowds. The next time he went to Jerusalem, he refused to sing until the people begged and pleaded with him. He agreed only after the entreaties of ministers and leaders, and finally he stopped singing altogether. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Naboth, "You had a role in this world, and it was to bring joy to other living creatures. I gave you that talent. I placed this melodious bell in your throat, so that you would ring it and your voice would carry afar. But you are withholding from my creatures what they deserve to enjoy, not what you deserve to have. Do not withhold a good thing from its proper owner. I am bringing you back to me, because you have no more goal in life. You have not fulfilled the mission for which I designated you."
"Israel Meir," Rabbi Shlomo Zalman continued after a short pause, "God gave you the power of speech. You have a mission in life- you take after your father. We must not spurn God's gifts; we should not turn our backs on Him. I don't know whether this is what grabbed you by the hair and pulled you out of the piles of ashes in Europe. I won't try to understand the reckoning of the Master of the Universe. But one thing is clear to me; you must dedicate yourself to your studies, learning more an dmore, so that when the time comes, you will ring this bell and make it heard afar."

This was one of the most important conversations of my [Israel Meir's] life. At every moment of my life since then, it has shaped and influenced me.

(This is found on pages 164-165).

This passage reminded me of another I had read in Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. There, he says (on page xiii):

The imperative of teaching flows not just from hesed, but from true scholarship and knowledge of God:
To know God also means to have a desire to share one's knowledge with others, to have a longing to teach people, to bring the message to the ignorant and insensitive or to those unfortunate ones who have not had the opportunity to learn and to study. A man who is happy and does not want to teach others is not necessarily cruel and selfish. But he is not a scholar. A real scholar cannot contain what he knows within himself; he explodes. Knowledge entails a dynamic element; the knower becomes restless, the truth cries out from the inner recesses of his personality, and he must tell others. 

When God bequeaths a talent to a person, whether it is a talent for public speaking, for accumulating knowledge, for learning and so on, it is not there for the sake of the person, although it certainly enhances their life. It is there because with that talent, the person is meant to serve- to serve the world, his fellow man and God. As the motto of my high school went, "Live and Serve!" If one is so lucky as to be chosen, to be gifted, it is not ever solely a gift; it is always also a means to a path of service. The most beloved man of God was called His servant, and so too do we all aspire to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very true