The Gemara Bava Metzia 73b tells of two brothers: One was Rav Seuram, the chief of police; and the other was the great Gadol Hador, the Torah leader of the Talmud, the sage Rava. Two brothers— employed in 2 different worlds- because everyone is different! The Gemara tells us that when Rav Seuram- the Chief of Police- caught people stealing, he would unhitch the horses that pulled Rava’s chariot, and he would harness the thieves in their place! If they are going to waste their lives, at least put them in a constructive situation! Rava told his brother, “Shapir ka’avdis, what you’re doing is great! Because when someone doesn’t conduct himself properly, ‘l’olam bahem ta’vodu uv’achichem’, you have to put them to work.”
What is the logic behind this? These great people understood that people who get into trouble have nothing to do, so the best therapy is to put them to work! Let them pull Rava’s chariot! And then, they will see a gadol like Rava and learn from him. And they will understand, it is the biggest Bracha- the biggest blessing, to have no empty time.
In this week’s Parsha- Bechukosai- it states: Im bechukosai telechu, if you keep My mitzvos and toil in learning…v’achaltem lachmechem lasova, you will eat your bread to satiation. The Brisker Rav asks the following question: We say in kriyas shema, the Shema Yisrael that every Jew knows, “v’nasati eisev b’sadecha levhemtecha v’achalta v’savata”. If you listen to the Torah, Hashem will provide grass for your animals, and you will eat and be satisfied. The implication is that being satisfied is a Bracha. If so, why doesn’t it say that the animals will be satisfied as well? It only says “the animals will be provided for, and you will be satisfied”?! Why?
My father Zatzal would say, the answer is that it makes no difference whether the animals are satisfied, because they have nothing to do with their lives. They are animals who don’t have the beauty of life that human beings have. For them, it is a Bracha just to be able to eat and eat. But when the Chofetz Chaim ate, he would say, “let’s get this over with”. We don’t live to eat, we eat to be able to live! Let the animals eat all day—but for a human being, it is a klala- a curse! We would rather be doing other things but food is our fuel that keeps our bodies going. The Bracha that the Torah gives us is v’savata: that we just eat until we are satisfied, and go on to accomplish things in life. It’s a blessing to be able to fulfill our physical needs and then move on to “real” life.
What are we busy living with? What are we busy getting annoyed about? How about this thought- a little morbid, but should put our lives in the proper perspective. What if what we are doing right now is the last memory others will have of us. And we really should jolt ourselves now and then and imagine it. Imagine that this is it: A person is saying something to their friend, spouse, or parent. They then walk out to the car, drive off, and have a fatal, head-on collision. What were the final words with which they will be remembered? What was their final will and testament? Were they talking to their friends about how their ball team is doing? His wife’s final memory is how he the griped about what’s going on at the office? Was he busy on the phone bickering with his parents, siblings, spouse about stupidities? And then they drive off. Wouldn’t it be much nicer — so much more what you really wanted to say — to end off with “I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything.”? One day these words will be our last — our final message to our loved ones — and the way we will best be remembered.
R. Berel Wein’s wrote a book titled Buy Green Bananas which in itself gives a pretty good indication of the wisdom contained within. He tells a story of a well-known attorney who had a meeting with a local news reporter. At the end of the meeting, the reporter asked him: “By the way, would you like to read your obituary?” “Huh?!” It turns out that news agencies carry biographical sketches of important local residents, for — in case they die suddenly one night — the paper will be ready the next morning with their complete life story. So, I’m sure with a little uneasiness, the attorney read his life story — and the announcement of his death. And lo and behold: he didn’t like it. He was known professionally as a ruthless and hard-nosed dealer. This was how he went about his career — and this is how he would have been remembered. Anyway, this turned out to be a real shock for this fellow. This is the reputation he had created for himself, and viewing it momentarily from the outside, he didn’t like it. And so, continues the story, he cleaned up his act — and actually became a gentler and more benign individual — both professionally and personally. He was fortunate: He was able to read his “obituary” while still alive — and he was able to do something about it. And this is an attitude we would certainly stand to gain from.
The story of our lives are being written and rewritten for us every day — not only after we pass on. It’s a blessing to be satisfied with the physicality of this world. It allows us to spend more time on real life.