July 11, 2024
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Dollars and Pebbles From Heaven

Highlighting: “Rav Wolbe on Pirkei Avos” by Rabbi Yitzchok Caplan. Mesorah Publications. 2024. Hardcover. 190 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422640746.

דֶּבֶר בָּא לָעוֹלָם… חֶרֶב בָּאָה לָעוֹלָם…  חַיָּה רָעָה בָּאָה לָעוֹלָם… ּגָּלוּת בָּאָה לָעוֹלָם…

Pestilence comes to the world…; the sword of war comes to the world…; wild beasts come upon the world…; exile comes to the world… (Avos 5:11)

As with the first three punishments mentioned in the previous Mishnah, the mefarshim explain that these punishments are essentially wake-up calls sent by the Creator to arouse people from their spiritual slumber. Yet, there is a difficulty with this explanation. If indeed Hashem merely wishes to wake us up, why does He have to resort to punishments? Couldn’t He arouse us in a more pleasant fashion? We can understand the necessity for such tactics with the following story.

Yankel worked in a high-rise office building in Manhattan. One day, as he stood by the window, an important document fell out of his hands and landed on the ledge outside. Without thinking too much, he nimbly climbed out the window onto the ledge, and watched in horror as the window came sliding down after him, effectively locking him out of his workplace. There he stood, hundreds of feet above the street, on a thin ledge outside his empty office.

After he got his bearings, he realized that the only way out of his predicament would be to catch the attention of the people walking below. He pulled out his wallet and began dropping coins, but the people just bent down, picked up the coins, and continued on their way. He started getting anxious and he began dropping, first single dollars, and then fives, tens, twenties and even a fifty, in the hope that someone would look up to determine from where the bounty was originating. Yet, to his great dismay, nary a glance was offered upward. In complete desperation, he crumpled up a hundred-dollar bill and hurled it downward toward the street teeming with people. Once again he was disappointed. The lucky fellow who found the hundred dollars bent down, unfolded the crumpled bill, and pocketed it without giving a thought as to its origin.

In complete frustration, he grabbed a handful of pebbles from the flowerpot on the windowsill and threw them downward. As soon as they hit the ground, a group of people angrily looked up in search of the perpetrator. He ecstatically began waving his hands, and once the people noticed him, help was not long in coming.

This story is a great mashal for one’s relationship with Hashem. He showers a person with bounty in the form of health, wealth, family, happiness, and countless other gifts. Yet, His benevolence rarely succeeds in catching the person’s attention. The person perceives all good as a given, and not as something allotted on an individual basis. Thus, often Hashem has to resort to less pleasant tactics to try to get a person’s attention. Sure enough, when a difficult situation arises, almost invariably a person turns his eyes Heavenward.

Reprinted from Rav Wolbe on Pirkei Avos by Rabbi Yitzchok Caplan with permission from the copyright holder, ArtScroll Mesorah Publications.

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