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Vezot Habracha

Vezot Habracha

Vezot Habracha: Moshe's Life and Death

Published on Thursday November 25th, 2021

Rav David Hekcher, one of the directors of the prestigious Yeshiva Kol Torah in Jerusalem, was walking down the street with a group of students one day, discussing the issues they had delved upon in their last class before lunch break.

While the group walked towards the yeshiva's dining room, they passed a huge dumpster, filled to the brim with garbage bags. A cat, sitting atop the dumpster, meowed gently, licking its mustache.

"What is this cat trying to tell us? Rav Hekcher asked the students.

The puzzled students looked at each other. They were in the middle of a stormy halachic debate, and the Rav interrupted the discussion to talk about a cat? What happened to the Rabbi? Why waste time on Bitul Torah? Besides, why was the Rabbi suddenly so interested in feline affairs? Why was their lifestyle of any interest to him?

But the Rav insisted. He repeated his question two or three times. "What is the cat trying to tell us? "

When he realized the students were speechless, Rav David Hekcher said: "I'll tell you what it is trying to say. According to its feline views, we are poor wretches, imprisoned by all sorts of rules and political correctness. The cat lives a carefree and crazy life here in the garbage dumpster.

We are on our way to the dining room, where we will be served schnitzel, potatoes and sautéed vegetables. If anyone wants a quarter chicken, he will have to wait until Shabbat; and if he wants meatballs in tomato sauce, he will have to wait until tomorrow, because all they serve in the dining room today is schnitzel.

On the other hand, this cat lives in a Golden Medina of its own. By making small holes in the bags, it finds a piece of pungent meat leftover from Shabbat. It continues searching and finds last week's schnitzel. Further to the left, it finds a juicy halfway eaten steak. It can also take its pick from several side dishes: peas, carrots, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, and so on.

We must wash our hands, sit down at the table, and eat conscientiously with a knife and a fork. The cat is exempt from these niceties. He plunges his head inside the plate and gobbles up its food at a much faster pace than we do. "

The students' astonishment only increased. The Rav began to describe the animal's thoughts, its arguments, its feeling of superiority over humans. Did this capture anyone's attention? Why did the Rav approach this subject?

"Tell me, my dear students," continued Rav David: "do you think the cat is right or wrong in assuming its life is better than ours? Does it enjoy life more than we do?"

The students burst out laughing: "No, what nonsense! Men may eat as much as they want too!"

"Know that the cat is right", explained the Rav. From its point of view, life is comfortable and pleasant in the garbage dumpster, which provides both shade and shelter and an unlimited abundance of free food for which there is no need to toil. It enjoys sleeping in the dumpster and is accustomed to its pungent smell. The menu includes varied dishes, such as meat, fish, vegetables, soup, etc. The cat eats everything, every day, all day long and has no worries.

But it's in the garbage! It's a smelly dumpster! Therefore, from its perspective it fails to understand that our predicament is much more privileged. It cannot grasp its unfortunate and lowly life. We do not envy the cat at all, we may even show compassion for it. We are so remote from its life, we can hardly stand being in the dumpster's vicinity. But it is a sweet home for the cat." 

The students finally understood why the Rav had decided to describe the feline's perceptions. And they learned a fundamental lesson. Likewise, a man who is on a lowly spiritual level, remote from Torah, Shabbat, and Mitzvot observance, may feel fine and enjoy his life, oblivious to any deeper value other than the pleasure provided by instant gratification. But if he emerged from the garbage bin, even for a little while and strove to achieve a basic level of spiritual hygiene, like preserving his eyes, avoid profaning Shabbat and watching his language, etc., he would understand the kind of trash life he built for himself. He would realize that his worldly temptations are revolting and find his Shabbat experience --spent watching TV shows, miserable. He would perhaps opt to cultivate a little spirituality to feed the Divine soul inside him.

Life may feel good and pleasant until an individual realizes he has been a guest in the rottenest place in the world!

Rabbi Lord Jonathan SACKS

For more from Rabbi Sacks, please visit www.rabbisacks.org


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