Friday, August 20, 2010

How Much Does It Cost Me?

By Yossy Goldman

What do we cherish? What do we truly value? What do we make time for?

There is a rather curious juxtaposition of ideas in our parshah this week. The Torah cautions us against allowing Ammonite and Moabite men to convert and join the Jewish people. The reasons? Firstly, because they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt. And secondly, because they hired Balaam... to curse you.

Such a diverse set of crimes lumped together in one verse. In the same breath we are told to shun them because they didn't play the good host when we were a tired and hungry nation trudging through the desert from Egypt and because they hired the heathen prophet Balaam to destroy us. How can we possibly compare these two reasons? The first is simply a lack of hospitality while the second is nothing short of attempted genocide!
The answer is that the two are indeed interrelated. One enforces the other and one proves the sinfulness of the other. If it was only a matter of not showing us any generosity during our journey, we could possibly justify it by their own poverty. Perhaps Ammon and Moab were in an economic depression. Maybe they were broke and therefore were not in a position to offer hospitality. If they didn't have enough for themselves how can we expect them to have fed others?

But when we see that they hired Balaam the prophet to curse the Jewish people, then we know that money was not the problem. Do you think Balaam came cheap? Balaam was a very expensive consultant. "A houseful of gold and silver" was his asking price. If you found money for him you could have found a few shekels to give some bread and water to tired, hungry travellers. The fact that they were prepared to pay such exorbitant fees to Balaam proves the enormity of their crime.

Ammon and Moab may be extinct but their legacy lives on.

One of the root causes of the Middle East quagmire is the Palestinian problem. So many live in squalor in refugee camps. It is truly arachmonus, a terrible pity and a crying shame. But why have these people not been accommodated by their brethren over all these years? Israel has taken in Jewish refugees from Arab lands--from Syria, Yemen, Iran and Iraq. More recently they have absorbed many Ethiopian and Russian Jews. Israel is a small country with limited resources yet no Jew is refused entry. Everyone is welcomed.

So tiny Israel can do it and the combined land and wealth of the Arab world cannot? Saudi Arabia builds palaces and engages in all sorts of royal excess. Have you been to the Dubai airport? Billions are being spent on flippant luxuries, but to help their poor Palestinian brothers and sisters nobody is home!

Sadly, we have a problem in our own community too. How often is a Jew approached for a worthy cause and he pleads poverty but the very next day he blows a fortune at a casino? We are too busy to come to a lecture at the shul, but to kill a night playing poker we have plenty of time.

I am reminded of the fellow who asked me if he really needed to put upmezuzahs on all his doorways inside his house. When I answered that he did, he gave a huge krechtz. "Oh Rabbi, but I just built a new house with eighteen rooms. Do you realize how much the mezuzahs are going to cost?!"

We are now in the month of Elul, a time for introspection and coming right before Rosh Hashanah, our Judgment Day. Let us reflect on how we spend our money and our time and let us try our best to be consistent and honourable to G-d and our fellow men and women.

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