March 4, 2021, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, USA
Life lessons can be picked up anywhere, wisdom is all around us. We only need to listen. The Talmud advises us to hang around those who are successful, it will rub off on us. " Join together, collaborate, with one whom the hour is playing favorably with." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Pesahim, 113A)
This is a short and somewhat confusing statement that I have spent years pondering. I was a young Yeshiva (Rabbinical) student in Jerusalem when I first read this passage. Piety and Poverty where my perspective, I had no interest in money, but the statement intrigued me. Perhaps I was too much of an idealist to see the value of money. As time went on I realized that all the great institutions of learning, all the hospitals, so much good, came because people of wealth contributed the money.
We see money as a blessing and an obligation; God has blessed you with wisdom and the ability to make money, now you have an obligation to use it wisely for the benefit of the community. The blessing always comes with a responsibility: That is the Biblical system. It is not pure Capitalism, it is not pure Socialism, it is community responsibility. We will soon be reading once again the section of "WaYakhel", (Exodus 35 - 38) and Moses gathered and assembled the people of Israel and instructed them in the ways of how to build a proper community, a good neighborhood. These guidelines that Moses instructed us back in the desert 3400 years ago, before entering the land of Israel, are still our guiding principles to this very day. Wealth is not an evil, and it should not be the source of division between people, those blessed with more help out those who have less. We are one, we are a community. The rich and the less fortunate pray side by side in the synagogue, their children attend the same schools. The wealthy consider it not only their obligation to help others but a true privilege.
The Talmud advises us to "make an effort with", or collaborate with, or hang out with, those who are successful. Why? Well, with us Jews such ideas are always open to interpretation. So here is mine.
I have lived many years since I was a young yeshiva student, I have seen much, I have experienced a great deal. I have learned and listened. There is a lot of belly aching in the world, a lot of people angry about their lack of wealth. There is jealousy and anger. Often this comes out in violent ways. We believe you cannot rob someone else's wealth. As an old Jew in Poland once said to me, those who are blessed with money, will always be blessed with money. You cannot steal God's blessings.
There is a section in the Bible that deals with a Hebrew slave. A man caught stealing money, and he cannot repay it, becomes a slave for seven years, but not just an ordinary slave. I see it more as an Apprentice, a learning experience. He lives with a family, a good family. For seven years he will wake up with the master of the house, they will pray, they will work. After seven years he is to go free. But now he has an education. Now he sees how a successful man lives. Now he understands how success comes about. He understands not to waste money, not to gamble, not to lose time, not to spend money on frivolous activities, he learns financial planning, he learns to save, and he learns responsibility. This is not a punishment, this is a gift!
I still have vivid memories of my dear father, of blessed memory. I can see him with his old fashioned adding machine. I can still picture the numbers. I recall; this month no peanut butter, it is no longer in the budget. One bar of chocolate per week for the entire family of 6, only on the Sabbath, Shabbat. My father was a responsible adult. He paid his bills on time, always.
So our Talmudic passage about hanging out with the wealthy, the successful, appears to me to be a lesson in education: the successful notice things that others do not. They see opportunities where others see problems. After class I was chatting with a student who runs several successful businesses, he is a young man. I noticed several things. First, that he is happy. I have seen this with other successful businessmen, the good ones, the very honest ones.
They are happy; is this the result of their success, or the product of their success?
I have noticed that they see life as a series of opportunities, not problems. This one young man, a Krav Maga student, was describing one of his businesses, a special machine that helps locate the source of water leaks in buildings. I noted that this is a huge problem. Leaks can cause terrible damage to homes and buildings. It can also cause terrible disputes between neighbors. I have seen; I have been involved in several. When living in an apartment building, or a house adjoining another house, it is never quite clear where the leak, where is the source of the water. That is why the Talmud (Bava Bathra) instructs us to keep a distance between our construct ion and our neighbors house.
I noted that such a device not only saves a great deal of money but can prevent neighbors from becoming enemies. This device can save a relationship!
He said to me; the financial reward is directly related to the size of the problem, The size of the problem equals the size of the profit.
I was impressed by this statement and its wisdom. While others may yell and curse about a leak, as many have done, this man saw an opportunity and solved it. Now he has no limits and is expanding rapidly. I hope this product comes to Israel. We need it, I told him.
I told him he is not only solving a huge water damage problem, he is saving relationships. and he responded with "And you are saving lives".
Indeed the student has taught the teacher, this is true. The problem we as Krav Maga instructors are solving is indeed a big one, but does the public understand this? Sadly not, they only understand it after it is too late.
You can repair a water leak but can you bring back a loved one? Can you undo a violent attack?
As another successful individual pointed out to me, once something has been done, it is done. There is nothing you can do about it but move on, there is no need to get upset, that accomplishes nothing. Move on. This too is very wise, and profound.
Why wait until something terrible has happened, when there is nothing that you can do to undo it the time to prepare is now, the time to train is now, when you have the opportunity. The Big Problem here is the danger that lurks all around us, the Big Reward is your well being and that of your family. Think like a success, act now, see the opportunity now, rather than have to deal with the damage later.
Let us learn from the behavior of successful people.
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