"A Nation Like No Other "
One Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night), my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel
Wein shlita, was visiting a member of his congregation in the hospital.
The patient was on the top floor and after the visit Rabbi Wein prepared
to take the elevator down. The hospital has two sets of elevators, on
opposite sides of the hall. As Rabbi Wein approached one elevator, he saw
that standing at the opposite elevator was a Roman Catholic priest in
full regalia. He too had just finished visiting one of his own
parishioners and was leaving. The priest had just pushed the button for
his elevator and Rabbi Wein proceeded to push the button for his
elevator. Seeing Rabbi Wein still dressed in his Shabbos regalia, the
priest looked over at him and said, "Good evening, Rabbi". Rabbi Wein
turned and politely replied, "Good evening, Father." And then they both
stood quietly waiting for the elevator to come.
There were a number of people standing between the two clergymen.
As they watched the proceedings they stood transfixed, as if paralyzed.
They felt that the theological dispute of the centuries was about to be
settled right before their eyes- which spiritual leader could command the
As Rabbi Wein would say, "Contrary to popular belief, G-d is on
the side of Rabbis" and his elevator came first. The door slid open,
Rabbi Wein smiled and magnanimously waved everyone in, including the
priest. As the elevator began its descent, the priest looked at Rabbi
Wein with a sly twinkle in his eye and remarked, "Rabbi, what would you
have said if my elevator had come first?" Rabbi Wein replied, "Father,
you can't prove anything from a descending elevator."
Consider the following scenario: One morning, Bill Gates is on
his way to the bank to make a withdrawal. As he is entering, he notices a
beggar sitting on the street outside the bank begging for alms. Mr. Gates
brushes by him walked into the bank and with an aura of arrogance,
marches up to his own private teller and withdraws one million dollars.
Then without a flinch, he turns around and marches out. This time however
he can't miss the beggar. The man tugs on his pants and begs for a few
dollars claiming that he hadn't eaten in days. Mr. Gates sneers at him
and shouts, "Why do you ask me for money? Go into the bank and do what I
did; tell the bank teller you want to withdraw a million dollars!"
Obviously this is a ridiculous story. Bill Gates deposits tens of
millions of dollars into his bank account daily, so it is not a big deal
for him to withdraw money. However that beggar, never put a penny into
the bank so there is nothing available for him to withdraw.
Yet, it almost seems that this is what Hakadosh Boruch Hu demands
of us. "Kedoshim te'hiyu ki kadosh ani Hashem Elokaychem- You shall be
holy for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy." Hashem in His infinite greatness
is the epitome of holiness. In fact part of holiness means to develop a
closeness with G-d. So how can we, mortals of flesh and blood, be
expected to be holy like G-d is?
Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates that he was once driving in the city
on a hot summer day. His windows were closed, the air conditioner was
blowing at full strength, and he was listening to a tape of speeches from
various Gedolim. At the Whitestone Bridge he had to pay a toll so he
rolled down his window. Immediately, he was greeted by the loud blares of
hard rock form the car adjacent to him. The flaming red convertible was
vibrating from the music and the teenage driver was shaking to the beat.
Rabbi Krohn relates, "I immediately thought to myself that I am so lucky
to be a Jew. Without the Torah, I could have been as low as that guy."
With that, he paid the toll, rolled up his window, and drove off. But
then Rabbi Krohn remembered something Rabbi Avrohom Pam shlita had said
and he had to think twice:
Rabbi Pam relates a parable about a wealthy man who was searching
for a worthy match for his daughter. The man approached the local Rosh
Yeshiva and told him that he wanted the best bochur in the yeshiva for
his daughter. "I promise to take full responsibility for all the couple's
expenses so that they will live very comfortably." The Rosh Yeshiva saw
that the man was sincere so he arranged the match. The wedding was
beautiful and afterwards the newlywed young man began to learn in his new
Bais Medrash. Every morning he would arrive at nine o'clock and continue
learning without interruption, until six o'clock in the afternoon.
However after a few weeks passed, the young man began to come a bit later
and leave a bit earlier. One day the father-in-law came to check on the
progress of his son-in-law. He noticed that he did not show up in the
morning until ten o'clock and was already getting ready to leave at
four-thirty in the afternoon.
Gently the man approached his son-in-law and said, "My beloved
son, you know I am very proud of you and you're learning but we had a
deal that you would learn all day and I think you haven't really been
keeping to the deal. I've noticed that your hours have been dwindling."
The son-in-law replied, "But Tati, look around the town. Is there anyone
who learns half as much as I do?" The man looked sternly at his
son-in-law, "You're not supposed to be comparing yourself to the people
of this town. Of course you are greater than they, but they are not your
yardsticks. You are supposed to base yourself on the learning of your old
yeshiva. When compared to them, you still have a long way to go."
"So too," explains Rav Pam, "A Jew is not supposed to look at the
nations of the world to feel that he is great. It is obvious that a Jew
is far greater for he has Torah to guide him. Rather a Jew is supposed to
compare himself to Hakadosh Boruch Hu and always seek to emulate Him.
That's what the pasuk means to say: "Kedoshim tehiyu- You shall be holy"
not because you have to be superior to the nations of the world but, "Ki
kadosh ani Hashem Elokaychem- For I, Hashem your G-d, am holy, (and you
must emulate me)."
"Thus," concluded Rabbi Krohn, "I realized that I should not have
felt special because I am a more dignified person than that teenage
driver. Rather I should always be thinking that as great as I may be, I
still could reach greater heights."
Chazal explain that there are four distinct forms of existence in
the world: Domaim- inanimate (e.g. rocks, sand, etc.); Tzomayach- plant
growth (trees, flowers, leaves, etc.); Chai-animals; M'daber-humans. The
Kuzari writes that there is a fifth category of life called "Yisrael".
According to the Kuzari a Jew is not merely a human who is expected to
act more dignified than the rest of the world, rather he is a different
being in his very essence. The soul of a Jew has greater potential and
therefore he is a more exalted being.
Rabbi Wein would conclude from the opening story that the world
we live in is a descending elevator. We watch every day as morality and
decency degenerate. Therefore we cannot look at the rest of the world,
for our holiness comes from striving upwards and not from looking below.