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Sunday, 4 January, 2015 - 6:44 pm

In a linguistic conference held in London, England, Samsundar Balgobin, a Guyanese, was the clear winner. The final question put to him was: Some say there is no difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED. Please explain the difference between COMPLETE and FINISHED in a way that is easy to understand. Here was his astute answer: "When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. But when you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED. And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!"

In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, Esau said, "I have a lot, my brother." Jacob said, "...Take now my gift, for G-d has favored me and I have everything." What is the difference between Esau and Jacob? What made Esau say "I have a lot," and Jacob say "I have everything"?

The Talmud records a fascinating debate between the schools of Hillel and Shamai. The question being debated was "How is one to praise a bride at her wedding?"

The School of Hillel held that, regardless of what one observes, one should always say, "The bride is beautiful and gracious." On her wedding day, a bride must be made to feel like the most beautiful woman alive.

The school of Shamai, on the other hand, maintained that you can only call it as you see it. After all, "distance yourself from a lie" is a fundamental Torah principle. Thus, says Shamai, if she is beautiful, talk of her beauty. If she has virtue, talk of her virtue. But if you see nothing worthy of praise, then it's best to remain silent rather than offer untrue platitudes.

While Hillel's approach certainly seems more sensitive and "politically correct," his opinion is problematic. After all, Shamai demands honesty and truth. Does Hillel discount the importance of speaking the truth?

The Rebbe explained that Hillel is not asking you to lie. What he is saying is that you are at a wedding in which this groom is marrying this bride. To this groom, this woman is the most beautiful in the world. So, says Hillel, when you're at a wedding, respect this man's affection and taste. Find a way to see the bride the way her husband does. Then you will observe a beauty you may have never encountered from behind your own “tinted glasses.”

Throughout the Torah, we find that the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is referred to as a marriage. Sometimes you look at yourself or at another Jew and say, "This bride? Nothing to write home about…."

However, Hillel says that when you gaze at a fellow Jew, you are seeing someone whom G-d selected as His bride. To G-d, this Jew is the most beautiful person in the world. Therefore, you should view the person from G-d's perspective.

Sometimes we may look at ourselves, or at another human being, and say: This is "damaged goods." This person is made of one solid color and he or she or I will never change. Ever.

But Jacob taught us differently: I may appear to be one way, but somewhere within me I have traits that are majestic, colorful, exciting, deep, and holy. They may be dormant, but they are present, and one day they will emerge.

Rabbi Ephraim Silverman, the ambassador of Chabad to Marietta, Georgia, related the following story: Late one night, he received a call from a Ken Wilson. "Please come to my house now. My wife is on her death bed, and she wants to see you. It’s urgent."

Rabbi Silverman drove right over to the Wilson home. He was rushed into a bedroom. On the bed lay a young woman, in her early 40’s, who could barely talk. Lisa had contracted breast cancer a while before, but none of the treatments had helped, and now she lay very ill in her home.

"Rabbi," Lisa said, "I am Jewish, but I married out. My husband is a wonderful man, and we had a good marriage. But there is a part of me that he could never understand. It is not his fault. It is the nature of the reality.

"My time is short. Our son Mathew is ten years old. He is my only child. He will be orphaned from his mother. That is why I summoned you tonight. I beg you, promise me that you will bar-mitzvah my boy and guarantee that he gets some type of Jewish education…"

Rabbi Silverman, a tear in his eye, promised her it would happen. She seemed deeply relieved, and the Rabbi left.

The next morning he found out that Lisa had died a short while after he had left her home.

Two years passed, and Rabbi Silverman did not forget his vow. When Matt turned twelve, he called the boy’s father and said that he would like to prepare his son for his bar-mitzvah.

The father’s reply was cold. "I am not Jewish; I don’t think it is important. I remarried, you know; I am now married to a Christian woman. Matt is growing up in a completely non-Jewish home.”

In the inimitable Chabad style, Rabbi Silverman would not give up. He insisted that the boy would never forgive himself when he discovered that he had not fulfilled the final wish of his mother. Mr. Wilson finally consented.

Matt learned about Judaism with Rabbi Silverman for close to a year. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Silverman arranged for a beautiful bar-mitzvah ceremony and feast at their synagogue in Marietta. Matt was called up to the Torah, he wrapped Tefillin, he gave a moving speech of inspiration and depth, and became a full-fledged member of the Jewish people.

Who attended the bar-mitzvah ceremony? Well, naturally, all of Mr. Wilson’s and his new wife’s relatives came to shul that Shabbat morning. Only very few of his dead mom’s relatives attended. That Shabbat morning, the Chabad synagogue was filled with mostly Christians and a few Jews celebrating Matt Wilson’s Bar Mitzvah. However, we can be assured that one of the Jewish attendees was his mother, who came to celebrate her son’s life and destiny as a Jew.

Lisa was a Jewish woman who, according to all Federation statistics, alienated herself from her people. Still, in her dying moments, right before she left this world to return her soul to her maker, what did she think about? What was on her fading mind? That a Chabad rabbi promise her to bar-mitzvah her little ten-year old boy.

This is a Jewish soul. This is the basic law of spirituality. You might think that you are not connected, and you will never change, but you carry within yourself spiritual powers that allow you to breed and create a life of astronomical material and spiritual richness.

This was Jacob’s gift: wholeness. Abraham and Isaac both had children who completely severed their connections to their spiritual roots. Ishmael and Esau cut themselves off. Jacob, in contrast, managed to keep all of his 12 sons linked to the covenant of Judaism. How? Because Jacob knew that hidden within each person is an infinite positive potential, and with the proper guidance and nurture, it will emerge.

Now we can understand why Esau felt he had "a lot" while Jacob said he had "everything." A misguided person like Esau is one who "even if he had all of the gold and silver in the world" would nevertheless feel something was lacking. The desire for more then makes it impossible to focus on what he has. He has a lot but not everything; there is always something missing, there is always more. The correct path, the path of Jacob, is to feel that you have everything. One does this by being happy with what he or she has. When there is happiness, nothing is missing. One becomes happy with what he has when he is mindful and grateful.

We ought to be grateful not only for the gifts we have, but also for the fact that they are provided by someone who cares. Realizing that G-d and other people love us and care for us is, perhaps, an even greater source of happiness than the gifts alone.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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