Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lessons from the Men who married Wise Women and their own Legacies of Wisdom

Note: This writing was actually begun this past spring. However, given too many events in our lives, I never got back to it…. And now we are officially in the fall of 2015. And now, I will attempt to go back to the seeds that begin, well, everything!

Sometime during the early summer the following was written: I walked outside last week for the first time after being “confined to quarters” due to asthma and horrible allergies. I immediately noticed our house is at its prettiest time of the year, with all of the azaleas, tulips and other flowers beginning to bloom, while new annuals are planted. And then my mind turns to where it always does at such times…

We all have those adults in our lives who make indelible impressions on us and inform so much of our thinking. My Uncle Ben, my mother’s brother-in-law was just this person. He owned a grass and vegetable seed company and I remember well the stories in our family about how he would over calibrate the amount of seeds in each packet so that the customer would always receive what he paid for and never feel cheated. That is to say, if the package indicated that four ounces were contained, it would in fact be 4.x ounces of product.

When asked why he observed this practice, he gave an answer that has always stayed with me. He indicated that the seeds were put here by God as was everything and that it was up to us to always go the extra mile, so to speak, in practicing the dictated Mitzvah of “honest weights and measures.”

(And now I pick up and continue this writing.) In Masechet Berachot in our Talmud we learn that whatever one enjoys in any way must be blessed and acknowledged, for to do so is as if we are stealing from God, for all that we have, down to the little seeds that begin all types of life, come ultimately from God. We know all too well how basic it is to say blessings over our food, and over all things that come from the ground as well as all other phenomena in our lives. The Bracha (blessing) we say is this verbal acknowledgement. My Uncle Ben’s practice was our acknowledgement through deed, in this case in the very business through which he supported his family. What a wise man. Perhaps it is appropriate at this point to explain the title of this post. You see, the maiden name of my mother and her sister was Wise – so Uncle Ben married my Aunt Becky (nee Wise), while my dad married my mom, Hannah (nee Wise) – hence the Wise Women.

In our lives as we are too often so surrounded in our lives by news of people that are dishonest and do not accept that they are accountable to others, I often think of this simple practice as well as those of my dad, the accountant. My dad was always faultlessly honest, at times to his own detriment. If there was ever a question about a deduction, he would err on the side of paying the government, going above and beyond what others would do with such accounts. He did not ever want anyone to claim that he had taken what was not his to take; and he followed this practice for his clients as well as himself and his family. He died this past Rosh Hodesh Elul and my mom joined him on Shabbat Shuva. Throughout the intervening weeks we read about leadership, honest practices and scrupulous behavior in our weekly Torah portions. My dad and mom and Aunt Becky and Uncle Ben were important and pivotal role models in my life and that of our entire family regarding how we behave in our worldly and daily lives and how this is as much, many would say (and I would agree) more, important in how we conduct our lives outside of our place of worship then in our ritual observance.

Our Torah, our Prophets, our Rabbis and our teachers through the ages teach that it is hypocrisy to claim to be so blemish free in our ritual observance and to not care for those who need our caring, to not thank God for the many blessings God has bestowed upon us, and to not be profoundly appreciative for our very lives, showing appropriate gratitude. This GRATITUDE is a word that we often hear from our children and I am often struck how this is the most important legacy my parents and the other adults in their generation who had such a profound impact upon us left for us to continue. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Most of us probably know some iteration of the story where several men go on a boat. One takes all of his money; one takes all of his jewels; the third man takes all of his material treasures, while the fourth does not take any material goods. The others are curious about this fourth man on the boat and ask what he brought. He replies, “The wisdom and teachings I have acquired during my life.” There is a terrible storm and the boat sinks and all of the men are fighting for their lives. At the end, the one who brought his money does not have it; the one who valued his jewels lost them, and the one who brought his most treasured material belongings has also been stripped of what he most valued. Only the passenger with his wisdom and teachings leaves the boat with what he came.

I know that the men who married the WISE women were wise themselves as well and it is this wisdom that stays with me and all in my family now that none of these important people in our lives share our earth with us any longer. Yes, Aunt Becky and Uncle Ben and Mom and Dad (and Aunt Mary and Uncle Melvin as well), we will all continue the important wisdom and legacy of your teachings that we still have with us and pass them on to our children. Thank you for this unsinkable gift of wisdom!

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