Unravel your potential

By Rabbi Levi Simon, Chabad of Greater Dayton

The story is told about an important member of the Jewish community who passed away. His children received two envelopes, one to be opened upon his death and the other a week later. They opened the first envelope and read their father’s words. He explained that in his closet was his favorite tie, full of sentimental value. He instructed his children to ensure he would be buried while wearing this tie.

This simple request, however, was met with great resistance. Jewish law mandates that every individual, from the greatest rabbi to the simplest of people, be buried in the same way. Uniforms, clothing, and any other extras are strictly forbidden. No matter what the children said or offered was going to change that.

A week later, they opened the second envelope. In this letter, the father wrote that he hoped his children understood his message of the tie. The father knew that the tie was not going with him.

He hoped that his children realized that one cannot even take a simple piece of clothing with them to the next world. “The only things of sentiment and value,” wrote the father, “are good and positive deeds one has accomplished in this world.”

People enter into heated arguments about important matters. Many have become political experts, spending inordinate amounts of time on the issues they feel are important.

Some are experts in sports, some can wax poetic about history, science, technology or food, demonstrating expertise and boasting all they know about those subjects.

Few of these have any meaning. The energies spent on them are going to the same place as that tie: they will remain hanging in the closet. What really matters is: What have I done to live up to the Godly image in which I was created? And what have I done for the rest of humanity, all created in the image of God?

This takes a deep look into ourselves, into our souls. When one focuses upon the inner areas of oneself, one can begin to unravel the potential present in every person, and making the most of it.

Rabbi Mendel Futerfas was a legendary rabbi. The rabbi had spent some eight awful years in the Soviet gulag as punishment for his efforts to preserve Judaism in the dark days of communism in the 1940s and 1950s.

The rabbi related how, one day, his fellow inmates started a spirited game of cards: strictly illegal in the gulag. Upon hearing the loud noises, the guard immediately recognized the card game, and came barging into the cell.

“OK, hand over the cards,” he barked. The cards were nowhere to be found. This continued several times, until the guard forced every inmate to undress, and he went through all their clothing, but to no avail. The cards were not found.

Later, Reb Mendel asked the ringleader what had happened to the cards. The hardened criminal responded: “We are professional pickpockets. When the guard entered, we professionals placed the cards in his back pocket. On his way out, we pulled them out…”

Reb Mendel, always one to teach a lesson from his stories, concluded: We look and search everywhere for truth. If we merely paid attention to our own “back pockets,” we would be able to resolve many of life’s issues.

Imagination is not the place for people to dwell. True, it is critical to have a vision and a dream. Life, though, needs to be real. That takes a hard and real look into oneself, and to include close family members and friends, to become real: really productive, and really focused.

And then we will all be blessed with all good things; we will be productive and fruitful, amid a spirit of happiness and contentment.

To read the complete August 2022 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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