Children were lined up in the school cafeteria for lunch. At the head of the table there was a large pile of apples. The teacher made a note, “Take only one, G-d is watching.”
Moving through the line, to the other end of the table, there was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A boy wrote a note, “Take all you want, G-d is watching the apples.”
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What does Judaism say about sinning? Is it a necessary evil? Or at least understandable? Is it normal? Does Judaism understand that normal, good people sometimes fail?
Chaim wants to build himself a new house, so he gets a loan from the bank and hires a construction crew. When the house is complete, he looks at it and slaps his forehead in consternation. If he’s already building, he should build a source of income too – he could add a second story, rent it out, and then use that money to pay the mortgage. It sounds perfect. So he goes back to the construction foreman and tells him to add a second story. The man tells him it is impossible, the foundation was built for only one story and cannot support two. Chaim begs and pleads, offers to pay double. The contractor says, “Listen, technically, yes, I can do it, I can lay more bricks. But it simply doesn’t feel honest to build something that I know can’t stand. I’m sorry.” So Chaim fires the contractor and looks for another one. The next one comes, examines the building, and tells him he is sorry, but what he wants cannot be done. He hires another and another. All examine the foundation and tell him that the house simply cannot support another story. Finally, he finds one contractor who says, sure, whatever you want, I’ll do. What color bricks should I use, how high do you want the walls?
When the construction is complete, Chaim easily finds a tenant who moves in. At the end of the first month, he receives the rent check and sends it directly as a mortgage payment. He feels like a genius; he has outsmarted all those guys, and look how great it is! Second month comes around, and the third, and Chaim’s smile grows broader, his chest a little wider. Foundation, shmoundation. He got himself a free house. Then, in middle of the fourth month, the entire house collapses.
What would you and I call Chaim, if we put it frankly? A fool. Yes, we can understand the temptation of wanting a rent check to cover the mortgage, we could even understand wanting it really badly. But any intelligent person also understands that you can’t play with the rules of reality. If somebody thinks he can outsmart the facts, then he is, simply, a fool.
We read in this week’s Parshah, Naso, about a woman suspected of adultery, called an isha sotah. Sotah shares the same root as the Hebrew word shtut, which means foolishness or insanity; because, as the Talmud says: “A person only sins if a spirit of folly enters him.”
When G-d created the world, he created reality, and thus no one knows its rules better than Him. The Torah describes the way reality works – the mitzvot are our guidelines for how to work within it. We can try to outsmart it, thinking that we can slip some things by and nobody will notice. But then, as the Talmud says, we’re a shotah, a fool. Because you can’t outsmart reality. To sin, you have to be, simply, a fool.
Dedicated in loving memory of
Mr. Mel Weitz – Moshe Ben Chaim Halevi Z”L
Yartzeit 17 Sivan