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It was a bit difficult to find a subject to talk about for this issue. The Queens Jewish Link and Bukharian Jewish Link hosted a successful business-networking event recently, which had over 300 people in attendance.  It was beautiful to see the intermingling of various businesspeople and institutions sharing their business cards and ideas.  For me, the best part of the event was when the Chief Rabbi of the Bukharians in the United States and Canada, Rabbi Itzhak Israeli, spoke about the topic of business and religion.  The week of the event happened to coincide with the parsha of shekalim (coins), which talked about the half-shekel that was donated to the Beit Hamikdash in order to upkeep the tremendous Holy edifice. This parsha is read several weeks before Purim in commemoration of the half-shekel that everyone donated to the Holy Temple.  The interesting point in Rabbi Israeli’s speech was that when Hashem showed Moshe Rabbeinu the shekel, He showed it to him in an image of fire.  He could have shown it to him on a rock, in the sand, out of water, or just somehow in the air–however that was not the case.  Hashem chose to show Moshe Rabbeinu the coin in a burning fire to show that just as fire is a strong force that can save and destroy, so too, money is also an object that can be used in order to save or to destroy.  Rabbi Israeli gave several beautiful examples, which can be seen on a video that was taken at the event.

I’d like to discuss the topic of choice.  At the end of the day, we think that we are the driving force behind all of our actions.  We think that we are the ones that earn money a certain way and spend that money a certain way. But are we?  How can you explain a person working on Shabbat and making an excellent parnasa (livelihood)? The individual chose to work on Shabbat, yet Hashem lets him succeed and make an excellent livelihood for himself.  This topic had me thinking for quite some time until this morning.  Every morning at 7 a.m., a few guys from the community and myself have a shiur with Rabbi Haimoff at his shul, Ohel Simha.  We usually learn gemara, but very often we digress to various other topics to make the lessons a little bit more exciting.  This morning, we had touched upon the topic of free will.

Although I had very often heard lessons of free will throughout these many years that I have been learning, this morning’s explanation was very to the point.  Every minute that we were discussing the specifics, I had a chill run down my back, because it was bringing memories of how true the explanation was.  In everything that we experience and think, we have to be true to ourselves.  Deep inside our minds we have to be real and truthful; only then we will realize what is going on in our heads.  Free will is in the mind.  When a person contemplates doing something or wanting something, if his contemplation deep down is true and he really wants to do or to have this “thing” without any reservations at all, whether the outcome is favorable or not, Hashem will bring him to this realization.  Someone at the table quickly asked, “Rabbi, I have been wanting to win the lottery for the past three years; how come I have not won yet?”  The answer to his question was that deep inside he either does not want to win or he does not believe that he can win.  The Rabbi gave an example from Rav Salanter.  A Jewish man once came to Rav Salanter in Russia and told him that he wanted to win the lottery, which was one million Rubles.  Rav Salanter asked the man if he really wanted to win the money. The man answered that he did.  Rav Salanter told him to buy the ticket and that he would win the lottery.  A couple of days later before the drawing, Rav Salanter saw the man and asked if he bought the ticket.  The man replied that he did.  Rav Salanter asked if he could buy the ticket off him for $500,000 Rubles, at which point the man agreed.  Rav Salanter turned and said to him, “You will not win the lottery.”

Many of us have that slight doubt about a lot of things that we do.  This doubt brings us to all sorts of wrong turns and dead ends.  If you think about your past experiences–the way you got married, the job you have, and other happenings in your life–you will see that it began with a deep thought, a deep, positive thought.  It began in your mind and Hashem got you to the destination.  No one said that is has to be a good outcome.  Sometimes the outcomes are sinful, like working on Shabbat, sometimes the outcomes are great, like winning something.  Just recently over Shabbat I was beginning to play cards with my kids.  As I opened the deck of 52 cards, I started to shuffle them.  As I was shuffling them, I wanted to impress my kids by dividing the cards in half equally.  As I thought about dividing the cards, deep inside my mind there was no room for error.  I knew 99.9999% that I was going to split it in exactly half.  As I split the cards in half, I gave half to my daughter and half to my son without counting the cards.  As I heard my daughter counting, she came to the end and said 26.  When I heard that number, I took the cards from her hands and recounted, thinking maybe she miscounted. She was right–it was exactly 26 cards.  The deck was split exactly in half.

This example seems trivial and you might say that it was just plain luck, but it’s not.  In Judaism we do not work on luck, coincidences, or accidents.  This example is one of dozens that I can relate to you.  You all have similar cases and incidents that have happened in your lives, that if you analyze, came about because of an inner mind set that there is no room for error and that you feel strongly about the particular action.  Now the saying of the Rabbis that thinking of something bad, like a sin, is worse than doing the action itself, is better understood.  It now makes sense why a thought should be worse than the action.  The action comes out to be not yours.  Your true, deep, feelings in the mind brought the actions to fruition.  This is why the thought is worse than the action.  We are in charge of our thoughts; however, our actions are brought about from heaven.

We have to be in tuned with our minds.  The commercial that used to say “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” is so true.  We are capable of moving mountains if we put our minds into it.  Unfortunately, society as it is now, is trying for us not to think and have machines do all the thinking for us.  Calculators, computers, robots, instant meals, and self-driving cars–all these new inventions are intending for us to not use our minds and letting machines do the thinking.  Baruch Hashem, we have the Torah, gemara, and halacha, which make us able to be thinking human beings.  Let us not fall into the trap of social media and the “brainwashed” society.  Let us be different, as we are meant to be.  Let us be Yehudim and use our minds to better ourselves.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Until next time.  

By Avraham Yakubov