Back when we were first learning to read Hebrew, we often misread the letter “heh” and “het,” even in the big-print books we used.
They looked so much alike, and our mistake was often easily forgiven.
As it happens, the freewheeling creators of the Midrash often did this intentionally to make their pedagogical-ethical point. (There are even instances when they are “doing Gematria”, i.e. giving number values to letters, and need to “fudge” the numbers to reach a certain total, they will change one with the other. If they needed an 8 (het) and the text they were working with had a “heh” (5), no matter — they just switched the letters.)
In the Pesikta deRav Kahana 10 – devoted to the subject of tithing — section 3, the Midrash bases itself on Proverbs 3:9, “honor God with your wealth “mehonecha”. The Midrash-maker reads this as “mechonecha” – “from your endowments from God”. The Midrash then gives examples such as having a good voice and using it to lead synagogue prayer.
In contemporary Jewish life, I think there are several aspects of this message to be examined:
I. The Positive
A. Noticeably in the past few years, Rabbinical schools and institutions granting higher degrees in Jewish education have seen many students on their second, and even their third, careers. They are aged anywhere from their 20s into their 60s. It would seem that whatever their first career — law, business, consulting, finance, academics – something was missing in their lives, and the students discovered within themselves not only a desire but also a potential talent in these new fields of endeavor.
B. Some have looked back on their lives and re-discovered talents, interests, and true loves which appeared peripheral but turned out to be crucial.
C. Many have discovered that they have a real talent for Tikkun Olam and are doing dazzling things for others. In addition, when I am teaching text at a synagogue, there are some in the audience who never really looked at Jewish texts who come up with dazzling insights. I tell them afterwards, “You are really good at this. You should do more.”
II. The Negative
A. When I learn that a Jewish person is the spin doctor behind particularly outrageous spins in the news, I ask myself, “Who was this person’s rabbi and religious school teachers?” Why didn’t they teach this person when he was a child that talents are for positive actions.
B. The same is for those who create political campaign ads that slant facts to the very edged of falsehood.
III. What to Do
Think back, even to early childhood, and/or examine what you do in your life that is not strictly tied to making your living, and see if there might not be some other “endowment from Above” that is waiting to be realized. Even if it is just a moment in time you recall, it may carry great significance. These could be things or events that could enable you to be – or even what you might have always wanted to be. To put it into action will take courage, but at least you have begun the process.
IV. Three of My Friends
A. Marc Pollick was studying with Elie Wiesel, Zichrono Livracha, at Boston University for an advanced degree. While I do not know the exact origin, Marc has established the Giving Back Fund, working with some of the biggest sports stars – some not even out of their teens, who all of a sudden find themselves with incomes of millions of dollars. They want to do some good, and Marc advises them on how to do it wisely and efficiently with their money.
B. David Srebnick had a job for years “doing” computers. I don’t know in what area of the field was his expertise. But after many years he just knew he wanted to teach 7th and 8th grade math. So, with a giant pay cut, and after discussions with his wife, he did it, and I would say is overwhelmingly happy since he made the switch.’
C. Rabbi Claudio Kogan is also a doctor and a mohel. Unquestionably, being a physician is a sublime form of Tikkun Olam, and yet, he wanted to do more.
In the broadest sense, there is a lesson here: Perhaps it is time to pay more attention to things that we mis-read, mis-hear, or mis-understand. It may do us and the world a world of good.