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Choose to Shine 

Pinchos Shine 


Would you like to know a dying wish of Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, zt”l? You will not see this mentioned in any of the numerous articles or hespeidim. I only learned of this at his shiva, and only because we happened to go into his kitchen at the time we did. We walked in on a discussion that his right-hand person was having with a philanthropist. Apparently, the Rabbi had made a promise to a young mother of many small children. Both she and her husband suffer various challenges, and they live in a rundown apartment. He had promised to secure a better apartment for this family, but he realized that he would not be able to personally make that happen due to his illness. He extracted a promise from his right-hand person to make sure it was done. This is what was on the mind of this tzaddik olam during his final challenge. He was always thinking about others.


One fellow expressed jealousy for the Rabbi’s Olam Habah, his eternal reward. He replied, “You should be jealous of my Olam Hazeh – my life in this world. It’s the gratification of helping other people.” There were so many people and so many varied situations that he addressed personally that we may never know the true number of the lives he impacted.


On another occasion, Rabbi Wallerstein asked if people could guess his favorite Jewish holiday. It wasn’t Purim, nor was it Chanukah. His favorite holiday was Shavuos. He would stay up both nights eagerly learning and feeling spiritually recharged as he received the Torah anew. That revelation stuck with me. I wondered about it and turned it over in my mind. I felt that I had to understand what it meant to him, why Shavuos was his most favorite Jewish holiday. I find it hard to stay up even one night and to focus on learning, so it would not have been my initial choice. 


Here are my thoughts: 


We know that Hashem gave us His Torah as the ultimate gift. He even rewards us for every second we spend studying its depths. But why is the Torah the best possible gift? Think about that for a moment. Let’s be candid, yet with every respect, towards discovering the unique present that Hashem chose to give to His nation. What does the Torah do for us? Why is it so precious? Why don’t more people appreciate it? Be honest – if you could choose any gift, might you prefer an all-expenses paid tour around the world? Would you pick a lifetime of free dining in the best Michelin starred restaurants? Or might you choose to receive a mansion in an exotic location? What does the Torah offer to which no other gift can begin to compare?


To answer that, we must look at people who “have it all”. They have achieved success in life and they can buy whatever they want, whenever they want it, no matter the cost. Are they truly happy? Or are they constantly seeking the next big thrill? In short, does pleasure ensure happiness? If we study the divorce rate among the rich and famous and compare that to the same statistic for the average person, what do you think we will find?


The Torah provides us the path and method to elevate ourselves above physicality. If you throw food to an animal, it will eat it instinctively. It has no choice. Animals are enslaved to their animal nature. There is no higher thought process involved. They see, they smell, they salivate, they eat. When a person behaves like an animal and mindlessly obeys their inner drives and desires, that is not freedom at all. They are slaves to the wants of their bodies and their senses.


The Torah provides Hashem’s guidance on how to master our physical bodies and to elevate ourselves in His service. We can become the best versions of ourselves only by following its guidance, and that of the two thousand years of oral tradition which originated with the giving of the Torah at Sinai on Shavuos. May we all rise to become worthy of this priceless gift.


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