Imagine this scene: There is ominous pounding on the home’s front door. Fearfully, the burly, tall father turns to his slender teenage son and charges him with protecting the family from the invaders.
Sounds ridiculous? If the brawny father can’t shield his family from the attackers, how can he possibly expect his young son to?
But suppose the teenager has earned a black belt in martial arts. Though he may look slight, he has the knowledge and experience to fend off even the fiercest aggressors.
Or imagine this:
On her deathbed, a mother beckons to her long-time friend. The friend is dressed in rags, looking like a pauper. Throughout their years of friendship, the mother has regularly fed her nourishing meals. Now, days before her end, she begs her friend to care for the financial needs of her children.
Impossible, right? No matter how good-hearted this friend is, how can she possibly assume the monetary burden of this woman’s children when she is barely capable of supporting herself?
But suppose that friend really had a bank certificate that would be maturing within the next month that was worth millions of dollars. Up until now, she had no access to her funds, but soon she would be worth a fortune!
This week’s Torah portion begins with Moses’ parting words to his nation. He begins with the phrase, “You are standing today before G‑d, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp, your woodcutter and your water drawers, so that you may enter the covenant of G‑d.” (Deuteronomy 29:9-199)
We are all standing united before G‑d, since His covenant applies to each and every one of us, at all times, for all generations. Moreover, each of us needs the other, since, “All Israel are guarantors for each other.” (Talmud, Shevuot 39a)
But in order to be a guarantor, doesn’t a person need to have more resources than the one he is guaranteeing? What bank would accept an unemployed man’s assurance for the mortgage of a wealthy man’s mansion? So, how can the simple, illiterate water carrier provide any security for the important elder or officer?
An eye-opening story is quoted in the Talmud (Pesachim 50a): Rav Yosef, the son of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, fell ill and was at the brink of death. His father’s prayers brought him back to life.
When he was revived, his father asked: “My son, what did you see in heaven?”
Rav Yosef replied: “I saw an upside-down world. Those who are on top here are on the bottom there; and those who are here regarded as lowly are exalted in heaven.”
In our upside-down world, we assign worth to people based on their bank account, social connections, or any other standards society considers valuable. We may look at the simple water drawer and wood hewer, and all we see are ignorant individuals who rank low on the social scale. We may look at the wealthy magnate, and we see someone important in whose circle we’d like to be included.
But when we “stand before G‑d,” there is no higher and lower. The righteous individual may not be nearly as righteous as you imagine, and the sinner may have far more good deeds than you know about.
Moreover, each of us is a Divine soul. Like the limbs of a body or the players in an orchestra, each of us has a valuable role to play, without which the whole would never be complete.
If the Talmud says that all Jews serve as guarantors to each other, it teaches us that every Jew has a quality in which he or she is superior to all others.
You may not see it. You may not realize it. In our upside down world, it is not evident.
But deep within each one of us lies enormous strength and a rich reservoir of wealth waiting to be cashed in—and even we may not be aware of it.
by Chana Weisberg