In this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Ha’azinu, the verse says (32:6), “Is it to God that you do this, a despicable nation and unwise, isn’t He your Father who owns you, He created you and arranged for you?!”
What exactly is the Torah referring to here with this statement of reproach? The Chofetz Chaim elucidates the meaning of the verse (in Shem Olam, part 1 chapter 13, in the footnote) with the following parable: A man gave his son a sizable sum of money to get started in business to be able to provide for himself. The son went out to the marketplace and found golden utensils for sale. He bargained with the seller until the seller agreed to give it to him for a discounted price so that he could retail the items at a profit, and he invested half his money in them. Next, he was offered by someone else to exchange currency at a discounted rate. The investment appealed to him and he exchanged the rest of the money he had for the deal. The son came home excitedly, and proudly told his father about the great deals he made that day.
The father, eager to share in his son’s success, went to see the merchandise his son procured. The father began to examine the golden utensils, but quickly learned that his son was swindled. They weren’t truly made out of gold; they were cheap pottery utensils coated with gold and weren’t worth even one hundredth of the price his son paid. Dismayed at what he saw, he asked his son to see what he invested the other half of his funds in. The son pulled out the bills he purchased, and the father examined them. He had fared worse with the latter investment than he did with the former. The currency he obtained was counterfeit, and the police were on a search to press charges against anyone who had these bills in his possession.
This son could not have acted more foolishly. Instead of wisely investing his fortune, which could have potentially set himself up for life, he lost it all and got into trouble by falling for the superficial appearance of the merchandise and failing to properly discern its true value.
Says the Chofetz Chaim, we are no different. God, out of His great love for us, has granted each and every one of us a fortune. God has granted us life, a soul, a functional body, energy, a mind and intellect. God has granted us this fortune in order to invest in the really valuable “merchandise” from which a person can reap eternal proceeds in the World to Come. God has given us all this to be able to keep the Torah, perform its Mitzvos (Torah commandments) and reach high levels of spirituality. But instead, we take all these wonderful resources and invest them in materialistic pursuits, which are of no true value in the long run. We are lured by the temptations of what seems to be of value in the moment and feel proud of what we accomplished with our lives in having good times and procuring worldly possessions. But in truth, it was a waste of the fortune we were granted. Not only that, we sometimes invest our invaluable resources of life in prohibited activities which will only cause us trouble and frustration in the future. How foolish we are when we do so! Every little bit of energy and time we invested in acquiring materialistic possessions and experiences, could have been invested in securing true, everlasting greatness for ourselves, in the form of Torah and Mitzvos.
This is what Parshas Ha’azinu is telling us: Don’t be foolish. Remember that God, as a loving Father, has granted you life and all your precious resources, to set you up for real success in life. Don’t be foolish and ungrateful by wasting them on attaining petty items which will eventually cause you regret and distress. This concept offers us a new perspective on life. Certainly, we must be involved in tending to our needs in this world and work to acquire whatever we need to live and function properly, both emotionally and physically. But too often, we go overboard in pursuit of luxuries.
As the Chofetz Chaim demonstrates, no one wants to be like the son who wasted his fortune and got into trouble because he judged value based on exciting, superficial appearance. There are so many really valuable assets we can attain in Torah and Mitzvos. Each and every one of us has his own fortune to take advantage of and invest properly. No one wants to be a fool.
Parshas Ha’azinu by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)