The Hardest Lesson

December 8, 2009 | admin


Chinese seems pretty complicated, but then again, not all of the 1.3 billion Chinese are geniuses, so it can’t be that hard. Calculus is, of course no breeze, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is, they say, really tough, but I can’t speak from experience. And, of course, I doubt I could master the harp, even if I had a long weekend to practice.

Of all the concepts people need to know in life, what would you say is the hardest to teach?

Maybe take some time to think about it before you read my answer, but to give you a little clue, the hardest lesson is also the most meaningful.

The truth is, the hardest lesson in life is just as hard for the dummy as for the highly intelligent. For this, genius doesn’t help.

The most meaningful lesson in life, which is also the hardest to teach, is to be a giver. Parents, teachers, community leaders, politicians and even rabbis have struggled with their inability to pass along this most critical lesson for living.

Madison Avenue, with its million-dollar budgets, struggles to induce more people to give more presents. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

A person who cannot give, cannot make commitments. A commitment means someone else is important. For the same reason, a person who cannot give cannot have friends. A person who cannot give will be alone and isolated. Loneliness is a very sorry predicament, mostly because it’s self-inflicted.

And despite this misery, tell a lonely person the cure is to give a few coins to some homeless people, volunteer at a soup kitchen or even have other lonely people over for dinner on a regular basis, and you might as well pull out a harp.

Telling people to give is like talking to a brick wall in the middle of the Sahara desert at high noon. Neither shade nor breeze does the wall bequeath. Such is a taker’s contribution to the world.

I guess it’s at this point you are expecting me to break this curse. And I do hate to disappoint, so I will quote the Talmud.

The Talmud tells the story of an elderly man planting a carob tree. Even though the carob only produces fruit after 70 years and this man would not be alive to enjoy it’s fruit, nevertheless he explains, “I myself found fully grown carob trees in the world; as my forebears planted for me, so am I planting for my children.” (Ta’anis 23a).

“The yearning for planting trees comes from the desire to bestow kindness to the future generations. This is most powerfully manifest in the carob tree.” – Rav A.Y. Kook

Why a carob? Can’t this same goal be achieved through an apple or pear. Why did he give his descendents a carob tree?

Isn’t the answer that his ancestors gave him something far more valuable than lunch. It wasn’t just fruit to eat, but the ability to give?

To plant an orange tree is for yourself, but to plant a carob is solely for others. And similarly, isn’t he giving his children something far moremeaningful than a snack, but also giving them the gift of giving.

To give people something they will enjoy is very generous. But to give people something that they can give, is divine.

The more we share what we have, the more we value what we get.

If you have benefited from the lessons and concepts of Aish HaTorah, you will enjoy them even more if you share those lessons. An apple or pear can only be eaten once, but Torah, just like the carob tree, is sweeter when you give it to other people.

The father of Rav Noah Weinberg tz’l explains a famous Talmudic statement, “I learned more from my students than I did from my teachers,” even though those teachers were absolute giants in wisdom, he nevertheless got more than even they could teach him, through the process of giving what he had received.

Please take a moment to give a little so we can give a lot to so many others.

Thank you!

Rabbi Stephen Baars
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