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For the illui neshamahof my mother, Chaya Rachel basMordechai, on her yahrtzeit, the

17th of Teves, תש”ע

Parshasשְׁמוֹת

Hashem’s Treasure

עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת: storehouses, treasury

הַסוֹכֵן: treasurer, benefactor

סַכָּנָה: danger

סַכִּין: knife

מִסְכֵּן: poor

עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת: Storehouses, Treasury

וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת פִּתֹם וְאֶת רַעַמְסֵס
And they built storehouses for Pharaoh — Pisom and Ramses.1

הַסוֹכֵן: Treasurer, Benefactor

He is the one in charge of distributing the king’s wealth.

סַכָּנָה: Danger

The Gemara in Brachoslists a number of people who need שְׁמִירָה/protection. Among those mentioned are someone who is sick and a woman in childbirth, whose lives may be in danger.2Every person has a malach/guardian angel who watches over him. However, in a time of danger, the strength of the guardian angel is weakened, and he is therefore unable to give protection. He is in effect cut off from his mazal,מִשׁוּם הַמַזָל שֶׁל אָדָם הוּא הַמַלְאַךְ שֶׁלוֹ/because the mazalof a person is his guardian angel.3

סַכִּין: Knife

One of my favorite expressions to my kids when they pick up a sharp knife is: סַכִּין מְסוּכַּן/a knife is dangerous. No further explanation is necessary.

מִסְכֵּן: Poor

Someone who is cut off from his source of protection is in danger. Likewise, someone who is cut off from his סוֹכֵן/benefactor, his source of wealth, is considered to be a מִסְכַּן/poor.

טוֹב יֶלֶד מִסְכֵּן וְחָכָם מִמֶּלֶךְ זָקֵן וּכְסִיל

Better to be a poor wise youth than an old foolish king.4

Invariably, money spoils a person’s values. Therefore, a king who has all the money in the world yet spends it on temporary pleasures, is considered an old fool. One is much better off being poor than being tainted by money, leaving one free to pursue a life of wisdom.

Diamonds in the Street

There is a well-known parable about a very poor man who was told about a faraway land where the streets were filled with diamonds. His situation was so needy that he reached the point where he was no longer able to support his wife and kids. With nothing to lose, he decided to set off in search of this distant land paved with diamonds. He managed to scrape enough money together to pay for his sea voyage. 

After many weary days of travel, he finally reached his destination. Upon disembarking, he reached the main town, and sure enough the roads were paved with diamonds. There were diamonds everywhere. He quickly filled up his coat pockets and trouser pockets with as many diamonds as possible. He then made his way into the town in search of a place to stay and found the local inn. When the innkeeper asked him how he was going to pay, the poor man took out a diamond from his pocket. The innkeeper proceeded to laugh, saying that diamonds were so common that they were as worthless as stones.

In order to pay his way, he managed to find work in a factory that made industrial fats and oils. He became very good at making these fats and oils that in a relatively short time he started to make his own. Since in this place there was much demand for industrial fats and oils, he quickly became very rich. When it was time to return home, he hired space in the hold of the ship to take back his fortune: barrels upon barrels of oily fats. On the return voyage he felt very satisfied with what he had achieved — having amassed all this wealth — that he completely forgot about his real reason for going — to collect diamonds. 

Halfway through the journey, a terrible smell started to spread throughout the ship. It was soon discovered that the cause of the stench was coming from the hold in the ship where all of the oils and fats had spoiled due to the heat and the confined quarters. The smell had become so unbearable that the captain gave orders to throw the whole cargo overboard.

The poor מִסְכֵּן/nebachreturned home the same way as he had departed — penniless. As he made his way back home to his wife and kids, he felt like such a failure. The physical exertion from the trip, coupled with his low self-esteem, took their toll on the poor man, who, when reaching home, collapsed on the floor and was taken to bed. His wife cleaned his clothes and found a few diamonds in his pocket and was overcome with joy to know that her husband’s trip had proven successful. When he woke up still feeling depressed, his wife couldn’t understand why he was so miserable; after all, he did bring back a few valuable diamonds.

Thenimshalis clear. We are in this world to collect mitzvos and good deeds, which are the diamonds. The gold and silver, the “fats” of this world, we cannot take with us; they are not the currency back home in Hashem’s world.

We come down to this world…kicking and screaming, “I want to break free…I want to break free!” And when it comes time to go, we also kick and scream, but this time we say: “Don’t stop me now…I’m having such a good time…I’m having a ball!”

We get so caught up in the vanities of this world — wealth, houses, cars — that we forget who we are and what we are here for. So when the boat comes to take us back home, we are not ready to go; we’re having such a good time, we’re having a ball. But in the end, it is a ball of nothing! We are nothing but the old foolish king who in the next world is the real מִסְכֵּן/poor man, whereas the poor wise youth, who with his wisdom collects diamonds, goes from rags to riches.

Rashi brings down the Midrash that compares the Jewish Nation to the stars and the twelve shevatimto the twelve constellations.5This fits nicely with what we said above regarding הַמַזָל שֶׁל אָדָם הוּא הַמַלְאַךְ שֶׁלוֹ/that the mazalof a person is his guardian angel, because Hashem directs everything through the mazalos, the flow of divine energy that is channelled through the stars.

The World is a Stage

We are all actors in Hashem’s play.

Now, every stage needs good lighting. Hashem is the sun and the Jewish People are the moon. We are all individually compared to stars, and each one of us reflects Hashem’s light onto the stage.

The script of the play is the Torah. 

All the characters’ names in the play signify their individual roles. They are not just names picked out a hat, but rather the names in the Torah are significant and describe their bearers’ individual essences.

Pharoah: from the root “to pay.” He is first to scheme and is first to receive retribution.
Moshe: “drawn from the waters.” Water stands for Torah, and the waters of a mikvehsignify purity. Moshe’s spiritual level lit up the house when he was born.
Churvah: referring to Har Sinai, because it was three-day journey from Egypt, in particular the Nile, the nearest water source, and was so named because it was a dry desolate place.

אַסְפַּקְלַרִיָה: Rebbi Nachman tells a story about a king who wishes for a special room in his palace to be painted and decorated. He gives the job to two people and splits up the room in the palace into two equal sections. One works extremely hard and does some amazing designs, while the other idly passes the time. As the deadline approaches, the second guy starts to panic and then has a brilliant idea. He paints his side of the room with a special reflective material. At the appointed time, the king reviewed their craftsmanship and was extremely happy with the first man. However, when the king saw himself reflected in the room through the mirrors of the second guy, he was extremely happy. Why? Because Hashem wants us to reflect his light in the world, and when we do so, we become His stars. 

We shine His light by connecting to the mitzvos, which are like diamonds that far outweigh all the gold and silver in the world, because diamonds have the potential to reflect. If we want to be stars, we have to be able to reflect.

Stars on Broadway

This world is not about having fun or having a good time, but rather it’s about happiness. True, lasting happiness can only be achieved if one has a deep relationship with the Director.

Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein was once asked why Jews have so many mitzvos, so many restrictions — can’t do this, can’t eat that — whereas the goyimonly have seven. It’s just not fair! He gave a great answer, comparing it to two girls auditioning for a play on Broadway. One was not such a great dancer while the other one was superb. It was therefore obvious to the director which one would play the lead role. He told the first girl that she would have a role in the chorus, requiring her to learn seven different movements, whereas he told the second girl that to be the lead she would have to learn 613 different movements! To be the star role in a play on Broadway, she was certainly willing to perform all 613 movements.

So too, we are Hashem’s star players in His special play. We are the central role and we have 613 different movements.

In the Noam Elimelech, it says that there is a higher self and a lower self. The higher self is in the upper worlds, and connects us to higher spiritual matters. We are in essence all shining at the moments we are connected to Hashem, shining and reflecting His beautiful light on the heavenly stage. Hashem counts each and every one of us; each one of us is precious to Him. He gives each one of us names, and so really our names are lit up in stars.

When we connect ourselves through our mazalto our סוֹכֵן/benefactor, i.e., to Hashem, our lives are no longer בְּסַכָנָה/in danger and we are no longer מִסְכֵּן/poor, because we are truly His servants building עִרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת/treasure houses for the King.

1Shemos 1:11.

2Brachos 54b.

3Rashi; Shabbos 53b.

4Koheles 4:13.

5Shemos Rabbah 1:3.

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Tzvi Abrahams

Founding Editor at Veromemanu
Rabbi Tzvi Abrahams was raised in The United Kingdom, and emigrated to Israel where he received his Rabbinical ordination. He recently published the book Root Connections In The Torah, and lectures on the beautiful connections of Biblical Hebrew root words. Tzvi lives in Zichron Yaakov, Israel with his wife, children and their friendly dog.

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Tzvi Abrahams