Readers, you’re in for a real treat! Popular writer, speaker, and educator Rabbi Y.Y. Rubinstein is back, with a book filled with food for thought…and many good laughs!
Jewish Life and Jewish Laughter offers Rabbi Y.Y.’s sharp and witty perspective on the various Jewish life cycle milestones and events. It’s not for nothing that Rabbi Y.Y. is invited to speak all over the world—with his wealth of knowledge, personal experiences, and fantastic sense of humor, the good British rabbi attracts fans wherever he goes.
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Below is an excerpt from his newest book:
The Bigger Test
Most people think life is easy when you’re very rich. They would be wrong. Just ask the rich folk.
A while ago I was invited to speak for what I consider to be a very important Jewish organization at two of their branches. One was in Las Vegas and the other in Los Angeles.
Las Vegas was first. I spent Shabbos there speaking and met most of the people who were coming to the fundraiser on Sunday night. The atmosphere was warm, and my audience, many of whom had already become friends, were eager to listen and delighted to laugh at the funny bits of my speech. A large amount of money was raised, and I decided to repeat the same winning talk the next night in LA.
The venue once again was someone’s home, this time in Beverly Hills. It was the sort of home that’s so large family members have to text each other to find out where they are. Shouting won’t work; no one will hear you.
The people who gathered there to support this important Jewish cause could certainly tell you how hard it is being very rich. They have to go to fundraising events for very important organizations of every conceivable type…all the time.
In the world of the wealthy, connections matter a great deal. Your business partners, colleagues, and competitors, Jewish and non-Jewish, often have favorite charities that are dear to their hearts. They invite you to their fundraisers, and you invite them to yours. Creating goodwill with the people you do business with is simply… well, good business!
You may be passionate about introducing nonreligious college kids to their Jewish heritage. Your partner’s wife may be a huge supporter of a Nicaraguan women’s cooperative that reproduces pre-Spanish-conquest, Aztec nose flutes. You still have to go to their fundraisers, and they still have to come to yours. The trick for those trying to raise funds, therefore, is to alleviate the tedium that faces the very wealthy compelled to attend at least one event like this every week.
The answer is “shtick.” You need a gimmick. In my case, listening to an Orthodox Rabbi with a Scottish accent, who can tell enough funny stories and prevent a collective outbreak of snoring, is not enough. Something different is required.
My wife and I entered the huge room where the guests had assembled. We joined the table of the hosts and the committee who had worked hard to make the evening a smash. I must say they were all extremely nice and kind.
The rest of the tables accommodated others who clearly pined to be shopping on Rodeo Drive for Gucci or Jimmy Choo’s latest creations, or perhaps be off watching a demonstration of Aztec nose-flute carving.
The hosts were unconcerned. They knew the shtick was about to be revealed. One of them leaned over and whispered in my ear what the surprise was. He must have intuited that I was a little anxious about my speech as I observed the guests fidgeting and looking longingly toward the doors. Keen to put me at my ease, he revealed that a famous chef had been imported especially for the occasion. Those nearby who were dreaming of Prada would soon be thanking their lucky stars that they had come.
No fewer than twenty-four courses (no, I did not make that up) had been prepared for them to sample. I was baffled by this piece of information. How on earth could anyone, very rich or otherwise, eat twenty-four courses? The chef appeared, introduced himself, and soon all became clear.
In these politically correct days, what I am about to write will certainly be frowned on, to say the least. However, I still believe it to be true. You see, I am convinced if the chef had possessed a French accent, what he told us would have been received with universal excitement, anticipation, and applause. He could have announced, “Madame est Monsieur, tonight we er going to av ze French Fries and ze Pizza avec la Coca Cola!” and cheering smiles and applause would break out all over the room.
But the chef did not have a French accent. He had a Brooklyn accent. He told the very rich guests that the first course (which he pronounced as “duh fust cos”) was a special wild salmon that had to be caught off the big island in Hawaii during only one week of the entire year. Then he went on to say, “This we gawrnish wif a woyild oregano dat is grown here in nordern Califonia…” He added other details, but he had lost his audience from the moment he first opened his mouth to introduce “duh fust cos.”
Things weren’t helped by the fact that unbelievably smartly dressed waiters then appeared holding tiny dishes made of slate on which guests under thirty, who didn’t suffer from shortsightedness, could immediately see sat a very tiny piece of raw salmon.
People had hardly enough time to pretend they enjoyed their salmon when the “maestro” returned to introduce his second offering. It was haddock. Raw haddock. This haddock was “specially” imported from Thailand where, we learned, it was caught by local tribesmen using “traditional” techniques.
The chef shared more of his wisdom with us. When fish are caught by net or hook, you see, they are “traumatized.” The fish’s body may release chemicals and toxins that spoil the true flavor. But these fishermen catch their fish by hand.
As I sat wondering how they managed to kill the haddock without traumatizing it, the waiters were back with plates, this time made of glass. These were even smaller than the slate ones. The second piece of raw fish was also tiny.
There were six courses in all before it was my turn to speak, and each one was a raw fish.
I was eventually introduced and gave the same successful talk as I had the night before. It was no good. Judging from the reaction of my audience, you would have thought I was speaking in a Brooklyn accent about the raw earthworms I had specially sautéed for them to try.
The seventh course was, by the way, a slice of raw meat. It was wrong of me, I know, but I couldn’t resist asking the people at my table how the chef got to be so famous when he never managed to cook anything. There was a moment’s hesitation, and then everyone laughed. So, you see, being very rich doesn’t mean you can’t laugh at yourself.
From a Torah point of view, though, it would seem that either too much money or too little may be equally big problems. Shlomo Hamelech discusses life’s tests in Mishlei and says, Lest I become rich and rebel [against Hashem], or be poor and steal (Mishlei 30:9). The Alshich disagrees and says that, of the two, being rich is the much bigger test. Even a cursory glance at the names that are most synonymous with fabulous money and wealth reveals that few indeed maintained their Jewish identity past many generations. The Alshich would seem to have the evidence of experience to support his case.
Chazal repeatedly say that Hashem doesn’t normally send you a test unless He equips you to pass it. Whether you find yourself rich or poor, both circumstances offer the opportunity for spiritual achievement or failure.
Perhaps the last word should be left to the Rambam (with apologies to those enamored with the American dream of becoming rich). He encourages us to always strive for the middle path. It is a sentiment echoed in Sha’ar HaBitachon of the Chovos HaLevavos. A career that provides an income and doesn’t detract from a Jew’s main focus of Torah and mitzvos is ideal. When it comes to wealth, having enough to pay our bills and a little aside for the proverbial rainy day might, after all, be precisely what we should aim for, unless, of course, you want to spend at least once a week looking down at a tiny plate and an even tinier piece of raw fish.