When you think of laundry, you probably think of piles of dirty clothing, sitting at the bottom of the laundry chute, waiting to be sorted into darks, lights, and whites. But to a very specific subset of human beings, laundering has a lot more to do with mountains of cash than polo shirts, shorts, and socks. We hear the phrase money laundering all the time, but why would you want to launder money, and how would you do it?

Money laundering is usually done to bring cash from illicit deals back into the real-world banking system. Drug dealers generally work on a cash basis, no one uses a credit card to buy their daily dose of dope. This means that drug dealers eventually end up with lots of cash. A small-time drug dealer can simply pay for almost everything in his life with cash, and no laundering is necessary. But when you hit the criminal big leagues, there’s simply too much cash to spend, and too few places that will accept cash.

You can’t buy a $5.4MM dollar home in cash, showing up to the closing with a few duffel bags filled with Benjamins without raising a few eyebrows. You can’t even buy yourself a $400,000 Ferrari in cash. Cash transactions over $10,000 must be reported immediately to the government, and as soon as you would pull up to your home in your new cash-bought Ferrari, you would have some Federales on your tail.

The result of this, is that drug cartels often end up with garages filled with thousands of pounds of cash, tens of millions of dollars stacked neatly in a garage, all dressed up but with no place to go. Pablo Escobar, the largest drug lord of all time, had so much cash sitting around in stashes all over Colombia, that he would lose over a billion dollars a year due to rats eating the cash, or mold and water damage ruining the bills. This is where laundering comes in, where people take cash they got through illegal means, and try to make it kosher, by making it look like it’s coming from a legitimate business. And the largest scheme of all, is ruining hundreds of thousands of lives, while making us look pretty.

Gold. Humans have been attracted to the yellow metal for thousands of years, and there is never a shortage of people looking for more gold. About 50% of the world’s mined gold is currently used in jewelry. Being that gold can easily be melted down and reshaped, when a husband gives his wife a gold bracelet, some of that gold could have been used thousands of years ago by a Mesopotamian priest, an Aztec merchant, or a Chinese emperor! The other 50% is split between coins and bullion, often stored as a currency reserve, technological applications, and medical uses. Gold is a great conductor of low voltage electricity, and traces of it are found in every cell phone, GPS, computer, calculator and TV set. There are also many medical uses as well; people are actually injected with weak solutions of gold to treat rheumatoid arthritis, it is used as a stable tooth filling, people with lagophthalmus who can’t close their eyelids, get gold implants in their eyelids to weight them down.

Approximately eighty percent of the world’s reserves are thought to have been mined already, with the remaining twenty percent often much harder to reach. Countries that used to produce tremendous amounts of gold are seeing their annual outputs drop precipitously while demand is only going up. This is where the cartels and their dirty money comes in.

The cartles use their drug money to fund illegal mining operations in Latin America, and then sell that gold to companies in the US for “clean money.” With that “clean money”, they can buy their houses, yachts, and Ferraris, or bribe the right people to get their children into good colleges.

The mining operations are rife with human and environmental abuse. The workers are barely paid, are not provided proper safety equipment, and are threatened with violence if they don’t produce enough gold. Mining groups are literally told by the cartels that if they don’t produce more gold, their whole group will be a “military target,” which is a euphemism for “getting gunned down.” The miners use large machines to rip open the ground, and then use mercury liberally to separate the gold from the rock. That mercury then runs off into the rivers and pollutes the drinking water of all the people in the region, and destroys plant and animal life on the way. Aerial photographs of areas where the mining operations plied their trade show absolute devastation to the land. People living in cities near these mines are already testing with alarmingly high levels of mercury and other life-shortening chemicals.

The gold is usually sold to companies in Miami, the gateway into the US for Latin American gold, and the port of entry for one third of all gold entering the US each year. One company, NTR Metals, bought over 3.6 billion dollars of Peruvian Gold in one five-year stint, and its parent company, Elemental, refined the gold and then sold it to Apple, Tiffany & Co., and over 60 other Fortune 500 companies. This has been such a successful money laundering scheme, that illegal gold mining operations now account for more revenue in Columbia than the drug trafficking that started the process!

Fifteen years ago, the world became aware of what became known as blood diamonds, diamonds mined in West Africa where every carat told the story of the death or dismemberment of some innocent villager. But the story of “Blood Gold,” is still not known. Gold can easily be melted down and reshaped and no one can tell where in the world it came from, or what horrors were used in its procurement. But we are now discovering the story of Blood Gold.

It starts its life as a twenty dollar bill given by a drug addict to a dealer for a hit of Mexican meth or Colombian cocaine, who then uses it to pay his supplier, who then uses it to pay the cartel, who then smuggles it back to Mexico, where they gather it in a warehouse. They then use it to buy machinery or pay workers to tear apart the rain forest in Peru, Ecuador, or Columbia, from which they extract the gold through horribly pollutive processes. They then sell it to a company in Miami, who refines it in a plant in Ohio, and sells it in blocks to Apple, Samsung, Tiffany & Co, or Kay’s Jewelers. Six months later, that gold is sitting quietly in your smartphone or wrapped around your wife’s wrist in a dainty bracelet.

I’m sorry if I’ve taken a little bit of the luster off of gold for you for the foreseeable future (or until you forget this article, which I have a feeling will be a bit hard to shake…). But it is the truth.

The good news is that we have a gold alternative, as directed by King David, who proclaims to G-d (Psalms, 119:72), “The Torah of Your mouth is sweeter than thousands of gold and silver.” This is not to say that Kind David had no gold or silver in his palace, as a great king, it’s quite certain that he had, but King David is saying that what is sweet to him is not the gold and silver, but his relationship with G-d, and his involvement in G-d’s instruction manual for living, the Torah. This makes all the difference.

When the gold is the goal, anything will be done in the process of getting it. It holds the highest spot on the totem pole of life, and beneath it will often be a sea of human carnage. However, when the moral life is the goal, the shine of gold starts to dim. People don’t focus so much on how much gold they have but rather on how much morality they have. When we live the Torah life, which is predicated on the concept of imatatio Dei, trying to imitate the Divine, the treasures we seek are far different.

The Talmud (Brachos, 33B) tells us, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, has nothing in his treasury other than a treasure of fear of Heaven, as it is stated: “Fear of the Lord is his treasure” (Isaiah 33:6). This means that Ha-shem who could have any treasure in the world, finds no value in gold, diamonds, or silver, the only thing that Ha-shem treasures is someone striving to do the right thing in a time of great challenge. A person using his fear of doing the wrong thing and creating a blockage between himself and Ha-shem, to propel him toward proper action, that is the greatest treasure in His eyes. And when we imitate the divine, we too put far less stock in inert yellow metals, and far more stock in how we talk to others, how we utilize our time, how much we sacrifice for others.

This does not mean that we never buy a beautiful piece of jewelry for our wives our children to properly celebrate a Yom Tov, or some other occasion. Au contraire, we are supposed to be joyful on Yom Tov and part of that is buying new clothes and nice jewelry for our wives and daughters. But when the gold is only the embellishment for what you value, you never sacrifice what you value for the embellishment. A world running on G-dly principles would never have the exploitation of people as a mode of bringing happiness.
All that glitters is not gold, but all that is G-dly is golden!

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

“These are My appointed festivals.” (Lev. 23:2) one of the chapters in this week’s Parsha, begins However, rather than continuing with a description of the festivals, the Torah interjects a verse regarding Shabbos, telling us that we may work for six days, but on Shabbos we must rest. Only then does the Torah continue with, “These are the appointed festivals of Ha-shem.” What is going on here? Shabbos is not one of the festivals?! Additionally, if it was going to be included here, shouldn’t it be at the end after all the festival got their time in the spotlight?

In order to understand this, let us look at the two verses in which the Torah gives a reason for keeping Shabbos. The first, is in Exodus (20: 8-11), where the Ten Commandments are stated for the first time:
“Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it…. For in six days Ad-noy made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore Ad-noy blessed the Shabbos and made it holy.”

O.K. It seems like we should keep Shabbos because G-d rested on the seventh day. (That’s about as simplified as saying “We should be involved in Judaism because it’s good.” But, due to time constraints, we won’t go into deeper explanations of that concept right now.) However, in Deuteronomy (5: 12-15), when the Torah tells us what was upon the second set of tablets (remember, Moshe broke the first set after seeing the Jews dancing around the Golden Calf) we find a verse giving a seemingly different reason for keeping Shabbos:
“Preserve the day of Shabbos to sanctify it, as Ad-noy, your G-d, commanded you… Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Ad-noy, your G-d, took you out of there with a strong hand and an extended arm. That is why Ad-noy, your G-d, commanded you to celebrate the Shabbos day.”

Here it seems that G-d gave us Shabbos to remember that He took us out of Egypt with a strong hand. This concept raises two questions. Firstly, what does the Exodus have to with Shabbos? Secondly, why does the Torah give two different answers for why we keep Shabbos? (If you are a bible critic, there’s a simple answer: because two different people wrote the Torah, and the editor of the most impactful book in all of history didn’t notice the glaring contradiction, and let it slide. But for most of us, that notion is unreasonable and we simply ask why would G-d give two distinct reasons for one of our most important mitzvos?)

One answer is as follows. G-d didn’t take us out of Egypt without a purpose. (The phrase “There are no free lunches,” may have a divine origin!) He took us out for the sole purpose that we come to Mount Sinai, accept His Torah, and become His nation. This goal is clearly stated in G-d’s first dialogue with Moshe regarding the Exodus in Parshas Shmos (Exodus 3:12) “He [G-d] said [to Moshe], ‘Because I will be with you. This will be the proof that I have sent you— when you bring the people out of Egypt— you will serve El-him on this mountain.’” This verse indicates G-d’s redemption of the Jews from Egypt will only be deemed successful once the Jews serve Him on that mountain (Mt. Sinai). This was the goal of the Exodus, and on a deeper level, of all of whole creation. (See footnote #1 for proof of this.) The Jews were emancipated from Egypt for the same reason the world was brought into being, namely, the Jews’ acceptance of the Torah.

Now we understand why one of the reasons we keep Shabbos is because we were redeemed from Egypt. The Exodus only culminated with the acceptance of the Torah, which was the reason the world was created! Thus, Shabbos, which celebrates the creation of the world, also celebrates the Exodus, which gave the creation a purpose.

This idea also explains why the Torah mentions Shabbos before mentioning the festivals. All the festivals commemorate the Exodus, which was the goal of the creation, which is symbolized by Shabbos! The message for us is that when we keep the Torah, and lead a Jewish life with Jewish practice, we are validating not only the Exodus, but the very creation of the world. There can be no greater Tikkun Olam than fulfilling the very purpose for which the world was created!

 

Parsha Summary

This week’s Parsha begins with G-d telling Moshe an assortment of laws that only apply to the Kohanim, the priests. The role of the Kohen was not only to serve in the Temple, but also to be the spiritual guide of the Jewish people. Immediately prior to the Jew’s acceptance of the Torah, G-d told Moshe “You shall be to me a kingdom of Kohanim,” (Exodus 19:6). The Torah didn’t mean that we would all actually be priests, rather that we would be a nation of leaders which would guide all of mankind closer to their Father in heaven. (This is the source for the idea of Tikun Olam, that we have a manifest role in fixing our world, spiritually first, but physically as well. So, before you head to Haiti to help build power plants, or to Cambodia to purify villages’ water, remember to pray daily for the people of the world suffering from oppression or violence, such as the people of Darfur, Sudan, China and, most importantly, Israel!)

Because the Kohain has such a serious responsibility, he must act in a more refined manner than the average person. To this end he is given a special group of laws. Most important are those laws which forbid him to come into contact with tumah or ritual impurity, and to marry certain people. He also get some benefits from his lofty status, (no not medical, dental, or 401K) as we are commanded to accord him preferential treatment. The Kohen always gets the first aliyah to the Torah, we are supposed to offer him food first, and allow him to be the first to speak from among a group of speakers. The Kohen Gadol, being even more exalted than the regular Kohen, has an extra set of laws, to keep him on an even higher level of refinement.

The Torah then discusses the laws of blemishes that disqualify a Kohen from serving in the Temple. In order to be a servant in the King’s courtroom, one had to be unblemished both inside and out. Some of these blemishes include missing limbs, broken limbs, different type of rashes and, believe it or not, bad breath. Many of these blemishes only disqualify the Kohen while they are present, and once they are gone the Kohen can serve again (you could imagine, Listerine would have flowed like water in the Kohen’s Quarter had it been around. In its absence, the gemara talks about using different spices and herbs to cure bad breath). Even a Kohen with disqualifying blemishes was allowed to partake in all the food of the sacrifices; he just couldn’t offer them up.

Next, the torah talks about the laws of Terumah, a portion of everyone’s crops which must be given to the Kohanim. The number is anywhere from 1/40th of your crops if you’re as generous as Bill Gates (24 billion donated to world health) and 1/60th if your as stingy as Ebenezer Scrooge (a famous Charles Dickens character). The Torah enumerates exactly who is allowed to eat Terumah, what levels of purity they must have, and what happens if a non-Kohen eats it by mistake. We then learn what makes an animal unfit for use as a sacrifice (a similar group of blemishes to the ones disqualifying a human, ealthough I can’t imagine a cow with good breath!). The Torah tells us there that it is forbidden to sacrifice an animal less than 8 days old, and it’s forbidden to slaughter a mother and its child on the same day (another example of the Torah’s sesitivity toward animals’ feelings).

We are also forbidden to desecrate G-d’s name and given a responsibility to sanctify it. Whether we like it or not, when we do something wrong people often will say “How could a Jew do that,” or “look at that Jewish hypocrite.” These statements come from the fact that people understand that we are a Chosen Nation, that we are to be held to higher standard, and that when we fail to do so, we not only desecrate ourselves, but we also desecrate He who chose us.

The Torah then discusses all the festivals, and which sacrifices are offered on those special days. It goes into detail about the Omer offering brought on the second day of Pesach, which heralds in the counting of the Omer(which we are in the midst of right now), and culminates with the Shtei Halechem, a bread sacrifice brought on Shavous (no, in the Temple they didn’t offer cheesecake on the Altar on Shavous!).

The Parsha concludes with a discussion of the Menorah and the showbreads (breads that were placed on a special table in the Holy section of the Temple). Each set of twelve loaves would reamain on the table for a week, after which time they would be replaced by fresh loves. They would miraculously remain warm and fresh the entire week, and eating them was considered an auspicious omen that one become wealthy. (I could use all twelve loaves of showbread right about now!!!). The last part of this Parsha is the story of the blasphemer, a man who blasphemed in public and was sentenced to death. Even in the Biblical times, treason was a capital offense, and there can be no greater treason than blaspheming G-d, who gave you everything you have!

So, I would like to wish all you faithful ones who are still reading a wonderful week! I think one the main lessons we should take home this week is that, as the Chosen Nation, we must behave in a more refined manner than everyone else, as we represent G-d who chose us. And don’t forget – don’t blaspheme!

 

Quote of the Week: Make the most of today, translate your good intentions into deeds. ~ Grenville Kleiser
Random Fact of the Week: During your lifetime, you will produce enough saliva to fill two swimming pools.
Funny Line of the Week: The scientific theory I like best is that rings of Saturn are entirely made of lost airline baggage.
Have a Satisfying Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham

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