Cognitive dissonance hung heavy in the humid air. The people of Maranello, Italy were unsettled. A fire-engine red Ferrari had been driving through town all morning causing quite a racket. Usually, the snarling growl of a Ferrari didn’t bother the people of Maranello, au contraire, it was sweet music to their ears. Ever proud of the Ferrari factory nearby, these Italians loved the sights and sounds of any automobile produced in their city, and often cheered as a Ferrari streaked by – a blur of crimson and a feral whine.

But today something didn’t sound quite right. The car that had been circling Maranello all morning sure looked like a Ferrari 328GTB, but it sounded like a 1979 Ford pickup truck. The old men in the café debated vigorously, the bewildered teenagers simply jacked up the volumes on their iPods and retreated.

Finally, Tony Pinnasti, the local constable, decided to settle the issue. He turned on his lights and siren and pulled up behind the Ferrari. Rarely do police flag a Ferrari in Maranello, but never does a Ferrari pull over for a cop in Maranello. This morning was no different, and ignoring the siren, the 328GTB pulled away. The townspeople were all paying attention now, and everyone watched as the Ferrari widened the gap between it and the police car. And then the police car pulled out of its parking space. Within 30 seconds Tony Pinnasti was squarely behind the Ferrari. Disgusted that a Ferrari gave so little chase, Tony barked over the loudspeaker, “pull over you spineless American!”

As Tony approached the window, the first thing he noticed was the glare of the obviously fake Gucci sunglasses, firmly ensconced in the over-jelled hair of the thrity-five year old driver grinning back at him with an ingratiating smile. “Your honor, I don’t think I was speeding.” Tony gave him a look that would freeze a dragon’s nostril. “That’s the problem! You bring shame to all true Ferraristi! Get out of the car!”

At this point, the driver pointed at his watch and said “Look, I’m late for an appointment, how about I just give you this beautiful Prada bag, and we call it a day?” The guy was really starting to get on Tony’s nerves. The big Rolex the driver was wearing looked like it was bought in a subway station in NYC, and the Prada bag he was being offered still had a sticker on it that said “Made in China .” What was wrong with this guy? Driving a Ferrari, but wearing fake designer clothing, and trying to bribe him with a fake Prada bag? He should know Italians better than that!

Tony walked to the front of the car and pulled open the hood. Boy was he surprised! There, under a red metal plate with the Ferrari logo, was a 6 cylinder, 140 HP, Pontiac engine! That day, Tony became the first police officer in the world to arrest someone for driving a counterfeit Ferrari. 

Reuters recently reported that a ring of counterfeiters has been quietly producing fake Ferraris for a number of years now. A police raid on the Rome-based operation, confiscated twenty-one of them, fourteen of which had already been sold to buyers who knew they were buying a fake Ferrari. “They were car fanatics on a budget,” explained the police reporter.

The remaining seven were being worked on in Sicilian garages, where body workers were putting together body parts from a variety of cars, a few original parts such as hoods and door panels, and some custom made parts. The cars cost about $30,000, enough to buy a brand new Mercedes CLA 250 which would definitely perform better and last longer, but would not carry the cachet of a vintage Ferrari which normally costs about ten times that amount.

Ferraris are one of the latest products to be replicated by forgers. Today, the worldwide counterfeit industry is worth billions. Everything from handbags, jeans, sneakers, perfume, ties, Disney toys, and soap is being counterfeited.

Often, people judge those who buy fake designer clothing as cheap, tacky, or shallow. They would look at the driver of the fake Ferrari, with the fake Gucci glasses, fake Rolex watch, and fake Prada handbags with much disdain. But the truth is that a person like that represents a struggle we all contend with, even if we’ve never bought a designer luxury good.

People have limited resources. They can’t afford to buy the finest things in life all the time. They need to decide what percent of their resources they will dedicate to the externals and what percent to the internals. Case in point; a guy has $50 dollars and needs a watch. He can use it to buy a nice Timex watch, which may not be high on style, but is well-made and will last him a long time. He can also buy a fake Rolex, (some of the better looking fakes cost as much as $200!) that will look real good, might even impress some people, but it will last him about two weeks, as it was made by an underage Chinese child, working with antiquated machines in a dimly lit sweatshop somewhere in Ghaungzhou. Some people will choose the Timex with internal quality, and many will choose the Rolex with external quality (as seen by the billions spent yearly on the counterfeit segment of the market).

In that same way, we have limited resources to invest in ourselves. We need to make the tough choice of what percentage of those resources we utilize to develop our external self, and what percent we use to cultivate our internal self. The more time we spend focusing on the things outside of us, such as our car, house, clothing, makeup, and accessories, the less time we have left to focus on things inside of us, such as our values, integrity, sensitivity toward others, and character building. Developing one end of the spectrum may leave you looking good or successful in the short term, but developing the other will build you into someone of real value with qualities that will last forever.

It’s not the Hermes bag that counts, but the person holding it. It’s not the Ferrari that counts, but the driver. Who are you?

Parsha Dvar Torah

This weeks Parsha starts off with the mitzvah of Shmita, the commandment to leave the land fallow every seventh year. The Torah uses an interesting noun to describe the shmita year, one that begs a question. “When you come into the Land that I will give you, the land shall observe a Shabbos rest for G-D (Leviticus 25:2)” But why is the seventh year, the year we leave our fields fallow, called Shabbos? Isn’t that the name we have for our day of rest, the holiest day of the week? In order to answer that question let us look a little closer at shmita and, hopefully, from there we will be able to find an answer (O.K. I don’t want you guys to be in too much suspense, we will find an answer in the end, not just hopefully!)

The primary reason for Shmita, a mitzvah which tells us to leave our fields untouched every 7th year, is that we should recognize Who gave us our land in the first place, and then show appreciation to Him. If I give you a brand new Ferrari (a F-430 with a 4.3 liter V-8, 483 HP, 343 lbs. of torque, 0-60 in 4.2 seconds to be exact) and tell you to drive it every day but Tuesday, you would be delighted (if not, just give it back to me, I’ll be delighted). As you would get used to the car, though, you would start to forget who gave it to you and start to view it as your own car. (Ask any parent with a teenage driver in the house, I’m sure they will agree.)

But on Tuesday, when suddenly you couldn’t drive it like you normally did, you would be forced to stop and remember hey, wait a second, why am I not driving today? Oh right! Because R’ Burnham gave me the car and he said don’t drive it on Tuesday! This would give you the ability to appreciate what I gave you, because it forces you to step back, and remember that the car was a gift from me. (For those who come to Partners In Torah religiously on Tuesday night, I may just decide to actually give one away, and you guys would be my top candidates, so keep up the good work, and stay tuned!) This is one of the reasons for Shmita. It is a mitzvah that enables us to appreciate G-d for all the good He has done. When we step back from using the land for one year, we focus on He who gave us the land in the first place, and are grateful for it.

One of the reasons we are commanded to keep Shabbos stems from this same line of reasoning. On Shabbos we are not forbidden to do all work. Technically, I could push my heavy table up and down my dining room floor all Shabbos afternoon. It might be hard work, but it is not forbidden. On the other hand, turning the key in the ignition of my Ferrari (oops, I’m already starting to think that I actually have one) is forbidden even though it requires minimal effort. The work that is forbidden on Shabbos is creative work such as creating a fire by turning on the ignition.

The reason only creative work is forbidden, is based upon the fact that G-d gave humans, and only humans, certain creative abilities. I have never seen a monkey, even a very intelligent one,  write a book, nor have I ever seen a mouse making itself a pair of boots. We, the homo sapiens, were given an incredible gift from G-d called creative ability (that is what it means when it says G-d created us in His image. Obviously, He has no form. Rather we are in his image in that we, like him, can create.)

Once a week, G-d asks us to hold back from using this most precious gift, our creative abilities. When we are suddenly not using our gift, we can focus on reigniting our gratitude that which we had gotten so used to throughout the week, and we can be grateful to G-d for giving it to us. This, of course, explains why shmita is described as a Shabbos for the land. Both these mitzvahs provide us with the opportunity to stop using that which we normally use, in order to recognize Who gave it to us and how much we should be thankful to Him!

Parsha Summary

The first of the two parshios we read this week, Behar, begins with the laws of shmita. This mitzvah commands us to leave the land fallow every seventh year. One may not work the land at all, and anything that grows on its own in the field is left to be taken by anyone who needs it. (If you had to be poor for a year, this would be a good one to pick.) After seven shmita cycles there is a Jubilee year on the 50th year, and the land lies fallow once again. In addition, many fields and homes revert back to their original owners. Jewish servants, who requested to stay with their masters past the normal limits, are now sent home. Thus, when buying a field one had to always take into account how many years remained until the Jubilee because that is the amount of time he would own the field. (As Jews, we sometimes have strings attached to our deals, but at least it was known to everyone, not some fine print clause written in Azerbijanian!)

The next part of the Parsha deals with redeeming the land. The idea is as follows; G-d gave each person a portion of the Holy Land, which they bequeathed to their families. There could be no greater family treasure than the family’s share in G-d’s land! (Timeshare salesmen try to get you to feel this way about their “week in paradise for your family every year forever!”)  Therefore, if someone sold his land, it was probably out of great necessity, and the Torah gives the person a chance to buy it back if they, or a relative, can come up with the money. Depending on what type of property it was and where it was situated, the times at which one can redeem it are different, for more details see Leviticus 25:23-34.

The last part of the Parsha deals with Jewish servants. I know that we who live in a post- Emancipation Proclamation world look unfavorably on labor provided by servants or slaves (although who do you think made your shirt?), so I will try to show you that a Jewish servant was the farthest thing from the Atlantic slave trade of the 1500-1700’s. The sages say, “He who buys himself a servant, has acquired a master for himself.” A Jewish master was responsible for supporting his servant’s entire family, he couldn’t force him to do demeaning labor, if there was only one pillow or blanket in the house it had to be given to the servant, and when the servant would leave, the master was required to give him a hefty severance package. (All these benefits and no union dues to pay??? Sounds impossible, but with Torah it’s all possible!).

A Jewish servant would sell himself if he needed funds and couldn’t find any other job, or if he simply wanted the security of servitude (a job in which his whole family was supported and he couldn’t get fired, downsized, discharged, restructured, laid off, terminated or forced to resign!) The Parsha concludes with a reiteration of the mitzvos of keeping Shabbos and not serving idols. This was to remind any Jew who sold himself to a non-Jew, that he still had to keep his Jewish practice and couldn’t start desecrating Shabbos or serving his new master’s idols.

The 2nd Parsha we read is the last one in Leviticus, Bechukosai. The major theme of this parsha is the concept that the deeds we do have a direct result on our world. The world is like a finely tuned violin, and our actions like a bow being stretched across the strings. If we play it properly, the most beautiful and harmonious sounds emanate. However, if we play it improperly, the result is jarring and disturbing. It is not so much a punishment as a cause-and-effect relationship with our actions.

 In line with that idea, the parsha starts off by saying that if we follow G-d’s Torah properly then our land will produce incredible yields, we will live in peace, (and the Pistons will win the Finals). However, if we refuse to follow G-d’s Torah and instead chose to ignore the role He plays in our world, then He will remove Himself from the picture, and the world will begin to crumble around us. Throughout this difficult period, G-d will wait for us to turn back to Him. If we continue to deny His reality, the devastation will become more and more severe. Ultimately, G-d promises that even during the most trying times our people will endure, He will not totally abandon us, rather He will be with us in our exile. In the end we will return to Him, He will remember the covenant He has with our Fathers and bring us back to our land in peace.

The Parsha then moves on to the subject of different items one can consecrate to the Temple, such as property, one’s own value, or his animals. The Torah discusses how a person pays for each, and if and when one can redeem them back for himself. The final verses of Leviticus deal with the second tithe a person gives on his crops, and the tithe on animals.

As we say in Shul (synagogue), when completing one of the Five Books of the Chumash: Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!!!

Quote of the Week:  Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. ~ A. Gambiner

Random Fact of the Week: Abraham Lincoln faces to the right on the penny while all the other presidents face to the left on US coins. 

Funny Quip of the Week: It’s OK to let your mind go blank, but please turn off the sound.

Have a Piquant Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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