He was 28 years old and his biggest skill was what he was able to do with a bottle of spray paint. Ever since he was a kid growing up on the mean streets of South LA, David Choe wanted nothing else but to spray paint and color on walls, buses, bridges, train tracks, and anywhere else he could without getting locked up. To this day, he has no place he calls home (he likes to call himself homeless but that is a bit of a stretch as you will soon see), and he “wanders the world making good art and bad music.”

His signature art was a buck toothed whale saying words of pseudo wisdom such as “ride the bus,” “save your self,” or the simple yet profound, “uh….”

Slowly David’s fame began to spread. It might have been the inspiration people found in the sage advice to ride the bus, or the raw crude graffiti art that seemed to speak to people aged three to one hundred and three, but whatever it was, the name David Chloe started picking up chatter in the SoCal area.

He tried going to art school, but it was all about lines, form, and function, and he wasn’t into any of that. So he dropped out. He then had a string of run ins with the law, as it seems no code in California law allows for people to spray paint colorful images on public buildings. But such is the life of the starving artist.

In early 2005 he was contacted by some small internet startup company that was looking to relocate to the Palo Alto area. Being a fresh and edgy company, they wanted to decorate their new offices with a gigantic mural going across an entire wall. They were low on cash and all they could afford was a couple thousand dollars, but they were also willing to give stock instead if David was willing to forego the money. The whole concept of the startup seemed “Ridiculous and Pointless” to David, but being the artsy type who prefers to be homeless, he took the stock options. It fit well with another of his aphorisms “Always double down on 11.”

David came to the office and started with a few cans of spray paint, spraying some blue half-humans-half-gnomes, when he was joined by the CEO, some curly haired twenty year old named Mark. He gave Mark a can of spray paint, but Mark was more of a computer geek than an artist, and the best Mark could do was paint a stick figure. Being a very talented artist David was able to incorporate that stick figure into his mural, a mural that vaguely hinted to the concept of connecting people, which is what the company was all about.

As fate would have it, that company was Facebook, and the curly haired Mark was Mark Zuckerberg.

Today, Facebook is a publicly traded company with a valuation of $462 Billion dollars, making it the sixth most valuable company in the world. David Choe’s shares, his payment for an afternoon of having fun spray painting a wall, are worth just over one billion dollars. I guess David will be able to finally buy himself a house! Always double down on 11, you never know when you’re going to hit the big number.

Our Sages teach us in Ethics of Our Fathers (2:1), “Be careful with a light mitzvah like you would be careful with a serious one, for you never know the reward of a mitzvah.” A mitzvah that we would carelessly gloss over may have a result far greater than we would ever imagine, and as such we should treat every mitzvah as the treasure trove it might be. We never know which mitzvah might appear to be worth just a couple of stock options in some internet startup but end up yielding a multimillion payout.

When we pray on behalf of someone who is ill, who knows if our prayer is going to be the one that tips the Heavenly scales in favor of Life? When we visit someone ill, who knows if our visit is going to give that person the fighting power needed to pull them through? When we decide to reserve our Friday nights for Shabbos dinner with our family, who knows if this will be the move that will bring our family closer emotionally, physically and spiritually?

Walking through life is like panning for gold, sometimes you can pan for hours and come up with nothing but dirt, and sometimes you just dip you pan in the riverbed and come up with a nugget the size of a fist.

When you walk through life with the awareness that your next move, small or big, may bring in the nugget of gold… every moment is a nugget of gold.

Carpe Diem!


Parsha Dvar Torah

In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah describes the different vestments worn by the Kohanim, the priests, in the Temple and Tabernacle. There is incredible detail given to the various vestments, from the ornate golden breastplate inlaid with twelve priceless gemstones, to the turquoise robe, or the golden forehead plate. The Torah describes the measurements, the materials, and even the particular weave technique used in each garment.

The Sagrs tell us that these garments were just as important as the sacrifices brought in the temple as the garments themselves were able to effect atonement for various sins. This seems a bit difficult to understand. We can appreciate how bringing a sacrifice would effect atonement. A person would have to spend money, shlep an animal all the way to Jerusalem, all the while thinking about what he did. Then he would bring it to the Temple, and the Kohain would have a long discussion with him before bringing the sacrifice which was supposed to represent him sacrificing himself. But how could the High Priest wearing some dazzlingly beautiful clothing help us atone for our sins?

Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman of Monsey, NY explains this idea with a beautiful concept. There are two motivators behind a person changing his ways. One is the person realizing just how negative his actions are, and what they have been doing to his life, his social circles, and most importantly his relationship with G-d. The other way is a person realizing just how great he truly is inside, and how great his potential is. This alone can motivate a person to reach higher.

The garments worn by the Kohanim, were external representations of what a person should like on the inside. When a person saw the High Priests golden breastplate with the names of all the Jewish tribes engraved on gemstones, he knew that his heart was really a golden receptacle of love for his fellow Jews. When a person saw the forehead plate of the High Priest with the words, “Holy to G-d” on it, he understood that his brain is supposed to be a supercomputer filled with holy thoughts and intellectual pursuit of G-d. Seeing the extreme modesty incorporated into the vestments, showed one the modest nature of his physical body. Thus the garments were able to motivate people to change by showing them how great they were, and inspiring them to rise up to the greatness they had.

There is a story about a Jewish boy who went off to find G-d on a Native American reservation, where he lived for years. After a very strange sequence of events, he was directed by a very revered shaman to go back to his people. He came back to NY, where he circled the Jewish neighborhoods, trying to reconnect, but found himself not connecting with anyone. Then he was told to meet a Rabbi Shlomo Friefeld from a yeshiva called Shor Yoshuv. He went to meet with him, with his dog Chika in the back of the pickup truck. The Rabbi received him warmly and treated him with great respect. He had never felt so esteemed by anyone and promised to return on the morrow.

The next day when he came to the yeshiva there was a bris going on. Rabbi Friefeld called sent someone to bring this ponytailed man in jeans and a T-shirt to the come stand right next to the Rabbi, and by now he was starting to feel like there was some greatness this Rabbi saw in him that he wasn’t even aware of, a greatness worth exploring.

But the act that changed him forever happened a few days later. On one of his visits with the Rabbi Friefeld, the Rabbi was called out of the study for a moment, and this man decided to poke around the office a bit. He noticed with surprise a pile of books on the floor, and knew that the Rabbi would never leave holy books on the floor. Intrigued, he picked up the books, and saw that they were all about Native American culture and life.

He realized that Rabbi Friefeld valued him so much that he had taken out time to try to understand who he was and what made him tick. If the Rabbi saw so much value in him that he went to such lengths to be able to interact with him in a way he could understand, there was clearly some untapped greatness in him. He set about finding it, and today is a great Torah scholar, another person motivated by the greatness Rabbi Friefeld showed him he had.


Parsha Summary

This week we read Parshat Titzaveh, which begins with the commandment to bring only the purest olive oil for lighting the menorah. It then continues with the vestments worn by the Kohanim and the Kohain Gadol, the regular priests and the High Priest.

Here is the basic breakdown: all priests wore white linen pants, covered by a white linen tunic, wrapped up in a multicolored belt, and a white linen hat (the shape of the High Priest’s hat differed slightly from that of the regular priests.) The Kohain Gadol wore 4 additionalvestments; a blue robe, an apron-like garment, a breastplate made of multicolored wool and containing a gold plate with twelve precious stones, and a gold head plate with the words “Holy to G-d” engravedon it. After Ha-shem tells Moshe what the Kohanim will wear, Hecommands him about the sacrifices and services that will serve as the inauguration of the Msihkan, the Tabernacle.

Quick lesson: Contrary to what many would like to believe, the clothes we wear make a big statement about who we are, as they are the primary way we represent ourselves to the outside world, who don’t know us through any other medium. It is for this reason that the discussion of the inaugural service can come only after the commandments telling the Kohanim how they have to dress during the service. One cannot say on the inside I will serve G-d, but to the outside world I can appear any way I would like. The Torah here tells us that au contraire we must first ensure that the way we portray ourselves is consistent with our ideals, before we go in to serve G-d!

The parsha continues with the description of the Tamid, a twice-daily sacrifice brought in the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash, and finishes with a depiction of the Incense Altar.

Quote of the Week: If you want an accounting of your worth, count your friends. – Merry Browne

Random Fact of the Week: The smallest known frog is found in Cuba, and is about the size of a dime.

Funny Line of the Week: Is Disneyland a big human trap laid out by a crafty mouse?

Have a Smashing Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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