What do you do when you finally get to the end of the rainbow, and there is no pot of gold? How do you move forward when you marry Prince Charming, and then discover that he’s neither a prince nor charming?
For the last twenty years, I’ve dreamt of snowboarding at Blackcomb-Whistler, home of the 2010 Olympics, and the largest ski resort in North America by a huge margin. With over 8,000 acres of skiable terrain, it dwarfs its closest competitor, Vail Resort, whose 5,000 acres look positively JV compared to Whistler’s All Star lineup. Whistler also has the largest vertical drop of any large resort in North America, with 5,280 feet of vertical difference between Whistler Village and the peak of Whistler mountain. This too, crushes Vail’s 3,041 foot vertical drop. (For comparison, Michigan’s largest resort, Boyne Highlands, has 552 feet of vertical and 435 acres of skiable terrain.) It’s no wonder that Whistler picks up #1 North American Overall Resort awards faster than the Ford F-150 picks up most sold vehicle in the US awards.
Ever since I took up the hobby of sliding down mountains at 40MPH strapped to a five foot long board, I’ve pined for the opportunity to take on Whistler. I’ve been blessed to visit some of the best resorts in Vermont, the Rockies, and even the Alps, but for twenty years Whistler remained at the top of my bucket list. So when Congregation Schara Tzedek, an Orthodox synagogue founded in Vancouver in 1907, called and asked if I could come out as a scholar in residence for a Shabbos, my first question was, “Is this during ski season?” It was, and that is how this past Sunday and Monday I was able to finally ride Blackcomb-Whistler after years of yearning.
Unfortunately, Prince Charming was neither a prince nor charming. For starters, the weather was too mild. It was raining almost non-stop at the base of the mountain for the entire time I was there. The snow at the base of the mountain was so soggy and wet that it was almost unrideable, which meant that I didn’t even touch the bottom 1,000 feet of vertical the entire time I was there. At the top of the mountain, it was a bit colder, so it was snowing instead of raining, but the snow was very wet, dense, and moist. This caused my goggles to fog up, my glasses to fog up inside my goggles, and necessitated me stopping to wipe down my glasses/goggles three or four times per run down the mountain.
A dense fog hung over the entire mountain for the most of my time at Whistler, denying me the breathtaking vistas usually thrown in for free along with every lift ticket purchase, and also making it incredibly difficult to see the contours of the snow beneath me as I rode the mountain. Lastly, the winds were taking out their frustrations on the mountain, whipping it with speeds as fast as 70 KMH, shutting down the peak of the mountain for hours at a time. With the peak closed and the bottom unrideable, Whistler no longer had the enormous 5,280 feet of vertical scope it was famous for, nor the 8,100 acres of skiable terrain.
I rarely get a chance to snowboard these days (in the last eleven seasons, I’ve probably only averaged one day on the mountain per year!) And now, my only two days on the mountain for this entire season, on a mountain I’d dreamed of for two decades, were to be spent enveloped in fog, with soggy, clumpy snow beneath my board. It was more than a little deflating.
But then I remembered a bumper sticker I once saw. “The worst day fishing is better than the best day at the office!” This is entirely untrue if you’re mauled by an alligator while fishing in Florida, or attacked by a shark while fishing in the Caribbean! It’s also not totally true if you happen to sign a deal at the office that will give you a six figure commission. But this is not the forum for debating the veracity of bumper stickers… The point of the bumper sticker was that everything in life is relative to expectations. If you expect a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll be quite crushed not to find one, but if you’re not expecting anything, a rainbow is a mighty fine awe-inspiring creation of G-d!
About five hours into my foggy, wet, bumpy ride at Whistler-Blackcomb, I sat down on the side of the mountain, dried off my glasses for the eighty seventh time that day, and made a pact with myself that I was going to LOVE my experience. It may have been nothing like the standard Whistler experience that has won it so many accolades, it may have been nothing like the Whistler I’d dreamed of for years, but it was still an incredible blessing to be out on a mountain, with a board strapped to my feet, and the ability to slide down a mountain faster than I drive down Lincoln Blvd!
Sure, I could gripe about my bad luck getting stuck on two of Whistlers worst days of the season, but then for the same price I could be insanely thankful to G-d for giving me the ability to be at Whistler at all! The issue was all about the expectations. Over twenty years I had built up Whistler in my mind, turning it into a magical winter wonderland that would have only met my expectations if rainbow colored unicorns served me kosher hot chocolate at the bottom of each powder puffed run. When you expect the best, you rarely find your expectations met, and most frequently find yourself deflated by less than expected results. When you expect nothing, when you anticipate the worst, you are almost always surprised and gratified by all that you receive!
We see this dynamic playing out with Esau and Jacob. When they see each other for the first time in twenty years, they each describe how things have been for them. Esau, who lived in prosperity and became a powerful chieftain says (Genesis 33:9), “I have a lot.” Two verses later, Jacob, who spent much of the twenty years in poverty and struggle, says, “I have everything.” Esau may have had a lot, but to him it was still not everything, the unicorns were still not bringing him hot chocolate, there was still no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. To Jacob, the man who struggled and toiled for twenty years under constant deception and subterfuge by his boss and father in law, he had everything, far more than he ever dreamed of!
While Esau gripes about the cost of his mortgage, Jacob is thankful he has a home. While Esau is bitter over the skyrocketing cost of his family health insurance plan, Jacob is overjoyed that he has a family to keep healthy!
Three times a day we recite the Shemona Esrei, the silent devotion section of our prayers. In the prayer called Modim, where we thank G-d for the good in our lives, we say:
We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise, evening, morning and noon, for our lives which are committed into Your hand, for our souls which are entrusted to You, for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and goodness, evening, morning, and afternoon!
This blessing forces us to recognize that we are constantly enveloped in miracles and wonders. When we constantly remind ourselves that we are getting so much more than we reserve, we can’t help but be overjoyed. It’s all about the expectations.
After pondering this for a while, I committed myself to LOVING my Whistler experience, got back up and continued down the mountain. Because the conditions were so rough, I had to slightly tweak the way I rode. I crouched down lower than usual on my board, and made deeper carves into the mountain. This kept my speed in check so that I didn’t race into a pine tree, and also kept my center of gravity lover, giving me better balance, and if I did take a spill it would be from very close to the ground anyway. This was a much better way to ride, and while zooming down the mountain, I kept repeating in my head, “STAY LOW! STAY LOW! STAY LOW!” I ended up having an awesome day on the mountain, fog and all!
As I was winding down my day on the mountain, I took the Peak 2 Peak gondola, from Blackcomb Mountain to Whistler Mountain, to go join my friend who was staying with me, and was just finishing up a ski lesson. (The Peak 2 Peak gondola holds two Guinness World Records, for the longest unsupported span in the world at 3.02km, and highest lift of its kind at 1,427 feet above the valley floor!) I could still hear the mantra “STAY LOW!” in my head, and I realized that was the key to my experience. Keep your expectations low, and you have a lower center of gravity. You don’t fall as often, and when you do, it’s not that bad.
This affects how we see our children, spouses, co-workers, and friends. Expect your kids to be little angels, and you sure are in for the disappointment of a lifetime. Expect your children to be little mischievous devils, entrusted by G-d to you, to help mold and build into upright, good, and honest humans, and you’ll usually find parenting to be exactly what you expected, but will often be surprised by how much greater than expectations your children are!
It turns out that you are the one who decides if you married Prince Charming or not, based on how you define Prince Charming. You can find the pot of the gold at the end of the rainbow, if the pot of gold is all the amazingness already present in your life, lit up by the spectrum of all the colors and experiences life throws your way!
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s parsha, Pekudei, we continue reading about the building of the Tabernacle, and finally see it completed. In all, there are four parshiot that deal almost exclusively with the building of the Tabernacle, and the vessels and vestments used inside it. The Torah goes into enormous detail describing every facet of the construction. It even repeats everything twice – once when it was commanded and once when it was built. This is uncharacteristic of the Torah which normally is very brief. Why did the Torah go into such detail specifically here?
The Tabernacle was the place in which G-d dwelled amongst the Jews. It was also a model around which we can learn to build our homes, and through which we can learn to build a temple inside ourselves for G-d. If we want to have a good relationship with our spouses in our homes, and a good relationship with G-d we need to understand that the majority of a relationship is built through the details.
People often wonder why Judaism stresses all sorts of intricate laws. Shabbat, kashrut, Passover, and tefillin are just some examples of mitzvot that are governed by dozens of technical laws. Why can’t we just love G-d? Why isn’t it enough for me to talk to Him a few times a day, give Him thanks, and tell Him that I love him?
Let’s answer that with this question. Would it be enough for you to simply tell your wife you love her? How about if you told her five times a day? Of course not! The way you show her you love her is by doing all the little things she wants you to do for her. By taking out the garbage, by putting down the seat in the washroom, by writing little love note, by doing the dishes, and by packing a lunch for her to take to work. Not only does doing those things show her you love her, but they also build your love for her, because you’re sacrificing for her, you’re putting her needs above your own. Taking care of the little details is what builds the big love.
We find a focus on detail by even the greatest of Sages. The Talmud recounts the chores that various great Rabbis would do to prepare for Shabbos. Rava would salt the fish, Rav Chisda would cut up beets, Rav Yosef would chop wood, and Rav Nachman would shlepp things that were needed for Shabbos on his shoulder. All of these Sages could have easily exempted themselves from these seemingly trivial tasks, claiming that they should save their time and energy for bigger and better tasks. But they loved Shabbos, and they wanted to be involved in every little detail of creating the perfect Shabbos. The love was in the details.
Rav Leib Chassid, one of the close disciples of the Vilna Gaon, settled in Telshe, Lithuania after the passing of his great teacher. He quickly developed a reputation for his great piety and spent his days studying torah, praying with heartfelt emotion, and helping others. Rarely did he leave his holy work.
One time, he told his wife and children that he needed to go on a journey, and after packing properly he was off. He was gone for weeks and people wondered where he was. He came back aglow with joy. He explained to his family that he wasn’t sure where the proper place to say Amen for the fourth blessing of Birkat Hamazon. So he traveled for weeks to consult with a great sage, and now he knew! When the love is there, even the smallest details are worth going to the ends of the world for.
The Tabernacle was the place G-d would live with His people. The only way it could be built was if we covered all the details, as details are the basis of a real loving relationship. Since this was the foundation of our relationship with G-d, the Torah spent four parshiot on it. Similarly, all the details contained in the mitzvot are the building blocks for the temple we can create within ourselves for G-d. By meticulously following the details He asks of us, we are putting Him above ourselves, and in that way we can build a big temple with little bricks!
Parsha Summary
Pekudei begins with an enumeration the exact amounts of gold, silver, and copper that were donated. (Quick lesson: no matter how great you are, if you are using public funds there should be a level of accountability. Listen up Department of Defense!!!) It then describes in detail the making of the vestments worn by the Kohanim and the Kohen Gadol (the priests and the High Priest). They were discussed already in detail in Parshat Tzav, three weeks ago, please feel free to see that email for more details (yes, I’m sure you save my emails, don’t you?).
The Parsha ends with the commandment to actually set up the Mishkan, and describes its being erected. The Parsha, and indeed the Book of Exodus, closes with the climactic moment when G-d’s glory comes down from on High and rests in the Mishkan that was built for him!
This Shabbos, being the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar II, is Shabbos Shekalim. We will take an additional Torah scroll from the ark, and read about the commandment to the Jews to give the Half-shekel. In Temple times, every Jew would give a half-shekel annually to the Temple, and the combined money was used for all the communal sacrificed, which gave everyone the opportunity to be a part supporter of all the communal sacrifices. They would begin collecting the half-shekels in the month of Adar, and that is why we read this special parsha the Shabbos before Adar begins!
Quote of the Week: Writing is one of the easiest things, erasing is one of the hardest. ~ Rabbi Yisrael Salanter
Random Fact of the Week: A lump of pure gold the size of a matchbook can be flattened into a sheet the size of a tennis court.
Funny Line of the Week: A bargain is something you don’t need at a price you can’t resist!
Have a Dandy Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham

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