I remember seventy-six cent gas. Just saying that makes me feel like a dinosaur, but I do remember gas selling for seventy-six cents a gallon. I had a good buddy who lived down in Memphis, and he once took a picture of himself in front of a gas station with a sign displaying sixty-seven cent gas. But that is a world we no longer live in. We may as well have taken a picture showing ourselves with a stagecoach, telegraph pole, or saber-toothed tiger.
We also no longer live in the world of the $1 pizza slice. I don’t know what happened to that one; it feels like one day you could get a slice anywhere for a dollar, and the next day it was, “That’ll be $2.50, would like any toppings with that? Toppings are an additional $1 per topping?” Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.
But the world of the $1 pizza still exists, if perhaps not in the kosher world. In New York City I’m told that there are many pizza stores specializing in the low-margin, high-volume world of the generic $1 pizza slice. Mason Wartman, who worked a desk job on Wall Street for years, was very familiar with that genre of pizza shop, he often stopped in for a quick bite at a number of them. When he was finally fed up with Wall Street, he decided to move back home to Philly, and open a $1 pizza shop. The rent was lower, people had lower incomes, and there were plenty of streets with high foot traffic, making the perfect recipe for the $1 pizza store.
Mason opened Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in 2013, and the store has done well; it turns out many people like $1 pizza (Myself included! I just like $1 kosher pizza, and that’s as rare as the $1 Honda Accord!). Rosa’s also saw a fair share of homeless customers. It is very hard for homeless people to find an inexpensive yet filling meal, and they don’t have kitchens to cook pasta or other cheap staples. But even $1 is sometimes too much for a homeless person, and often they would come in with a collection of change that didn’t quite add up to $1.
One day, not long after Rosa’s opened, a man whose identity is now long lost, walked in, and after paying for his pizza, asked if he could buy another slice for someone who didn’t have enough money to pay for it. He has been inspired by a similar practice he had seen in Italian coffee shops, where there is a menu item called caffe sospeso, which means “suspended coffee,” which essentially means that you pre-purchase coffee for someone less fortunate than you. Mason was only too happy to sell an extra slice to the man, and he wrote a Post-It Note, saying that a free slice was available for someone who needed it, and posted it on the wall behind him. As other customers noticed it, they asked if they too could buy a slice for someone less fortunate.
Today, the walls of Rosa’s Fresh Pizza are covered with Post-It notes. People buying pizza for the homeless or other needy people write whatever they want on the Post-It note, pay $1 and hang it on the wall. Those who want the pizza, simply take the Post-It note off the wall and use it to pay for their pizza. The notes are varied, and here are some of them:
Yay! Have some pizza and a good day!
Free Pizza and Love – From Spain!
Dear Friend, I love you & hope you enjoy the pizza! – Varnel
Greetings from Seattle! Enjoy your pizza!
You matter! Have a great day!
Share your blessings!
Pizza is all about love! – Madeline
Keep Your Head Up!
Make Pizza Not War
Pizza for All!
There are also longer notes, often left by those who are the recipients. Here are some:
I just want to thank everyone that donated to Rosa’s. It gave me a place to eat every day and the opportunity to get back on my feet. I start a new job tomorrow! Everyone wants the world to change, but in order for that to happen, we have to change ourselves. And Rosa’s is a great idea and an example of that. Thank you!
Hi! My name is Mark. I am a homeless man who lives on 6th and Vine under the bridge and I would like to say Thank You for all you have donated! It really helps! Thank you!!!
This one was written on a paper plate: God Bless You! Because of you I ate off this plate. It is the only thing I ate all day. I am a homeless veteran and get treated rudely when I ask for help. Rosa’s treats me with respect – truly a blessing. Thank you R.B. 11.29.14. On the bottom written around the edge of the plate is “Do Onto Others, As Others Do Onto You!”
Rosa’s was featured in USA Today on August 20, 2016, and other newspapers around the country, where it was reported that they have already given out over 70,000 free slices. That’s enough to have given 200 homeless people dinner every night for a year! When I called Rosa’s to get some more details, I found out that they sell about 300 pies a day, which is 2,400 slices. They also told me that they give away about 250 slices a day to 125 homeless people, two slices per person, which means that they are giving away a bit more than 10% of their pizza, or what we Jews call Ma’aser, tithe! If you do the math, at the current level, they are giving out 1,750 slices a week, or about 90,000 a year. So in the year since the news articles, they have pushed the number of total free slices to over 150,000!
The amazing thing is that Rosa’s success is probably due in some measure to the pizza they give away. People love the feeling they get when they give, and if you are deciding where to go to get lunch, and one store sells pizza and the next store sells pizza and a really good feeling for just one extra dollar, where are you going to go? It is usually the very shortsighted business people who don’t realize that by being better you do better. You gain so much by giving. The employees feel proud of where they work, the patrons feel proud to be paying it forward, and you feel great because you make a lot of green and do a lot of good!
But I want to focus on something else. I want to focus on the unnamed hero; the guy who started it all. Why did he start this trend? Because he was an Ecclesiastes.
The book of Ecclesiastes starts with the following words: “These are the words of Ecclesiastes, son of David, king in Jerusalem.” What is an Ecclesiastes? Where do I find an Ecclesiastes? Do they still make Ecclesiastes or have they gone the way of the telegraph pole and stagecoach?
The word for Ecclesiastes in Hebrew is Koheles, and that word comes from Kahal, or a gathering. A congregation is called a Kehilla because it is a gathering of different people. An Ecclesiastes is a person who gathers messages and wisdom wherever he sees it, and seeks to replicate it. In Ethics of Our Fathers we learn (4:1), “Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): ‘From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation.”
An Ecclesiastes is someone who is constantly gathering up lessons from others. King Solomon, in his final book, where he seeks to impart all that he learned over the course of his life, starts off by saying how he acquired his wisdom, “These are the words of the gatherer.” It is no wonder that King Solomon was described as the wisest of all men (Kings I, 5:11), as he was the one who was always seeking to gather wisdom from others, and the mark of a wise man is he who learns from every person.
The first person to pay for someone else’s slice at Rosa’s had seen this done in coffee shops in Italy, but instead of just thinking that it was cool, and perhaps telling his friends back at home that he bought suspended coffee in Italy, he gathered it into his basket, brought it home, and did it in a pizza shop in Philly. Thousands of well-fed homeless people have this unnamed Ecclesiastes to thank for that.
The gatherers shall inherit the earth!
But we’re not done yet, let’s think about another idea. We have no clue who the unnamed Ecclesiastes who started the Rosa’s giving train was. Let’s imagine he lives in another city, and the only day he ever stepped foot in Rosa’s was that day. And imagine he’s reading the USA Today or watching the news five years later, and he sees them doing a special on Rosa’s. Mason is there telling the story of this guy who came in five years ago, and sparked the whole movement. He goes on to show dozens of letters from thankful homeless people, and they interview a number of patrons who talk about how much they love to give. The news piece continues by saying that to date, over 200,000 slices have been given out.
Imagine what Mr. Ecclesiastes feels like at that moment, knowing the massive effect one simple good deed of his had! That is what Gan Eden feels like. In the World To Come, Heaven and Gehinnom are just a place where we see all of our actions playing out over and over again, but this time we see them with absolute clarity, without any rationalization or obscurities. We also see the ripple effects of every action of ours as it stretches out infinitely. The extreme ecstasy of Heaven is the feeling of seeing just how much of a difference every good deed of ours had on the world, the agony of Gehinom is seeing just how much pain and negativity we caused with our actions. The pleasure Mr. Ecclesiastes gets when he sees that newsreel and realizes what he started is far greater than the pleasure you can get from anything physical. It’s better than a Black Angus steak cooked to perfection, better than a brand new Rolls Royce, better than the Presidential Suite in the Four Seasons in the Maldives.
The greatest reward we get for being a gatherer is being able to harvest the crop we carefully planted from the seeds we gathered.
The day of seventy-five cent gasoline may be over, but we still can get so much for so little, by being a careful gatherer and a thoughtful and deliberate planter.
According to a recent NPR article, Americans spent approximately $700 million dollars on pet costumes for Halloween this year. In a world where pampered pets are de rigeur, this may come as no surprise. But the link between pampered pets and out weekly Torah portion is surprising and instructive.
In this week’s Parsha we are introduced to the first shadchan (matchmaker) ever. Avraham sends out his trusted aide, Eliezer, to find a suitable womanfor his son Yitzchak. Eliezer, recognizing that the task of finding a future matriarch was immense, devises a litmus test to determine the future matriarch of the Jewish nation, and prays to G-d that it work.
Eliezer would ask a number of girls for a drink as they drew water from the well for their families. The one that would say, “not only will I give you a drink, but I will also water your camels,” would be the one to prove herself worthy of marrying into the house of kindness established by Avraham, and continued by his son, Yitzchak. Let’s see what happened…
He had not yet finished speaking [to G-d] and, behold, Rivkah came out… Her pitcher was on her shoulder… She went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up. The servant ran toward her and said, “Please let me sip a little water from your pitcher.” She said, “Drink, my master,” and she quickly lowered her pitcher to her hand, and let him drink.
When she had finished giving him to drink, she said, “I will also draw water for your camels, until they will have finished drinking.” She quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough and she ran to the well again to draw water. And she drew water for all his camels. The man, wondering at her, remained silent, waiting to determine whether G-d had made his mission successful, or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose ring weighing half a shekel and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekel [to give to her]… (Gen. 24: 15-22)
Here’s the question: Eliezer devised a very specific test and he barely finished praying to G-d that it work, when along comes a girl who seems to fit the bill perfectly. She not only gives him water (when many girls would have told him to, “Get some water yourself!”) but she even offers to water his thirsty camels. But even after all that, Eliezer stood there “wondering at her, remained silent, waiting to determine whether G-d had made his mission successful, or not!” It seems that only after she finished watering the camels did he feel comfortable that she was the right one, but what took him so long?
Today, pet obesity has reached almost epidemic proportions. A recent report from the National Academy of Science shows that one in four pets is overweight or obese. This is mostly the result of owners who “pamper” their pets with too much food. Animals, unlike humans, have a very strong inner discipline, and there are no obese animals in the wild. However, once they are put in the homes of “caring and loving” people they suddenly become obese. What this really means is that the owners don’t love the pet, they love themselves and they feel good when they put out another dish of pet food for their “best friend,” and another and another. It may make them feel good, but it is shortening the lifespan of their “best friend” by an average of two years.
When Eliezer saw a girl who was so willing to help that she offered to water his camels, he was concerned that this girl may feel a need to “do good” in order to feel good, even where it is uncalled for. So he waited until the camels finished. Would she try to keep watering them, in order to feed that “do-good” feeling inside her, or would she understand that the camels were full and stop, knowing that any more water would harm them?
This is what Eliezer was waiting to see. Was this girl’s kindness the genuine kind of kindness that would fit perfectly into his master’s house, or was it the self-serving kindness that often turns into cruelty, which needs to be kept far away from a patriarch of the Jewish people? As soon as he saw that when the camels were finished drinking she stopped, he immediately began to give her gifts of jewelry, knowing that she was the proper shidduch.
Kindness doesn’t make the world go round, balanced kindness makes the world go round!
Questions to think about:
- What are some other examples where kindness without limitations is hurtful?
- Is there a way for us to know when kindness is getting out of control?
- What is your favorite form of kindness?
This week’s Parsha begins with the passing of Sara, the first of the matriarchs. The Torah tells us about the difficulty that Avraham underwent trying to buy the proper burial place for his family. Avraham dealt with a person that would make a used car salesman look like a saint. The place was called Me’arat Hamachpela, where Adam and Eve were buried.. (Today, Adam and Eve, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Jacob and Leah, are all buried there. You can still visit this holy site in Israel, although Arabs control Hebron where the Me’arat Hamachpela is located and you need a military escort.
Efron the Chiti, the owner of the aforementioned cave, pretends to want to give the field to Avraham for free, knowing that Avraham won’t take it. This prevents Avraham from bargaining when Efron says, “So let’s just get the deal over with. Here, just give me $40,000,000 which is nothing between friends, and you can go bury your deceased.” (The number wasn’t in USD; I’m using a little writer’s license.) Parenthetically, this was another challenge Avraham had to face, paying an exorbitant price for his wife’s burial place when G-d had promised him the entire land! Avraham pays the money without complaint, realizing that the proper burial place for the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish nation is priceless.
After burying Sara, Avraham immediately starts to work on finding a mate for his son. With the Akeida fresh in his mind, Avraham feels the urgency of continuing the line of his progeny and dispatches Eliezer to find a wife for his son. Avraham makes Eliezer swear before he leaves that he will make every attempt to find a wife from Avraham’s family and not from the Canaanites living in the land.
Eliezer asks G-d to help him in finding the proper girl. He even devises a challenge that he asks G-d to use as the litmus test to determine the future matriarch of the Jewish nation.
According to his plan, Eliezer would ask a number of girls for a drink as they drew water from the well for their families. The one that would say, “Not only will I give you a drink, but I will also water your camels,” would be the one to prove herself worthy of marrying Yitzchak.
Using this test, he quickly finds Rivkah, a daughter of Besuel, granddaughter of Avraham’s brother Haran . When Eliezer goes to meet the parents, he tells over the whole story of how he got there and the miracle of finding Rivka so quickly.
Rivka’s father and brother try to kill Eliezer so that they could steal the great wealth that he brought with him to give to the prospective bride. They put poison in Eliezer’s food but an angel miraculously switches the dishes, and Besuel, Rivka’s father, ends up dead instead. Lavan and his mother try to convince Rivka to stay but she declares that she wants to go with Eliezer to meet her future husband.
Rivka catches sight of her husband for the first time as he is returning from praying in the field and she is overwhelmed by his greatness. They soon marry and, as the Torah tells us, “Yitzchok brought her into the tent of his mother, Sarah. He married Rivkah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. Yitzchok was then consoled for the loss of his mother.” (Gen. 24:67) This shows us that the Torah’s view of love is something that comes after marriage, after one makes the ultimate commitment to a partner, not the infatuation people often feel and describe as “love at first sight” or “falling head over heels in love!”
The Torah then mentions some of the genealogy of Avraham, and Yishmael. It also describes the death of Avraham at the ripe old age of 175. He was buried with his wife in the Me’arat Hamachpela.
The Torah concludes the Parsha with a description of Yishmael’s genealogy, indicating that Avraham treated him as a true son, despite the fact that he had a child from his primary wife, Sara. That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Each virtue in its extreme becomes a vice. – Rabbi Shmuel Fremont
Random Fact of the Week: Coca-Cola used to be green.
Funny Quip of the Week: Despite the rapidly rising cost of living, have you noticed that it remains so popular?
Have an Insouciant Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham