15 Adar 5781 / Saturday, February 27, 2021 | Torah Reading: Tetzaveh
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Haazinu: Paying the Bills    

Haazinu: Paying the Bills

A person that pays for an expensive ticket certainly doesn't leave the stadium in the middle of the game. Teshuva is the best deal...


All his ways are justice (Devarim 32:4)).
Hashem created the world in the manner that He did, so that we would be able to observe our environment and learn from it. A basic law of physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The stronger a bowstring is pulled back, the further the arrow will be projected. Young children learn that their parents remove an object from the store only after giving the shopkeeper the equivalent value in currency. The moment we become aware of the basic action-reaction principle, we begin to see the tremendous harmony and wisdom within Hashem's creation, both in the natural order and in the social order. That's why Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (Likutei Moharan I:1) that a person must observe the Divine wisdom within every phenomenon of creation; by observing the Divine wisdom instilled in a creation, a person attaches himself to that Divine wisdom, and achieves enhanced proximity to Hashem.
All his ways are justice alludes to the Divine wisdom that exists in every part of creation. For example, if a person burns a finger because he was playing with fire, he cannot accuse Hashem of being unjust. The action of carelessness with fire triggers the reaction of a burn. In like manner, Hashem has promised throughout the Torah that the action of observing the Torah's laws will bring about a reaction of Divine blessings in this world and the next; the opposite holds true as well.
Maybe you disagree, and say, "Wait a minute – there are wicked people that do evil things and they don't get hit with a bolt of lightning or swallowed up by the ground. Where's Hashem's justice? Even worse, how many times do we see wicked tyrants on top of the world, enjoying money and success?
The score of a football game at halftime doesn't determine the winner. A person that pays for an expensive ticket certainly doesn't leave the stadium in the middle of the game, without knowing the outcome. Therefore, when it appears that wicked people are living happy, carefree, and affluent lives, don't be impressed – the game's not over. All his ways are justice – rest assured that every human on earth is held totally accountable for everything that he or she does, as we'll see in the following parable, with Hashem's loving grace:
Greenstein didn't like anything that was vaguely remindful of toil and he loved squandering other people's money. He had a fast tongue and a false dossier of clients. He gave people the illusion that he'd make them rich by investing their money for them, but he'd always lose whatever money they entrusted with him, blaming a thousand factors other than himself. As such, he'd usually move to a new town five or six times a year.
Greenstein, deluded with grandeur, decided that Lemberg and Galitzia were small ponds for a big frog like himself, so with the few small banknotes left to his name, he bought a train ticket to Paris. His standard ploy was to frequent the most prestigious restaurant in the city – where the rich and powerful dined – and to engage some gullible prospective client in conversation. Greenstein would offer some "exclusively confidential" financial secrets, and then would let his victim pick up the check for his meal.
Positive that his working knowledge of French and his razor-sharp (so he thought) Galician brain would easily attract Paris's upper echelon, Greenstein sat down to a table in a plush restaurant. He tried engaging a few different people in conversation, but they snubbed him. He invited a few others to join him, but they ignored the pushy foreigner. Greenstein was hungry and thirsty, and the aroma of French cuisine made him delirious. He had to order, with or without a benefactor! He was about to faint…
"Garcon!" Greenstein summoned the waiter, "Cie vous plais, pate de foie gras!" He ordered an appetizer of stuffed goose-liver pate with a twelve-year-old bottle of Chateau de Rothschild Cabernet that cost a month's wages of an average Galician day worker. From there, Greenstein continued with French onion soup followed by Chateau-briand, medium-well and smothered in fresh champignon sauce. He savored each morsel of the forbidden delicacies that he couldn't afford. Other people were beginning to look at him in envy, as if he were some visiting financial tycoon or dignitary that knew how to live the good life. Little did they know that every spoonful of the good life would mean another day in a French jail cell for Greenstein.
After Greenstein devoured a dessert of assorted petit-fours and espresso coffee, topped off with a Havana cigar and a glass of Brandy Napoleon, the ax of justice fell: The waiter arrived with an itemized slip of paper on a silver tray with two after-dinner mints: "Your check, monsieur."
Greenstein nearly choked on the cigar. "Seven hundred francs!" he exclaimed. "I didn't eat all that…"
"Well I surely didn't," said the waiter. "Here is everything listed on your bill; wine, goose liver pate, soup, meat, side dishes, desert, cigar, cognac – it's all itemized and exact. I personally served you. So, it's either pay, or…"
Nobody in the restaurant looked at Greenstein with envy any longer. Two French constables escorted the utterly humiliated Greenstein out of the restaurant. After a quick trial, he received a flea-ridden mattress in a dark and suffocating Paris cell, a day in jail for every fifty francs of debt. Greenstein would have a whole two weeks to contemplate his next venture, for fools never learn.
* * *
Greenstein may appear ridiculous, but many of us behave just like him. We sometimes forget that in the end, we'll all have to "pay the bill". The Torah says, All his ways are justice – Hashem gives us a truthful and accurately itemized statement of our misdeeds in this world, an account which we must settle to the last spiritual penny. So, don't be jealous of a person who seems to be enjoying the good life while ignoring the Torah's commandments; such people stop smiling when the waiter from the Heavenly Court arrives with the check.
Unlike the unfortunate Greenstein, there's a way we can stay out of trouble even when we lack the wherewithal to pay for our misdeeds – Hashem is His infinite lovingkindness gives us the gift of teshuva. With teshuva, our debts are waived completely. If we do teshuva out of love, not only is our slate wiped clean, but we receive infinite rewards as well.
Teshuva is the best deal in town – let's grab it while we can!

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