Only One Job
“Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon, the Kohen…” (25:11)
A true story.
A number of years ago a unique manuscript came to light in the Cairo Museum of Antiquities. The manuscript was a previously unknown work by one of the Rishonim (earlier commentators). Its existence came to the attention of a certain Jew whom we shall call ‘Reb Shalom’. Reb Shalom made it his business to track down and publish such manuscripts.
Reb Shalom made overtures to the Egyptians. They were unresponsive. Undeterred, Reb Shalom went to work. He galvanized every source of pressure he could bring to bear. He lobbied Senators in Washington, Members of Parliament in Westminster. Eventually, the Egyptians were prepared to listen. To the Jewish People, the manuscript was priceless. To the Egyptians, it was worth three-quarters of a million dollars.
Three-quarters of a million dollars is not a paltry sum by anyone’s estimation. Reb Shalom did not flinch, and in due course the money was paid and the manuscript delivered. With great eagerness, Reb Shalom and his team of experts gathered around as the manuscript was opened. Silence fell upon the room as, for the first time in centuries, the holy words of the manuscript greeted the eyes of those who truly knew their meaning and significance. And then, one of Reb Shalom’s colleagues leaned forward to examine a certain line, and in doing so his coat brushed against a large Styrofoam cup that held a full cup of hot coffee. The material of the coat barely grazed the cup, but it was enough. The entire contents of the cup spilled over the delicate manuscript. Within seconds the entire manuscript became a sodden un-decipherable mess. The man who had spilled the coffee slumped into his chair with his head between his hands. The room filled with a deafening silence. After a few moments Reb Shalom walked over to the man, put his hand on his shoulder and said:
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you another cup of coffee.”
A Jew only has one job in life – to do the Will of G-d. Up until the moment that the coffee spilled, Reb Shalom’s job was to publish the manuscript. After it spilled, his job was to not get angry. The job doesn’t change, only the context.
When people would ask Reb Shalom how the work on the manuscript was coming along, he would reply that it was going to be a very long job. In fact, the story of what happened to the manuscript didn’t emerge until many years later, when, after Reb Shalom’s death, the person who had spilled the coffee revealed the fate of the manuscript.
At the end of last week’s Torah Portion, Pinchas takes a spear in his hand and slays Zimri ben Salu, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, together with a Midianite princess called Kozbi. At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, the Torah refers to Pinchas as “the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the kohen.” The Torah specifically links Pinchas to Aharon, his grandfather. The job of Aharon, and of every kohen, is to create shalom “peace” between the Jewish People and G-d. Actually shalom is not adequately translated by the word peace. Shalom means a state of wholeness, of completion. Sometimes we create shalom through gentle acts of kindness and mercy, and sometime shalom can only come, as in this case, through intransigence and apparent cruelty. However, the common denominator is that our entire job in life is to do the Will of G-d, whether that may be through gentleness, or zealotry — or by offering another cup of coffee.
- Source: Adapted from a story told by Rabbi Zvi Myer Zylberberg as heard from Rabbi Reuven Levitt