Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Phony Gorilla

When Benjamin applied for a job at the zoo, this was not what he had in mind. He was shocked when the zoo manager showed him the gorilla suit. But he needed the job. 

The gorilla enclosure - one of the zoo's most popular sites - had been empty for a month after its previous occupant had died suddenly of a gastrointestinal infection. The zoo was having financial difficulties, and could not afford the high expenses of acquiring and taking care of a new gorilla. Instead, the zoo management decided decide to hire someone to act as a gorilla during peak visiting hours.



Benjamin started work the next day. It was hot inside the suit, and not easy to jump around and pretend to be a gorilla for hours at a time. He went home at the end of the day sweaty and exhausted. But it paid the bills.

It all came to an end one hot summer day. Uncomfortable after many hours in the suit, Benjamin became irritable. When some boys started throwing popsicle sticks at him, he lost it. Benjamin tore the sticks off his furry coat and yelled at the boys. "Is that the way you treat a gorilla?" he roared.

The zoo manager fired Benjamin on the spot. It was a PR disaster for the zoo.

Benjamin, however, needed the money. "The whole year, I was a great gorilla. I beat my chest. I grunted and hooted. The kids loved me. Then one mistake, and you fire me? Is that fair?"

The manager was not moved by Benjamin's argument. "I'm sorry, but there's no way that I could send you out there again. Once you opened your mouth, you showed everyone that you are a man, not a gorilla. You could jump up and down and eat as many bananas as you like, but people will always know what you really are."

The same is true with us. We might spend the whole year running after money and material pleasures. But once we spend Yom Kippur dedicated to our spiritual side, devoted to prayer and repentance, we show the whole world who we really are. We show everyone - ourselves included - that underneath all that superficiality, lives a holy human soul.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tzav: Role Reversal

There was once a dockworker named Jack who had been forced to leave school at an early age in order to support his family. Jack, however, greatly valued the importance of Torah study. So he made an agreement with a promising young scholar, that he would help support the young man in return for sharing the merit of his Torah study,

The agreement worked fine until one day Jack decided that it was not enough just to support a Torah scholar. He wanted to study Torah himself! So he informed the young man that from now on, they were switching roles. Jack would take the scholar's place in the study hall, while the scholar would perform his job on the dock.

Of course, the results were disastrous. The scholar lacked the strength and stamina necessary to unload the ships at the harbor. Jack, on the other hand, barely knew the Hebrew alphabet. He found himself sitting and staring at the pages of the Talmud, until he nodded off to sleep on the bench in the yeshiva.

Kavanah in Prayer

The Torah states that if the kohen has the incorrect intention when bringing an offering in the Temple, the offering is pigul and is invalidated. Prayer is a comparable form of serving God, one which also requires the appropriate intention or kavanah. Prayers which are recited when one is distracted by stray thoughts is like an offering ruined by machshevet-chutz, extraneous thoughts.

A prayer without proper kavana is similar to the disastrous switch of the dockworker and the yeshiva scholar, Instead of the body doing its work while the mind concentrates on prayer, their roles are reversed. The lips mindlessly form the words of prayer, and the body sways with movements of prayer; but the mind is preoccupied with thoughts of the workplace....