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The Cubs, Noah’s Ark and Abraham’s Mustard Tongue Sandwich

The Cubs, Noah’s Ark and Abraham’s Mustard Tongue Sandwich

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In this week’s Torah portion, we read about selfless Noah, the glorified Jack Hanna, who took care of every animal in the world. You can very well imagine it was an arduous task. These animals were personally attended to by Noah. According to our tradition, Noah limped because a lion bit him when he brought his dinner late. Why should poor Noah be punished when every fiber of his being is consumed with taking care of the animals? Shortly in the Torah, we are going to read about how Abraham provided hospitality to three nomads wandering in the scorching desert. He graciously indulges them with mustard tongue sandwiches. Why does the Torah make note of the menu provided to these mysterious visitors? Shouldn’t they just be happy that they were fed? Perhaps we can answer this through the following story. 

In his biography about the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin relates a story about the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. She enjoyed hosting guests and made a point of pouring a cup of tea for each guest — even though there was a teapot on the table and the guests could have served themselves. She would occasionally travel to the Lower East Side to buy fresh rugelach (which were not available in Crown Heights at that time) for an employee who occasionally helped out in her home and loved rugelach. We hear how, at a time when it was unusual, she insisted on paying her household employees on the books, so that they would be eligible to receive Social Security when they reached retirement age. The Rebbetzin’s graciousness also extended to acquainting herself with subjects that she knew would be of interest to the people whom she was meeting. Dr. Ira Weiss, the Chicago cardiologist who started treating the Rebbe in the aftermath of his 1977 heart attack, subsequently also became one of the Rebbetzin’s physicians. At a certain point the Rebbetzin learned that Weiss was an ardent Chicago Cubs baseball fan, and from then on, she would make it her business to check the newspapers to see how the Cubs were faring. Weiss grew accustomed to being greeted on the phone by the Rebbetzin with congratulations when the Cubs triumphed: “You must be happy today, Dr. Weiss.” 

The lesson is that we must be sensitive to other’s needs. While a five-minute delay in feeding the lion may not have made a big difference to an exalted spiritual master like Noah, it made a huge difference to the lion. Although Abraham was totally nullified to the will of G‑d and was even prepared to sacrifice his son, he still cared enough about the palatable concerns of three strangers.

The spirituality that we feel is only real if it translates into the coarse, physical world.

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