Friday, November 26, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev

19 Kislev 5771/November 26, 2010

Our family enjoyed this past Shabbos at my parent’s home. Now that our children are getting older they enjoy rummaging through my things that are still in my old room (there’s a reason most of that stuff is still there). Among his other finds, our oldest son Shalom was most intrigued by a trophy which had a depiction of a man in karate-kick position with the words “Second place Kokoshi Dojo contest” attached to the marble base.

“Abba, you know how to do karate?”

“Um, not really.”

“So where did you get the trophy from?”

“Shalom, I think Bubby is calling you downstairs.”

I must admit that I actually have no idea what Kokoshi Dojo is. [I enjoy Kokush cake, but I don’t think there is any connection.] The story behind that trophy dates back to when I was in tenth grade. During that year, for our once a week physical education period, we had a gym teacher who wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Other than the fact that his father’s name was Jim, I am not really sure what his qualifications were to teach gym. To keep us in line he promised us that if we behaved and “did well in gym” (whatever that means) we would get trophies.

After a few months of badgering, he actually delivered on his word and brought in a few trophies. I must admit that I wasn’t all that proud of the trophy. [At first I thought Kokoshi Dojo must mean ‘good at gym’, until I realized that there must have been a box of them left in a dumpster somewhere.] But I did think it was a funny thing to have, so I brought it home.

Chazal relate that the purpose of our descent into this world is to afford us the opportunity to earn our rightful share in the eternal world. When we achieve something through arduous effort and exertion we are proud of our accomplishment and can appreciate it. Receiving a free gift without earning it however, breeds a certain level of embarrassment. We only feel accomplished and fulfilled when we earn our keep.

If G-d would merely place us in the eternal world without our earning it we would be unable to appreciate it. The Zohar terms that feeling נהמא דכיסופא" – the bread of shame”. Our journey through this world grants us the opportunity to earn our rightful share in the World to Come and be able to appreciate the eternal good that awaits us.

In that sense, the World to Come is a trophy that we can only enjoy if we have earned it.

For all these years the Kokoshi Dojo trophy was proudly on display upon the shelf in my room. And now (sniff) the trophy has been passed on to the next generation, so that my son can always remember that his father received a trophy that was completely unwarranted.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum