In This Issue
Do You Remember?
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On Lighter note
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Do You Remember?
By Elisha Greenbaum

Remember doing something so embarrassingly stupid as a child that even now the memory of that moment makes you blush? Or do you remember being bullied? Think back to that sharp agony of ignominy, and I bet you can even now taste the bile and smell the sickly smell of your own humiliation.
Memories are powerful. They can pull you back into the moment with such clarity that you would swear you are still there.
I remember as a 14-year-old, away from home for the first time, studying in an overseas yeshiva. I had received a birthday/Chanukah present from my parents, and wanted to write a thank-you note, which would simultaneously demonstrate that I was really studying Torah and not wasting my time.
I found a verse in this week's Torah portion where Jacob expresses his thanks to G‑d for the kindnesses he'd received to date: kotonti mikol hachasodim-"I have been humbled from all the kindnesses." And thus I started off my letter to home: "Dear Daddy and Mommy, kotonti mikol hachasodim . . ."
My stupidity was in leaving the unfinished letter lying around for others to read and make fun of.
Thinking back, I can see the humor of a 14-year-old starting a letter with such affected pomposity, but at the time I was mortified by the teasing I received.
Interestingly, according to one of the explanations of the above verse, Jacob too was at that time summoning up remembrances of past humiliations.
Jacob was seemingly riding high. The down-at-the-heels pauper who had stumbled into the country but a few short years before, had been transformed into a wealthy magnate with an excess of possessions, four wives and a host of children. Strange, then, for Jacob to declaim kotonti - "I feel low, unworthy, diminished."
For a person to grow, to develop, one first must undergo a process of diminishment. Every accomplishment is preceded by a period of struggle. Strength, for example, is developed by tearing one's muscles during exercise. Over the following few days the body repairs itself and larger muscles grow. Similarly, any new intellectual achievement demands focusing one's total concentration on the task at hand, during which time all one's previous knowledge is not only useless but distracting.
Some people can't do it. They get stuck in a zone of comfort. They remain so entranced by their previous accomplishment, their self-image is so locked into their vision of self as is, that they don't have sufficient breadth of vision to dream of what may be.
Jacob had previously experienced a process of self-development when he first left the comforts of home to travel out into the big wide world. Now, years later, he was traveling back to Israel a self-made man, with the opportunity to relax, comfortable in his past achievements and at ease with his new station in life. By declaring kotonti, Jacob was challenging himself to stay hungry. He was purposely summoning up those powerful memories of previous humiliations and discomfort to guarantee that he enter this new phase of life still unsatisfied, and with a reawakened drive to achieve new success.
His declaration kotonti symbolized a figurative purge of past triumphs. "I revoke everything I have strived for and attained till now," said Jacob, "and commit myself to humbly starting again.
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On Lighter Note
Disaster
One afternoon a man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house. His three children were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard. The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house.
Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.  In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, nosh was all over the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife.
He was worried she may be ill, or that something serious had happened. He found her lounging in the bedroom, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, "What happened here today?"
She again smiled and answered, "You know everyday when you come home from work and ask me what in the world did I do today?"  "Yes," was his incredulous reply.  She answered, "Well, today I didn't do it."
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