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The Card Trick: Rosh Hashana Family Parsha

May 9, 2009 | by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Rosh Hashana
Family Parsha

It can be very painful to feel like somehow we've lost out and someone else has gotten what is rightfully ours. But we don't have to feel that way. On Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) God looks at each of us and decides exactly how much of everything -- money, health, good times, etc. -- would be best for us to receive throughout the coming year.

Of course, God wants us to make an effort to get what we want and need. But we can do so calmly, because there is nobody and nothing that can take away even the tiniest amount of what is meant to be ours. (Nor can we take away from others what is meant to be theirs.)

Once we learn the lesson of Rosh Hashana, that if something's really meant to come our way it will no matter what, we will feel much more happy and secure and will have no reason to be jealous of others.




In our story we meet a boy who knows that everybody gets only that which is rightfully his.


Jeff Ross loved baseball. You could almost call him a baseball fanatic.

Each day Jeff would run home from school to read the box scores before he even took off his coat. He loved playing, watching and reading about the sport. But most of all he loved collecting baseball cards. His room was practically a baseball card museum stacked with box after box of cards, each box precisely sorted and labeled. Some of his cards were considered rare antiques and quite valuable. Jeff would constantly add to his collection by trading with friends at school and even with other collectors all over the world via the Internet.

One Sunday Jeff was on his way home from a ballgame when a sign caught his eye: GARAGE SALE — EVERYTHING MUST GO! "I wonder if they're selling baseball cards?" he thought to himself as he turned his bike in the direction the sign pointed to.

At the sale, Jeff found tables that were set up with stacks of used books, a bunch of old-looking appliances and piles of toys. He snooped around a bit and, sure enough, buried among the toys was a shoe box full of baseball cards. Jeff thumbed through the cards. Nothing really special ... and then something caught his eye. Jeff gasped. There, right in the middle of the stack was a rare baseball card he had been trying to find for years! It would complete his team collection from the Champion 1969 New York Mets.

Jeff grabbed the box of cards and walked over to the man running the sale. "How much do you want for these cards, Mister?" he asked, trying to contain his excitement. The short, balding man shook his head and smiled. "Oh, those old things? My boy never even looks at them anymore. You can have the whole box for two dollars."

Jeff couldn't believe his luck. That one rare card alone was worth much more than that. He reached into his pocket to pay and gulped. He only had one dollar on him! The rest of his money was at home. Thinking fast, he said to the man, "I'll be right back with the rest of the money, sir. Would you please save these for me?"

The man smiled. "It's first come, first served, son." But then he added with a chuckle. "I wouldn't worry though. Nobody's interested in these old things. You're the first person to even look at them all day."

Having no other choice, Jeff reluctantly put the box back where he had found it and dashed on his bike, full speed until he got home. He practically leaped up the stairs, grabbed his money and started flying down.

"Hey, where are you going so fast?" asked his brother Matt. Jeff quickly told him the story and his brother, almost as excited as Jeff, decided to ride back with him to claim the "treasure."

But when they got there, Jeff was in for a shock. The box of cards was missing! The two boys ran over to the man, who was arranging one of the tables. The man noticed their disappointed look and said, "Sorry son. It was the strangest thing. As soon as you left, another boy came and bought the cards. He must have seen you looking at them. As I said, 'first come, first served.' Maybe you'd like to buy a used pair of walkie-talkies instead, real cheap?"

Jeff just shook his head and slowly turned to leave. His brother looked furious. "You were robbed!" he said. "Those cards were rightfully yours. If only the man... If only the other kid..."

But Jeff shook his head. "No, Matt. I guess it just wasn't meant to be."

"What do you mean?" asked his astonished brother.

"Of course I feel crushed that somebody else got the cards. But one thing I know -- if they were really coming to me I would have gotten them no matter what. And since I didn't, it must mean that it was never really supposed to be in the first place, so why should I get mad at anybody?"

Matt could hardly believe what he was hearing, but he had to admit it seemed to make sense. The boys slowly climbed onto their bikes and prepared for the long uphill ride home.

But as they were starting to ride, they saw a woman and a young boy walking past. The woman was holding the boy tightly by the elbow with one hand and in the other she was holding a shoebox. Jeff stopped short. "The baseball cards!" he exclaimed.

The woman placed the precious cargo down in front of the seller while scolding her child. "You know you're not allowed to buy things without my permission!" She took back the two dollars from the man and briskly led the boy away.

Jeff and Matt looked at each other in amazement. They ran quickly and bought the box of cards before the man even had a chance to put them back. Jeff grinned at his wide-eyed brother and said, "It looks like they really were coming to me after all!"

Age 3-5

Q. How did Danny feel when he found the special baseball card at the garage sale?
A. He was really excited and happy that he found it.

Q. How about after he came back with his money and discovered that someone else had already bought it?
A. He felt disappointed but he knew that if he didn't get to buy it, it must be because it really wasn't supposed to be his. So he didn't feel mad at the boy who bought it or the man who sold it.


Age 6-9

Q. Is it reasonable to feel jealous of people who have things that we want, but don't have? Why or why not?
A. It may be a natural reaction to feel this way, but once we think about it we'll discover that there's no reason to. When we feel jealous we think to ourselves "He has something that I should really have instead." But it isn't so. God decides every Rosh Hashana exactly what's best for each of us to have and makes sure that we get it. If somebody has something and we don't, it means that for him it's good to have, but for us it wouldn't be. We may not understand why, but that's the way it is. And, like the boy in story we must realize that there's really not anything to be jealous about.

Q. Can we do anything to "help" God decide to give us a good and enjoyable year on Rosh Hashana?
A. Rosh Hashana is a day when God looks back at us over the past year and decides, based on this, what we will get during the coming year. If we tried hard to be good people who do what is right over the past year, it gives God more of a reason to bring us good things during the next year. It also helps when we ask Him, by praying for what we think would be best for ourselves and our family and friends on Rosh Hashana.


Age 10 and Up

Q. If God already decides on Rosh Hashana what's coming to us over the next year, does that mean we don't have to put in any effort to get the things we want? Why or why not?
A. While it's true that everything is given to us by God, still we have to put ourselves in a position to receive what's coming. When a mother wants to feed a baby, she may buy food, cook it, grind it up and bring it to the right temperature. She puts it into a spoon and brings it to the baby's mouth. But if the baby refuses to open his mouth, he won't eat. Similarly, when we put in the effort to get the things we need, it is as if we are "opening our mouths" to receive the good things that God wants to give us. The effort isn't what brings us the good, but it does open us up to receive the good that's ready to come.

Q. Our sages teach that "everything we experience is determined in heaven except for our recognition of heaven." How do you understand this?
A. In His great love for us, God has sent each of us into the world in order that we develop ourselves spiritually as people, in order to best appreciate and enjoy the awesome spiritual pleasures that He wants to give us in the future. As part of this plan, God carefully orchestrates all of the circumstances and events of our lives -- including, how tall we are, where we are born, to what type of family we have, etc. -- to help us reach this goal. In that sense, much in our lives is determined, or "heaven-sent." However, we do have free will, and we decide how we relate to what's going on in our lives. When we choose to recognize that the things that happen to us are not simply chance occurrences but are carefully thought-out gifts from God we will be more likely to react in a spiritual manner. An example of this is when Danny realized that losing out on, and subsequently getting back, the precious baseball card wasn't random or simply a result of what someone else did to him. Rather, he recognized that it was part of his heaven-sent spiritual growth experience. This recognition helped him keep his cool and treat the people around him kindly.

Q. When somebody acts unfairly and takes something from us, it means that we weren't meant to have it in the first place. But does that also mean that the person who took it was right? Why or why not?
A. Although it's true that which was taken from us wasn't meant to be ours, still the taker did something wrong. God is all-powerful and He has many ways to make sure that a person only gets that which he is meant to have. The one who acts unfairly has chosen by his unfair behavior to be the vehicle to do the taking. For his decision to harm another, he is held accountable. We must try to be as nice to others as we can and to leave it up to God to make sure each of us gets what's really coming to him or her.

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