Word for the Week ... Mishpatim
Rabbi Simche Sherer

In days bygone, Yiddish speaking Jews coined the phrase luftmentsh to describe that incurable dreamer type who is always building castles in the sky. Luft means air and someone who lives in the air with pie in the sky fantasies qualifies for this title of dubious distinction. ”If only this deal comes off, I’ll be set for life!” or “When I win the lottery … etc., etc.” The money has been spent before he has even bought the ticket. He’s always anticipating the big breakthrough and then, in the end, explaining why it didn’t quite happen. This is the life story of our luftmentsh.

There is a line in the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Mishpottim, concerning the Jewish bondsman which sums up this phenomenon. Im b’gapo yovvo, b’gapo yeitzei (if he came in alone, he goes out alone). Simply speaking, this tells us that if he entered his period of service unmarried, he must leave unmarried and his master may not exploit him to father children who would be born into servitude. But this Torah phrase has become a traditional way of expressing one of life’s basic home truths, i.e. no deposit, no return. No pain, no gain.

Whether in business, relationships, the social intercourse of communities and nations, or in raising our children, the principle holds true. The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. Or, in the words of the Tehillim ”Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”

There is the old story told of Shmerel, a poor man who once walked by the home of the richest man in the village. There was an aroma wafting out of the dining room where the wealthy man was enjoying his favorite dish, cheese blintzes. Shmerel took one whiff and was overcome with temptation. He just had to taste those blintzes. No sooner had he arrived home, he begged his good wife, Yentl, to make him some cheese blintzes. Yentl responded ”I’d love to make you blintzes, Shmerel, but I have no cheese”. “Nu, my dear, so make it without the cheese”. “But we have no eggs either”. “Yentl” says Shmerel, ”you are a woman of great ingenuity. I’m sure you can make a plan”. Yentl set out to do the very best she could under the circumstances. Her work done, she set the plate of blintzes in front of her dear husband. Shmerel took one taste, crooked his nose and said ”You know Yentl, for the life of me, I cannot understand what those rich people see in blintzes.”

Clearly, you cannot make good blintzes without using the right ingredients. Just as clearly, we cannot have nachas from our children without putting in the necessary ingredients of a good Jewish education, a solid upbringing at home, quality family time, and above all, by setting a good example.

Too many parents assume that nachas is a democratic right, almost a genetic certainty. If parents are good, successful people and committed Jews, then surely their children will turn out the same. But there are no such guarantees. Especially in today’s complex, confusing and very troubled society.

A hundred years ago the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe said, ”In as much as it is a Biblical commandment to put on tefillin every day, so is it obligatory to spend at least half an hour every day thinking about our children and doing whatever possible to ensure that they follow the path in which they are being guided. ”

Don’t be a luftmentsh. Put in the effort, and Please G-d, you will see the rewards. Whether it’s our work or our children, may we enjoy the fruit of our labors.