CLERGY CORNER: The Buck Stops Here

Posted on 06 July 2017 by LeslieM

There is a very moving episode in the Talmud about a man named Elazar Ben Dordaya. This man lived his life with an uninhibited desire to fulfill all of his promiscuous cravings, leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit. He was an addict of the worst kind.

In one particular encounter, the Talmud describes his travel to a distant land when he became aware of a woman he had not yet visited.

After paying a fortune for her services, she sighed and said, “As this breath will not return to its place, so too will Elazar Ben Dordaya never be received in repentance.”

She basically said to him … ‘Elazar, you are doomed… you have a one way ticket to hell!’

Shaken by her statement, the Talmud relates, Ben Dordaya panicked and searched for a way to redeem his life.

He sat between two mountains and hills and said, “Mountains and hills, request mercy for me.”

They couldn’t help him. There was silence.

He said, “Heavens and earth, request mercy for me.”

There was silence. They couldn’t help him.

He said, “Sun and moon … stars and constellations, request mercy for me.”

There was silence. They couldn’t help him.

The Talmud continues the story.

He then said, “This matter depends solely on me.”

He put his head between his knees and began to tremble from crying and remorse until he died. A heavenly voice came out and declared, “Rebbi Elazar Ben Dordaya is ready to enter the world-to-come.”

What does this story mean? Why is he asking mercy from mountains, stars, the sun and the moon? What did Elazar Ben Dordaya seek to achieve by turning to the heaven and earth, stars and constellations, mountains and hills for help? How are they going to assist him in repairing his promiscuous addiction?

My friends, what he was really saying is this, “Heaven and earth, my addictions, my problems, they are not my fault. They are the fault of my environment, my surroundings, my neighborhood. I blame heaven and earth. I grew up with no friends, no good support system; I was ridiculed. My heaven and earth, my surroundings, were cursed. Of course, I can’t be a good husband … I can’t be a good wife … It’s not my fault. I can’t be a mensch. Of course, I am an addict.”

There was silence.

Then he tried, “Mountains and valleys, ‘Harim Vegvaot.” [Harim also means Horim, parents; Gevaot are mountains, referring to our matriarchs, “Migvaot Ashureynu.”] “It’s not my fault; I had a dysfunctional home, terrible parents, and an awful upbringing. Yes, my father was a gambler and an alcoholic whom my mother was dependent. What do you want from me?”

There was silence.

And then he said, “Kochavim Umazalot — stars and constellations, sun and moon, help me. Some people say, ‘I don’t have a good karma, I have no mazal — no luck.’ Look at my astrological signs and you will see that I am prone to all bad things. My brother, he has a great job; he has good life. If I were like him, things would have been different. I would be such an understanding husband, a mature human being, a happy person, a calm person, a committed person, but my Karma really did me in. My zodiac ruined me!”

But again there was silence.

You know why? Because I am responsible for my life and my decisions. Because the buck stops here. I may have endured serious challenges, but I have the power of my divine soul to choose a good path in life. I cannot blame other people and situations. Happiness, goodness, kindness is my choice in life. I have the choice not to be dictated by fear and addiction, but rather by the desire to do the right thing.”

So the end of the story is that Elazar Ben Dordaya gave out a tremendous cry and he said, “This is my fault; this matter is not dependent on anybody else, not my environment, not my school, not my teachers, not my parents, not my karma. It’s me.

He gave such a scream that his soul left him, and a heavenly voice came out and said, “Elazar Ben Dordaya, no more will your name be Elazar Ben Dordaya, but Rabbi Elazar Ben Dordaya. You are now a Rabbi, a teacher. He has taught you and I, and all people, a lesson that no matter how hopeless a situation may be, I can change it, by taking responsibility for my life.

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches, located in the Venetian Isle Shopping Center at 2025 E. Sample Rd. in Lighthouse Point. For all upcoming events, please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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