Sarah’s Corner: “I Can’t Afford that Hotel!”


“I Can’t Afford that Hotel!”

Sarah Pachter

Rav Yisroel Salanter was known to share the following mashal. There was once an extremely expensive hotel that charged $120,000 per night. They offered proration per minute, and even the most affluent individuals often chose this option. A very wealthy man named Shalom came to enjoy the hotel for a few hours, and bumped into an old friend from school while he was there. Shalom asked him, “What are you doing here? How many minutes have you been here?”

The friend replied, “I’ve stayed here for a few years now.”

Shalom was shocked, and exclaimed, “What? I can’t even afford to stay more than 24 hours. How could you handle the expense of several years’ time?”

His friend responded, “I’m the manager here, and I live onsite free of charge. In fact, I am even paid to live here!” 

The world is analogous to an expensive hotel. Rav Salanter explains that on Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is open before Hashem. However, if one works for Hashem as a manager, different rules apply. If someone gives tzedakah, operates in good faith, and brings joy to others, he gets to stay free of charge, and is even paid handsomely for living here! 

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman asserts that this story explains how tzedakah changes our decree.[1] While of course tzedakah refers to money, it is not exclusive to monetary resources. Tzedakah can also refer to uplifting others with words. When doing so, we have the power to build the confidence and simchah of others. Although a simple act, it is a great zechut to bring with you into Rosh Hashanah.

Someone once asked Rabbi Avigdor Miller how he could best prepare for Rosh Hashanah. He simply answered, “Smile.” He further explained with an analogy: A businessman owned a chain of stores with locations throughout the country. At the end of the year, he would conduct an annual review. He took count of his various locations’ stock and employee numbers. He would then hire, fire, or transfer people as needed.

One branch needed to lay off employees. His CFO said, “This specific employee can’t be laid off—otherwise, you may as well close down the branch.” He explained, “He keeps the customers happy by creating a warm atmosphere, and greeting everyone with a smile and good word. People come back to shop here because of him. It’s not worth letting him go.”

Rabbi Miller describes Rosh Hashanah as a yearly review, and we are Hashem’s employees.

In past years, there were people who were “sent home” or “transferred to other locations.” Some people got “more stock” and some people got “less stock.” Perhaps certain individuals were meant to be sent home, but the angels defended them, saying, “We can’t send her home because we need her on Earth. She spreads happiness and makes people smile.”

There are many avenues to creating a pleasant atmosphere for others. Here are a few practical examples. 

Lighten Another’s Load

Easing someone else’s burden is so important to Hashem that it even trumps His kavod.

When it came to the building of the Mishkan, Moshe commanded the Jewish nation to stop donating, and actually had to restrain the nation from bringing more money and raw goods. Hashem stated the exact amount of materials that were needed, and Moshe was not allowed to accept even an iota more.

The Seforno points out that this was not the case for the first and the second Beit Hamikdash. In both instances, they collected more money than they needed and had an excess of materials. In fact, the second Beit Hamikdash had almost three times the amount of vessels than were necessary.

Just like a caterer has multiple sets of dishes in case they break, so too did the Beit Hamikdash need additional resources for inevitable wear and tear.

Why would this not apply to the Mishkan, as well?

The answer lies in the fact that the Mishkan and all the relevant items were transported by the Leviim. They carried it all on their shoulders, and in order to make their load lighter, Hashem commanded that Moshe not accept too much from the Jewish nation, and that the ark and mizbeach be constructed inwardly from wooden materials, with only a gold overlay. Hashem did not want the Leviim to become burdened, and therefore was willing to forgo His honor in order to lighten their load.

While it’s important to be sensitive to the physical burden of others, this concept applies equally to another’s emotional burdens. Many of us walk around with a heavy load of worries, troubles, sadness, and nisayonot in various forms. We can make each other’s burden lighter by offering a shoulder to lean on, or a listening ear. When we create light and a happy atmosphere for others, in turn Hashem promises reward.

Saying Hello

Two weeks after delivering my fifth child, our family went on a small outing to a local pond. It was secluded, and because I was still recuperating from birth, I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere.

We saw someone we knew there, and because I was not feeling well, I barely managed a smile. Months later, this person asked me if there was something she had done to offend me. She assumed that I was angry with her, because of our previous encounter, and I felt terrible. All of my negativity was internal, and had nothing to do with her.

I apologized, and learned that day how important our greetings are. Even when we don’t feel up to it, we can stretch ourselves to smile for the sake of others. It takes minimal effort and no financial strain to greet others with a smile. Our facial expressions are contagious, and whether we are cognizant or not, others notice.

Not Embarrassing Others

A Chassidish master and his followers were staying at an inn for Shabbat. The innkeeper brought out cholent for the group. It was customary for the rebbe to taste it, and then divy out portions to everyone else. The rebbe tasted the cholent and exuberantly exclaimed, “Geshmak!” He then continued eating until every last drop was consumed. The Chassidim stared in shock.

One student entered the kitchen to look for additional cholent, but unfortunately there was nothing left to serve. The student peered into the pot, and found a small amount left. He ate a spoonful, and to his dismay, it tasted vile and he quickly spat it out. The innkeeper had mistakenly used kerosene instead of oil. The rebbe had feigned enjoyment, forgoing his honor in order not to hurt the pride of another person.

It is written that the korban olah emits a pleasant odor for Hashem. The commentaries note, the korban olah offered by paupers is a small bird, and the entire bird, feathers included, is burned. The feathers have a foul odor when burnt. How could this be “sweet-smelling” to Hashem?

They explain that this is an offering given by the pauper. The feathers remain on the bird because the innards are not allowed to be used. In order not to embarrass the poor, Hashem wanted to use the feathers. Sparing the embarrassment of the pauper creates the sweetest smell to Hashem.

May we all learn to create a pleasant atmosphere for others, and ourselves. We can do this by easing another’s burden, greeting everyone with a smile, and making sure to maintain another’s pride. May we all merit to be written and sealed in the book of life so we can enjoy many more years of living at the luxurious hotel called Planet Earth.

[1] Talmud Yerushalmi, Masechet Ta’anit 2