By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
אם בגפו יבוא בגפו יצא
If he came in alone, he goes out alone.
Once upon a time, Yiddish-speaking Jews coined the term “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!” “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 parashah, Mishpatim, concerning the Jewish bondsman, which sums up this phenomenon: “Im b’gapo yavo, 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: No deposit, no return. No effort, no reward. No risk, no profit.
Whether in business, relationships, the social intercourse of communities and nations, or raising our children, the principle holds true: The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. Or, in the words of the psalmist, “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 shtetl. 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.
As soon as he came home, he begged his good wife, Chasha, to make him some of those blintzes.
Chasha said, “I’d love to make you blintzes, Shmerel, but I have no cheese.”
“Nu, my dear, so make it without the cheese.”
“But we’ve got no eggs either.”
“Chasha,” said Shmerel, “you are a woman of great ingenuity. I’m sure you can make a plan.”
So Chasha 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, Chasha, 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, 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, Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch said, “Just as it is a biblical commandment to put on tefillin every day, so is it obligatory to spend a half hour daily thinking about our children and to do whatever possible to ensure that they follow the path in which they are being guided.”
So don’t be a luftmentsh. Put in the effort and, please G‑d, you will see the rewards. Whether it’s with our work or our children, may we enjoy the fruit of our labors.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.