by Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov - Jax, FL

Priorities, Priorities! Confusing the Book for the Cover

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large, empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, approximately two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full and they agreed that it was.

Next, he picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So, he picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He again asked the students if the jar was full. They responded with a unanimous “yes”.

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour their entire contents into the jar – effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

As the laughter subsided, the professor said, “Now, I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the faucet. Take care of the rocks first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

At that point, one of the students raised her hand and asked what the beer represented.

Smiling, the professor replied, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”


Arriving at a little Shtetel, a visitor inquired of a passerby where he could find the town’s Rabbi. With a look of surprise on his face, the stranger replied: “The Rabbi? It would be nice if there were such a thing. Trust me pal, you want nothing to do with the man who calls himself our Rabbi.”

As he continued making his way through the village, the traveler came across the local butcher. “Where can I find the Rabbi,” he asked. “The Rabbi?” exclaimed the butcher, “What do you have with that pitiful soul? As far as I’m concerned, we have no Rabbi.”

The reaction was much the same wherever he turned, only the accolades kept getting worse. Barely was the man able to find someone willing to point him towards the Rabbi.

Upon finishing his business with the Rabbi, the guest turned to the good man saying: “I must ask you, out of curiosity, a personal question: Given the general feelings towards you, why would you even want to serve this community as Rabbi, is the pay that good?

“I wish,” lamented the Rabbi, “But if you only knew what they pay me…” Then you must really love the work,” said the visitor. “You got to be kidding,” replied the Rabbi, “I could hardly stand it…”

“If there is no passion and no money, what could possibly have you continue,” persisted the perplexed visitor.

“What can’t you understand;” recounted the Rabbi: “Does honor mean nothing to you? I know this might sound a little arrogant on my part, but I’ll be honest, IT’S THE HONOR!!! I guess I’ve become addicted.”


Legend has it that the late Albert Einstein, in need of a clasp to hold together some papers from a recently completed project, spent a considerable amount of time trying to straighten-out a twisted paper clip. While struggling with the dysfunctional object, his assistant found a box of new clips. Einstein took one of the new paper clips reshaped it and used it as an instrument to repair the old bent one.

In response to his assistant’s bewilderment, the renowned physicist declared: “Once set upon an objective, I’m not easily deflected.”

We all have a need for an objective in life. Living for the sake of existing seems inadequate and meaningless. A good cause, adds spark and purpose to what might otherwise amount to mere existence – it makes life worth living.

But what is more important to us, the feeling of worth and importance that is derived from our involvement with a cause, or the integrity and authenticity of the actual cause? Too often, it is the former rather than the latter.

Too many of us tend to fall into the proverbial trap of mistaking the book with its cover. This is to say that the actual need for a cause oftentimes overshadows and outweighs the credibility and importance of the cause itself – be it with regards to politics, social activism and even religion.

Veteran news reporter David Brinkley is said to have once set out to survey the Washington scene, in search of a human interest story, and discovered something very interesting but not necessarily all that human.

Washington, DC, at the time, derived a great portion of revenue from traffic tickets. In fact, $50 million was raised each year from tickets that were due to a plethora of automobile violations.

As he roamed the city, Brinkley spotted a traffic officer on a Washington curb, who, while writing a ticket for an illegally parked car, look on as a thief had the audacity to remove the car’s plates and make off with them in front of his eyes.

Undaunted, the officer did not even attempt to stop him. He just continued writing the ticket, even as the crook went about his business. Then, when the thief was finished, he simply gave the car another ticket for parking on a public street with no plates.

In the first of this week’s double portion, Vayakhel, Moshe gathers the entire nation of Israel and charges them with the complex task of constructing the holy Tabernacle – the structure that G-d chose as a dwelling place for himself in this world. Yet before Moshe even gets started with the topic at hand, he fires off a warning about the need to sanctify the Shabbos: “Six days work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be holy . . .” (Exodus 35:2-3). Only after this digression does Moshe continue with the directives that pertain to the completion of the Mishkan.

Is it not odd that while instructing the Israelites about this extraordinary and awesome endeavor, Moshe would digress with a warning about a seemingly unrelated and previously stated observance? The juxtaposition of the laws of Shabbos in the midst of the instruction about building the Sanctuary is by all accounts confusing.

According to Rashi, Moshe cautioned the Jewish people against violating the laws of Shabbos while in pursuit of their new-fangled and ever so exciting endeavor.

Keenly aware of human nature, Moshe found himself compelled to warn against becoming overly engrossed in the novelty and euphoria of the new and passionate objective, to the point of forgetting its actual intent, and even violating its basic spirit.

In warning against the desecration of the Shabbos, Moshe was cautioning against the common human fallacy of confusing the means for the end, or better yet, forgetting that there is an end. Moshe was reminding his flock to keep focused on the real goals and objectives and not to get sidetracked by feelings.

He reminded them that even when the work is as holy and exotic as building the Tabernacle – a place for G-d to dwell – rules are rules and Shabbos is Shabbos. Even when we feel like breaking the rules for what we perceive to be a good and holy cause, we must remember to always focus on the greater cause and objective, the will and observance of our G-dly command.

Moshe’s three thousand year old words of caution reverberate with keen relevance in our very day and age. Activism that is kept in check is usually a good thing. Activism that has lost its focus and gone awry is apt to become self-centered and defy its very own purpose and intention. Spirituality is not about “Us” and the way “We” feel, but rather about G-d and the way He feels.

Even in a relationship with fellow human beings it is simple logic that the person involved has his distinctive will, desires and wishes, which need to be respected and honored whether or not we understand and like them. This is especially true when we set out to serve and please that individual. Our overtures must be agreeable and pleasing to the one we seek to please, regardless of our own particular feelings and opinion.

When we seek to please another, our personal preferences are for the most part irrelevant and must be put entirely aside. For example, when we wish to purchase a gift for a spouse, we would not get them a gift that we know they do not like and would not appreciate, even though we ourselves may like it and adore to no end. Nor do we waste our time trying to understand and debate the logic of the spouse’s preference; with them or with ourselves. Since the purpose of the gift is not to please ourselves but rather our partner, our feelings are irrelevant.

If this is the case with regards to a fellow human being of flesh and blood, how much more so should it be the case with our Divine Maker.

We must remember that in our relationship with Him, especially when we seek to serve Him, that it is not about ourselves but about Him.

Our service of G-d requires continual vigilance against the seeping in of the proverbial “self” which is a common fallacy of human nature.

By keeping our priorities in check, especially in our relationship with G-d and remembering who is meant to serve whom, we will be able to focus on His true intentions and thereby hasten the coming of Moshiach BBA.

One Comment

  • This yungerman-wow

    just recently started reading your articles, i am always blown away/inspired. . Very very nice and very very much appreciated!!