I have a nose, but I’d like to think I’m not too nosey. I have ears, but I don’t think I’m eerie. One thing is for certain: Although I have hands, I am definitely not handy.
So, when I went to retrieve our mail one afternoon, and the entire mailbox came off its stand, it was stressful. The mailbox was old and rickety for a long time. That day, it completely came off its rotted screws and was clearly beyond repair.
At first, we placed the severed mailbox on top of a light post at the edge of our driveway. But our mailman informed us that we needed to have a proper mailbox and it needed to be installed before the ground froze.
For many people, purchasing a new mailbox isn’t a big deal. But for me, an unhandy dandy, it was no simple matter. We could have had it installed professionally, but we decided to get a “do it yourself” one with simple instructions.
Let’s just say that it was a two-and-a-half-week project. Every step of the way became complicated for the Staum amateurs. I borrowed a heavy drill from my neighbor Meir, who is always gracious with helping our family with handy matters. I felt very good doing the drilling myself, but afterwards I was still unable to get the mailbox stand into the ground. Meir drove by, got out of his car, and whacked it in in three minutes. I appreciate that he kept his comments to himself and pretended that it had nothing to do with my glaring incompetence.
When it came to the next step, drilling, my wife ran out of patience waiting for me. As she was drilling in the screws, another neighbor walked by and said she wanted to bring her daughters over so they could see that a woman could use power tools. I told my wife that our neighbor should be happy that her husband knows how to use such tools, so she doesn’t have to.
It’s not like I didn’t do anything. I did give my wife a hand: When she was done, I applauded.
Thankfully, our new mailbox is up and hopefully will remain that way. Now all our bills will have a comfortable place to rest, and the mailman can deliver them without being grumpy with us.
The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) states that having “Fear of Heaven” is analogous to a treasurer who was handed the keys to the inner doors of the treasury but was not given the keys to the outer door. If he can’t get through the outer door, how will he gain access to the inner door?
The Gemara explains that Torah is the inner key to opening the gates of our inner connection with Hashem. Fear of Heaven and living with a sense of constant awareness of Hashem is the key to the outer gates. Without Fear of Heaven, one cannot gain access to the gateways opened by Torah study and Torah living.
The Gemara states that even if a person masters all Six Orders of the Mishnah, “the fear of the Lord is his treasure.” If he does not have Fear of Heaven, he has nothing! It is analogous to a person who said to his friend, “I have a thousand measures of grain, I have a thousand measures of oil, and a thousand measures of wine.” His friend said to him, “Do you have storehouses to put them into? If you have, everything is yours; if not, essentially you have nothing!” So, too, a person who has Fear of Heaven has everything. But one who lacks Fear of Heaven ultimately has nothing.
My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, illustrates this idea with a personal anecdote. In the 1950s, while visiting the fledgling country of Eretz Yisrael, he went shopping in a makolet (small market) one morning. He gathered a few items and placed them in front of the cashier, who rung up his bill. After Rabbi Wein paid, like a good American he waited for the cashier to bag his items. After a minute of awkward silence, the cashier looked at him with Israeli gracefulness and said, “nu!”
Rabbi Wein realized that no bags were being provided. He would have to carry everything home. He placed yogurt and whatever else could fit in each pocket and did his best to waddle down the street balancing the rest of his groceries in his arms.
Rabbi Wein muses that that incident drove home the meaning of the aforementioned Gemara. If one has Fear of Heaven, he has a sense of perspective and direction in his life. The Torah he learns and the mitzvos he performs draw him closer to G-d and to living a G-dly life. Fear of Heaven is the vessel that allows us to internalize all of our avodas Hashem. But one who lacks Fear of Heaven doesn’t have the container to grant him that perspective and balance. He may observe mitzvos and study Torah, but he remains unbalanced and unable to internalize it.
In a similar vein, the Mishnah (Uktzin 3:12) states, “The Holy One, blessed is He, found no vessel to bear blessing other than peace.” One who is at peace with others and within himself can appreciate and enjoy all the other blessings in his life. But one who is not at peace lacks equilibrium in his life, and no matter how much blessing he has, he won’t be able to appreciate it.
Our new mailbox allows our invitations, USPS orders, and school mailings to be safely delivered. Now we just have to figure out how to get the mailman to not deliver our many bills, solicitations, and junk mail.