Squandered Talent – Va-yakhel Pekudei 5781

D'var Torah | Exodus

Once there was a man who claimed that his dog was the greatest cantor in the world. So convinced was he of his pet’s musical abilities he brought the dog to the rabbi. The man said: “Rabbi, this dog is the best cantor in the world.” The rabbi scoffed. “Pease don’t waste my time. I am a busy man and that is simply ludicrous.” The man was persistent. “Rabbi, just give me a chance to prove it.” “Look,” said the rabbi, “I told you I am too busy for this inanity.” The man was persistent, though. “Give me two minutes. If I cannot prove to you that my dog is the best cantor in the world I will leave.” “All right,” said the rabbi, “but no more than two minutes.” The man looked at his dog and commanded: “Sing Kol Nidre in the style of Yossele Rosenblatt.” Not only did the dog comply, it was a magnificent rendition. The rabbi was stupefied, but suspicious. “Let the dog sing another piece,” the rabbi insisted. “Sing Hashkivenu like Koussevitzky.” And the dog, again, gave a magnificent rendition. “This is amazing!” said the rabbi. “This dog will usher in a renaissance in Jewish prayer. People from all over the world will come to hear him.” The dog owner shook his head. “Rabbi, you talk to him. He says he wants to be a doctor.”


There is nothing worse than squandered talent; abilities that go unfulfilled. That is why the Torah hints at exploiting God-given talents. In preparing for the construction of the Tabernacle, Moses commands the people Israel to “take from what you have a donation to God” (Exodus 35:5). But the nature of Hebrew allows for reading the text “take from yourselves a gift for God.” Whatever talents or abilities with which you have been endowed, use them purposefully and productively in thanks to God. Unfortunately, too many people fail to heed this advice.


Some may justify their choice on the grounds that something else will make them happier. And it is the pursuit of happiness that ought to be the goal. Aristotle, however, did not understand happiness as gratification. For Aristotle, happiness lies in the fulfillment of one’s ideal nature, what he called eudaemonia. What should make us happiest is using our competencies for the greatest good.




Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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