Selected Sermon/Article
2001-08-04 Parshas VaEschanan/Nachmu by Rav Zeev Smason
Second Bar Mitzvah of Harry Kublin

Perhaps some of you heard the story about the circus athlete who earned his living by displaying astonishing feats of physical strength. His show would normally conclude with a simple but impressive demonstration of his ability to squeeze a grapefruit dry! After squeezing the fruit with one hand, he would then challenge his audience to produce anyone who could extract even one drop of juice from the crushed fruit -- and if they could do so, they would win the sum of $1000.

On once occasion, a little man volunteered. He was so small that his very appearance raised a laugh from the spectators. Undaunted, however, the man stepped onto the stage and took from the circus strongman what appeared to be a shriveled up piece of rind. Bracing himself, he slowly and firmly compressed his right hand. To the amazement of everyone gathered under the Big Top that day, a full cup of grapefruit juice was squeezed from the dry fruit. The crowd went wild with cheers, as the little man stepped forward to collect his $1000. As the cheers subsided, the strongman took a microphone, and asked the winner how he had managed to develop such strength. "Nothing to it," replied the man -- "I happen to be a fundraiser!"

Someone once said, "If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you're probably right, also." If we would apply even a portion of the determination that people use in the pursuit of money, to a pursuit of spiritual goals, there's no telling what we'd be able to accomplish.

In this week's parasha (Deuteronomy 4:41), we're told that Moshe set aside and designated three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The Talmud points out that Moshe knew that these three cities would not assume the status of 'cities of refuge' until the three cities on the western side of the Jordan were designated by Joshua, after Moshe's death. Why then, our rabbis ask, did Moshe go to all the bother?

The answer that's given is: Moshe love for the fulfillment of mitzvos was so great, and his passion to come to as close to HaShem as possible was so strong, that he desired to fulfill every mitzvah that he possibly could, even though he knew that he wouldn't enter the land of Israel. In the words of Rashi, Moshe said, "mitzvah sh'efshar l'kay'mah, eh'kayamenah" -- "when a mitzvah comes my way, I'll fulfill it!"

What could we accomplish if we were truly determined? What could we do if we made up our mind that nothing was going to stop us? Shlomo HaMelech said 'a lover of silver won't be satisfied with silver' A millionaire isn't satisfied with one million. A billionaire isn't satisfied with a billion. With desire and determination, there's no limit to what even ordinary people can accomplish.

One of my favorite stories of the power of determination will be familiar to some of the sports fans amongst you.

John Havlicek, or "Hondo" as he was called, was a Hall of Fame basketball player for the Boston Celtics. Havlicek had the distinction of playing in more basketball games than any other player in professional history. And he went full speed in every game. It is estimated that, running about 6 miles per game, Hondo ran the equivalent distance from Houston to San Francisco, and then back past St. Louis in his career. So how did he develop such amazing stamina?

When Havlicek was a boy growing up in a poor family in Ohio, his friends had bicycles while he did not. Determined to not be left out among his friends, when the other kids rode their bikes, young Hondo had to run to keep up with them wherever they went. It was a lot of trouble, but through his determination to not let having a bicycle stop him, he developed a remarkable ability to run, and became a world class athlete.

Our ba'al simcha today -- Harry Kublin -- is a remarkable 'long distance runner' in many ways. Year after year the name of Harry Kublin appears in the sports section during the Spring, as a consistent gold medal winner for the Senior Olympics.

Harry runs distances and times that put men half his age to shame, and his determination to run -- and to excel -- is truly inspiring.

I've known Harry for over ten years, from the time he first began attending my lunch classes and Torah lectures. Anyone who knows Harry knows that he has an insatiable curiosity, and loves to discuss ideas and topics. You bring up a topic -- Harry has something to say about the topic. And it won't just be an 'off the cuff' comment, but usually a well reasoned thought out argument. There's never a dull moment when Harry Kublin is around, whether the discussion is Torah, politics or the events of the day.

Harry's determination can also be seen in his attendance and commitment to Nusach Hari Bnai Zion. Harry is a regular attendee on Shabbos throughout the year, and can always be seen helping out the minyan when he has Yartzheit.

I remember a very cold snowy Shabbos this past winter, when it snowed Shabbos morning, and we had about 15 people at shul. Harry was one of those fifteen, and I'll always remember what you said to me. You told me that there's a difference between a 'reason', and an 'excuse.' Many people have many 'excuses' for not being able to do something, but it's not often that they have a true 'reason.'

Perhaps it's that outlook on life that has given you the determination to have accomplished so much in your life. As you read the haftarah so beautifully on this, your 'second Bar Mitzvah' -- Harry Kublin, you're a role model and an inspiration to all of us, and we're so glad you're a member of Nusach Hari Bnai Zion.

"A lover of silver shall not be satisfied with silver", Shlomo HaMelech said.

May we dedicate our hearts and our souls to never be satisfied with our spiritual accomplishments, and seek to grow ever closer to HaShem, and His Torah

Good Shabbos