During the turbulent period after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans introduced an atmosphere of lawlessness and violence into the Land of Israel and many Jewish youth became caught up in it.

One, Shimon, the son of Lakish, was distinguished by great strength, charismatic leadership, and high, albeit, misguided, intelligence. A group of young men gathered around him and he led them in acts of robbery and murder.

Once, Rabbi Yochanan, one of the leading sages of the era, was bathing in the Jordan River. Shimon was passing by with his men. When he saw him, he plunged into the water and swam to him. Impressed by his vigor, Rabbi Yochanan said, “Your strength should be devoted to the Torah!”

Now Rabbi Yochanan was known as one of the most handsome men of his time. Shimon, quickly noticing this, retorted, “Your beauty should be devoted to women!”

Rabbi Yochanan wanted to persuade this unique young man to return to his Jewish roots. He thought of one way: He had a younger sister. Certain that his sister would see Shimon’s latent potential like he did, he replied: “My sister is even more beautiful than I am. If you repent, you can have her as a wife.”

This was more than enough to pique Shimon’s interest. The two young people met. Shimon reoriented his life entirely. He began to study Torah, married Rabbi Yochanan’s sister, and eventually became the student-colleague of his brother-in-law. He demonstrated that we always have the potential to begin again and indeed, utilize all the gifts G‑d has granted us when starting anew.

Parshas Behar

This weeks Torah reading describes the Jubilee year, the 50th year of the agricultural cycle in Eretz Yisrael. At this time, ancestral property that was sold was returned and servants were freed. To explain: When the Jews entered the Holy Land after their journey through the desert, every member of the people was given a plot of land. If they — or their heirs — sold that land, in the fiftieth year of the agricultural cycle, that land was returned to the seller.

Similarly, if a person sold himself as a servant, he was to be released after six years. If he, nonetheless, desired to remain a servant, he was allowed to do so, but in the fiftieth year, he is also set free.

What a lesson in self-renewal! We are always saying: “If I were given a second chance, things would be different,” and here Torah law establishes the concept of a second chance as a binding obligation.

The spiritual dimensions of the Torah’s laws are applicable in all times and in all places. Thus although in a practical sense, the Jubilee is not practiced in the present age, in an abstract sense, the mitzvah is a continuous lesson for all of us.

No matter what our present state is, G‑d is giving us the wherewithal to start anew and change the direction of our lives. At every moment, we are being granted spiritual and material blessings that enable us to turn our lives around and bring about goodness for ourselves, our families, and the people around us.

Our Sages teach: “A rich man is rich only due to his mindset. A poor man is poor only due to his mindset.” A truly wealthy man is confident that even were he to be set down in a jungle with nothing to his name, he would be able to establish himself financially in a matter of time. Conversely, a person with a poor man’s mentality will soon find himself impoverished even after he was given great wealth.

What makes a man wealthy? Our Sages teach us: “Who is wealthy? One who is satisfied with his portion.” That doesn’t mean that he does not want to make more money; he may, but he does not feel pressured to do so. He feels the luxury of being patient, of waiting for opportunities, and then using them to the maximum of his capacity.

A poor man, by contrast, is not satisfied; he feels that he must make money. He is obsessed with want and need and those feelings cause him to act rashly, trying this scheme and to make it big.

What’s the inevitable result? He loses, but he’s lost far more than money. He’s lost his life, because his energy, his hopes, and his dreams were focused on the money that he felt he had to make. Instead of enjoying life for what it is, sharing quality time with family and friends, he was always looking to what it could be when he made the money.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not too late. No matter what state our finances, family relations, and personal mindset are in, we can change our situation for the better.

The Jubilee teaches us that we can start anew. We all have the resources, because the fundamental resources are inside. Each one of us possesses a soul that is an actual part of G‑d. That spiritual spark gives us the potential to bring about good and well-being for ourselves and the people close to us.

Looking to the Horizon

The ultimate renewal will come in the era of Mashiach. At present, we are speaking about making the best within an environment of challenge. Certainly, as explained above, we have the potential to prevail, but prevailing may involve a struggle and confronting difficulty. That’s because this entire epoch of time is one in which man is asked to show his power of achievement. It’s like the six days of the week in which we toil to earn our livelihood.

But after the six days, comes Shabbos, a day of rest. Similarly, after the six millennia of the present environment will come the era of Mashiach. A time “when there will be neither famine, nor war, neither envy, nor competition.” Mankind will focus its energies on the knowledge of G‑d and on seeing G‑dliness in every person and creation.

Moreover, we will not have to wait a full six millennia. Our Sages have explained that we can hasten Mashiach’s coming. How? By conducting ourselves in the spirit of the way of life Mashiach will teach. By anticipating the redemption through appreciating the G‑dly qualities possessed by every person and every entity, we can precipitate the dawning of the age when this inner G‑dliness will be openly apparent.