Don’t Be a Big…

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World's Largest Onion
06 Dec 2007

Do you know who made the world’s biggest flag ever? Do you care? Well, I’ll tell you, in any case. It was an Israeli flag, and it was completed just recently, on Nov. 25, 2007. It was 2,165 feet long, 330 feet wide, and it was made of 5.7 tons of white and blue cloth. It was so big that it had to be unfurled in the desert (at the foot of Masada). It was created by a Filipino evangelical Christian named Grace Galindez-Gupana. She decided two years ago to produce a giant Israeli flag as a testament to her love for Israel and the Jewish people, and as a celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Israel. “God spoke to me in thunder and lightning,” Galindez-Gupana said. “The Lord said, ‘Make the flag of Israel, the standard of my people.’” Well, she definitely made a flag.

What was the largest number of dominoes toppled at one time? Well this record changes every year, or at least it’s supposed to. Every year there is an official Domino Day on which the previous year’s record is meant to be toppled (pun intended). On 2006’s Domino Day, 4,079,381 were toppled, so this past November 16th, an attempt was made to topple 4.5 million dominoes. A team of 85 builders from 12 countries worked for over a week to set up the dominoes. They were crushed when not all of them fell. Only 3,671,465 toppled due to a moving bridge of dominoes that had not been set up correctly. Bummer.

How about the most expensive dessert? Try the $25,000 “Frrrozen Haute Chocolate,” a blend of 28 cocoas fused with 0.2 ounces of edible 23-karat gold. It comes with an 18-karat gold bracelet with 1 carat of white diamonds at the base of the goblet. The sundae is topped with whipped cream covered with more gold, and a side of La Madeline au Truffle from Knipschildt Chocolatier, which sells for $2,600 a pound. I’ll take two.

(Ironically, the restaurant serving this dish, Serendipity 3, was forced to close exactly one week after setting this record. It seems it failed its second consecutive health inspection in a month, after health officials found a live mouse, mouse droppings in multiple places, flies, and dozens of live cockroaches. I’ll cancel my order please.)

What was the shortest amount of time it took someone to jump up the steps of the CN Tower on a pogo stick? 57 minutes and 51 seconds. Have you heard about the 57 foot hot dog, the 3,100 pound popcorn bucket, the mile long sushi roll, or the 58 TON birthday cake? Were you at the largest gathering of humans dressed as gorillas (637)? Did you get a chance to see someone eat 36 cockroaches in one minute, or catch 34 arrows by hand?

O.K I think I can stop now. I am sure you all have figured out that I have a copy of the Guinness World’s Records in my lap, and if you want more records, feel free to pick up a copy at your local Barnes & Noble. The reason I am writing all these records is because they highlight a reaction I had to reading about the Israeli flag earlier this week.

I think that the Guinness World’s Records, although fascinating, does the world a great disservice. It is a black hole that sucks up money, time, resources, food, and energy. Think about those 85 people who spent a week building domino trains in a failed attempt to beat a world record. They represent about 5,500 hours of time that could have been used doing things which, while not making records in the Guinness, could have helped people’s lives. They could have built homes for the homeless, visited the elderly, or manned the desk at a blood drive. Let’s think about the 58 tons of birthday cake. What do you think happened to the 58 tons of birthday cake after the birthday girl blew out the candles and took a few pounds for herself? I can’t speak for Grace Galindez-Gupana, but I think that if G-d spoke to me in thunder and lightning, He would have told me to feed His people, or perhaps clothe them in 5.7 tons of cloth, but I don’t think He would’ve told me to make a big flag and earn myself a Guinness record.

I am not one of those people who will tell you there are starving people in Ghana every time you don’t want to finish your greens, but the Guinness is an institution built around being the biggest for the sake of being the biggest. In Judaism, the biggest has no role. A lot of heart has a role. As the last Mishna in Menachot tells us, both those who give a big amount and those who give a small amount are judged not by the size of the donation, but by the feeling and intent behind their action.

The menorah teaches us this idea. The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people said to G-d, “You lit all the heavens and you want us to light the Menorah?” G-d replied that the little lights of the Menora are more precious to Him than all the stars in the Heavens. The Jewish people were wondering how the little lights of the menorah could be meaningful to G-d when He fills the heavens with great orbs of brightly burning gases many times the size of our entire planet. (The largest star, LBV 1806-20, tips the scales of stellar masses at about 150 times the heft of the Sun. It shines up to 40 million times brighter than the Sun.) G-d answers them, that the little light emanating from the menorah is much more meaningful to Him than all the celestial bodies in the universe. Because when we light the menorah we are connecting spiritually to G-d. We are saying that even in the dark of winter, we see His light shining through. And that is more meaningful than LBV-1806-20, no matter how big or bright it is.

So this week, as we watch our Menorah’s tiny lights flicker out into the night, let’s remember that in Judaism a little can go a long way. Let’s remember that G-d is not waiting for us to do the next big thing, He is waiting for us to light one more candle.

Leiby Burnham, LMSW, is a rabbi, psychotherapist, and writer. He lives in Detroit with his wife, an ICU nurse, who is on strict orders to “leave her patients at work” and their two daughters, Orah and Shifra. Rabbi Burnham works for the Jean and Theodore Weiss Partners in Torah program of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, where he does community outreach, and runs a Jewish educational programs at University of Michigan, Wayne State, and Oakland University. He taught learning-disabled high school students for eight years in NYC, while receiving Rabbinical training at Shor Yoshuv Institute, and obtaining his Masters in Social Work from Yeshiva University.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.