Synagogue Contractor

A certain Baal T'shuvah [newly observant Orthodox Jewish] 
contractor decided it would be a great learning opportunity and 
mitzvah [good deed, in this context] to build for himself and 
his family a "completely Kosher house."  By this, he meant a house 
designed and built with scrupulous care to meet all standards of 
Jewish law and tradition.

He went to talk it over with his Rabbi, and after some discussion, 
they thought this would be an excellent project for his spiritual, 
and even professional development. The Rabbi found appropriate study 
materials and they decided a year would be a good goal for the 
time-frame in which to study and prepare. After that year was done, 
they would then decide if the project was still feasable considering 
local building codes, the man's skill, cost, and available materials 
and labor.

The contractor and Rabbi worked hard that year, finding and studying 
from the most obvious to the most obscure hallachot [laws and traditions] 
and commentaries upon them throughout Jewish history. It is to their 
great credit that they were still dicovering new material to study even 
into the last month of their allotted year. At the end of the year, 
the contractor decided he could probably study for another entire year, 
but there was always the risk that at the end of that year he would 
still feel there was more to study, and the house would still not be 
built. The Rabbi told him he had learned a lesson worthy of a year's 

The contractor decided to take a year from his business and leave it 
in his brother's hands as he worked on building his house. He had to 
do most of the work with his own hands because it was difficult to 
find another Jew knowledgable enough in this specialized field to 
help him with the work who wouldn't miss some obscure point of law and 
possibly render the work invalid. He worked on the house from sunup to 
sundown six days per week (except holidays) stopping at appropriate 
times for prayer and continuing his studies whenever the weather 
prohibited construction work. His devotion to the task was phenomenal, 
and he even got written-up in several magazines and newspapers of 
Jewish interest (and the religion section of one or two secular 
newspapers). From drawing the plans to final paint and detail work, 
the house went up in a year of hard work, and it was a "completely 
Kosher house."

When the house was finally completed it was a great simcha [joyous 
occasion] for the contractor, his family, and indeed, the whole 
community, as everyone had taken an interest in the project and its 
development. There were even some who had spoken to him about building 
a house for them when the construction of his own house was completed. 
Toasts were made, brachot [blessings] were said, the mezzuzah 
[ornamental box containing a hand-written scroll of excerpts from the 
Law] was hung on the doorframe, and leftover food was carried home (it 
couldn't be a proper Jewish celebration unless more food than needed 
for twice the celebrants was brought). Finally, when all the guests had 
left, the contractor and his family entered the house.

As the front door slammed shut, there was a great rumbling noise, and 
the house fell down in ruins all around the family. (Nobody was hurt, 
thank goodness.) The contractor was heartbroken to see two years of 
sweat and study and a great deal of material cost come crashing down 
around his ears.  He discussed the matter with his Rabbi, and asked why 
this should happen to him, and even why should it happen at all. He had 
been diligently careful to follow the advice of every scholar and sage he 
had read. For that matter, the house met all applicable secular building 
codes and should have been solid and standing strong for his great 
grandchildren to enjoy.  "How could this have happened?" he asked.

"You know," said the Rabbi, "Rashi asked the very same question...."

Backround note: 'Rashi' is an abbreviation for Rabbi Schlomo ben Issac, whose clearly written commentaries usually serve as the first source beyond the primary text for any Jewish scholarship. Not all scholars agree with him on every matter, but all acknowledge the great quality of his work.

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