To the untrained eye, the vase didn’t look like much. Big and heavy, with some Asian decorations, for 36 years it served as a doorstop — with children sometimes playing ball games in its immediate vicinity — so its mint condition was quite surprising. The real shocker, though, came when its Birmingham, U.K., owners decided to contact Hanson’s Auctioneers for an appraisal instead of just including it in a car-boot sale (a kind of communal yard sale popular in the U.K. where people sell things out of car-trunks).
The auction house was amazed to discover that the vase was almost 300 years old and stamped with the imperial seal of Chinese Emperor Qianlong.
Initial valuation pegged the vase at tens of thousands of dollars, but the price swiftly climbed to hundreds of thousands. The vase sold on Friday, July 2, for $860,000! The unnamed Birmingham family had inherited the vase from their Great-Aunt Florence — herself an antiques dealer but assumed not to have known its true value — but never really thought much of it. It was a convenient, decorative way to hold open a door. Not much else.
The Huffington Post’s opening line to this item read: “If ever you needed motivation to sort through your old knickknacks, this is it.”
Charles Hanson — managing director of Hanson’s in Derbyshire — waxed enthusiastic upon this find, Hanson’s most valuable to date, and exclaimed, “Our country is awash with fascinating treasures languishing in homes, and sometimes such remarkable finds can be life-changing for a client.”
Commenting on this statement, Lisa Carley finished the article she wrote about the incident with the following advice: “So have fun going through your attic, basement, and closets to find that one item that is worth [too much to be] lost to the darkness of the house somewhere. You never know — the life-changing treasure might be sitting on the floor right in front of you, holding your door in place.”
Hansen and Carley would be amazed to discover that they delivered what very well could be the most inspiring statements of the year. Allow me to explain through a short description of someone that many readers will probably identify almost immediately:
Born into a simple family in 1883, she was unassuming and even somewhat withdrawn. She loved to learn, but economic realities forced her to take up the ubiquitous seamstress’s needle at the age of 13.
For 18 years she was as anonymous as an Eastern-European Jewish woman could be. Beyond bringing her their garments for alterations, there was not much for her customers to take note of about her. Sitting in her tiny seamstress’s room, unpretentious, deeply religious, she was hardly more noticeable to the townspeople than a heavy vase holding open a door.
That changed in 1914, when the outbreak of World War I drove her to Vienna. There, through the shiurim of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Flesch that she attended, she discovered the new (to her) world of Harav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s machshavah and was inspired to share her passion for Hashem and His Torah.
From an extremely modest beginning, conducting small learning groups in her tiny room, by the time Sarah Schenirer left this world in 1935, her initiative had grown into a movement that encompassed more than 200 schools and 35,000 talmidos!
Harav Yechezkel Sarna, zt”l, once exclaimed to a number of fellow Gedolei Torah representing a wide swath of Orthodox Jewry: “One individual in the previous generation had a greater impact on Klal Yisrael than any of our fathers or grandfathers, and this person did not even know how to read a blatt Gemara!” Responding to their incredulous looks, the Chevron Rosh Yeshivah continued, “And as soon as I say this person’s name, you will all agree with me immediately! Sarah Schenirer.”
“If there was any one force,” Harav Yaakov Weinberg once said, “that saved Torah Judaism more than any other, it is the Bais Yaakov movement.”
Sarah Schenirer was as unassuming as could be, modest, quiet, and not possessed of any particular ambition other than coming close to Hashem. Inside her, though, a power lay dormant. When she uncovered it, the cataclysmically life-changing effect involved all of Klal Yisrael.
We’re not all destined to generate such conspicuous impact on the klal, but one thing is for certain: Our People is “awash” with fascinating treasures languishing in homes and hearts, and such remarkable finds can be life-changing when discovered. So enjoy going through the attics, basements, and closets of your persona to find talents and capabilities that are too valuable to be lost in darkness. You never know; you may discover that your treasure was right in front of your eyes all along.