All in all, there are two ways to live life. One way is the way of resignation. The other is a way of determination. The way of resignation is nothing short of a tragedy. In the holy words, of the great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, "the greatest tragedy of life, is when a prince begins to believe that he is but a peasant, and he settles for less because he thinks he is less." On the other hand, the way of determination empowers the person with a resilient drive that never tires until one's greatness is actualized.Rabbi Allouche
“I can’t take this new normal anymore,” a person wrote to me, privately, during one of our popular weekly zoom and Facebook-live sessions this week. “It’s been one of the worse times of my life.”
After the class, we spoke longly. I admitted to her that I too have such moments of despair, especially during these historic times, as I am sure many others do. But thankfully, Judaism provides us with a GPS on how to best navigate these turbulences:
All in all, there are two ways to live life. One way is the way of resignation. The other is a way of determination.
The way of resignation is nothing short of a tragedy. In the holy words, of the great Chassidic Master, Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, “the greatest tragedy of life, is when a prince begins to believe that he is but a peasant, and he settles for less because he thinks he is less.”
On the other hand, the way of determination empowers the person with a resilient drive that never tires until one’s greatness is actualized.
“Be holy, for I am holy,” G-d commands us in this week’s portion. With these brief words, G-d reminds us that since we have a fragment of the Divine in us. And it is our duty, to reveal our core holiness and “be holy,” at every moment, with every person, and in every place, regardless of the circumstances.
Perhaps, this stands as the single most important difference between quality shared by all great men and women of history. They never despaired. No dream was unreachable, no challenge was too big, no obstacle was too tall. The indeed epitomized the words of Winston Churchill who defined success as “going from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.”
Some modern-day examples include J. K. Rowling — whose Harry Potter series as sold over 500 million copies worldwide — was initially rejected by twelve publishers. The late Steve Jobs — the founder of Apple and one of the pioneers of the Information Age — was initially fired from Apple, the company he co-founded, and suffered for many months from pancreatic cancer. Oprah Winfrey — one of the most successful TV personalities — was fired by her first Television Show because she “wasn’t fit to be on screen.” And the Beatles — who need no accolades — were told, by reputable music-mavens, that “they have no future in show business.
In our own Jewish history, Abraham, our forefather, was called to leave the comfort of his birthplace and undergo ten trials, yet he revolutionized the world with the belief in one G-d.
Rabbi Akiva was deemed ignorant and illiterate and he was disowned by his father-in-law, yet he dedicated himself to Torah study, and he became one of Judaism’s most illuminating teachers.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe faced immense opposition, particularly as he launched his army of emissaries across the globe, in the early 1950s. To date, all recognize that these very emissaries have rescued Judaism from the pitfall of the post-holocaust era, as have brought the light and joy of Judaism to the four corners of the world.
The determination of these models affirmed their loyalty to their inner calling and turned them into beacons of light to their surroundings.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, one of the leading rabbis of the 19th century, once addressed his disciples with a surprising yet important request:
“Write two truths on two separate notes,” he told them. “On one note, write down the verse uttered by our forefather Abraham: ‘I am dust and ashes.’ On the other note, write down the teaching of our Sages: ‘For my sake, the world was created.'”
And he continued: “Now place these two notes in your pockets. If your achievements engender arrogance, take out the first note and remember that you are but ‘dust and ashes.’ But if you are feeling despondent and dejected, take out the note that states that ‘the world was created for you.'”
Indeed, at times like these, when many are overcome with feelings of despondency and resignation, we ought to remember that the world was created for us, and for our holiness.
And it is awaiting us, now and at every instant, to be and act holy, each in our own way, each with our own vocation.