Friday, May 25, 2012

Be All that You Can Be

One of the results of the revelation at Sinai was the effect it had on Moshe Rabbenu. When he came down with the Aseres HaDibros (The Ten Commandments) his face was shining with Karnei Hod (Rays of glory - the descriptive Midrashic way of describing the Keren Or Panav - rays of light shining from his face.) He was in effect transformed by the singular most important event in the history of mankind… God’s revelation at Sinai to the Jewish people in order to give them the Torah.

How did Moshe achieve those rays of glory? The Medrash asks this question (Shemos Rabbah 47:6) and answers that he derived them from the Luchos (tablets) of the Aseres HaDibros themselves. When he carried the 6 handbreadth (Tefachim) long Luchos down from the mountain he held on to 2 Tefachim,  God held (as it were) onto 2 Tefachim, and the two Tefachim in the middle were exposed. From there Moshe recieved his rays of glory.

Rabbi Norman Lamm interprets these 3 segments as 3 areas of existence: the unattainbale, the already attained, and the yet to be attained.

What God held on to was the unattainable. Not everything in life is possible to achieve.

There was a time in the late 19th and early twentieth century where mankind thought that anything could be accomplished was enough money, brains behind it.  They were intoxicated by the great advances and achievements of science and technology.

But as mankind matured it began to realize that were not omnipotent… that there were things that are simply not achievable. Judaism teaches us that not everything in the realm of spirit or in the material world is given to man to know or to achieve. We are taught to have a sense of our human physical and mental limitations… and thereby feel a sense of humility. Ben Sira exclaimed “in what is wonderous to you, you shall not inquire”. The efforts know the secrets of God can only result in failure.

The 2 Tefachim that Moshe held refers to what mankind has already achieved.  There are people who revel in past achievements and dwell constantly on the ‘good old days’. But dwelling in the past is no way to achieve a halo. Stand on your dignity and you crush it. Rest on your laurels and you flatten them. Past glories are only significant if they inspire us toward new creativity.

It is the middle portion of the Luchos that signifies the point between these two extremes. It is in striving to achieve the not yet achieved that is rewarded with rays of glory.

That said God does not require us to do things that are beyond our ability to do. So by definition it is always possible to live to the standards of Torah and Halacha.  The reward comes in achieving those goals.

This concept is important to all parents. In rasing pour children we sometimes resort to extremes. Occasionally we see a child as an extension of ourselves and try to achieve through our children what we have failed to do in our own lives. Goals are set too high, and we become too demanding. If we push them too farand  into the realm of the impossible (those 2 Tefachim that God holds on to) we can expect only failure and resentment. There can only be a loss of self confidence and self esteem on the part of the child.

At the other end of the parenting spectrum is the laissez-faire approach to parenting. “Things will take care of themselves”. When we allow too much indulgence, then the 2 Tefachim of already attained achievement will suffice… and there will be no individual accomplishment. Children will stagnate.

The appropriate way to parent a child is to inspire him to achieve by our own example and to expoit his latent talents, interests and abilities.

Above all this principle applies to Torah. Rabbi Lamm declares that no one has the moral right to call himself a Torah committed Jew if he only observes the Mitzvos. The most important Mitzvah is Talmud Torah. If one is not Kovieh Itim – establish time for daily Torah study, one cannot truly call himself Torah committed. Smugness and complacency is not going to give us a feeling of satisfaction in our Judaism. Unless we strive to be the best we can be, we fall short… and not worthy of those rays of glory.

There is a famous story about a Chasidic Rebbe by the name of R’ Zusya. He was seen crying on his deathbed. When his Chasddim saw him cry they asked him what the problem was. He answered that he feared the judgment from the Heavenly Court that he was about to enter.

His Chasdim responded that he certainly did not have to worry considering the exemplary life he had led.

He responded by saying, “You don’t understand.” I’m not worried hat I will be asked why I wasn’t willing to sacrifice myself on the level of Avraham Avinu.” I will respond that I am not Avraham Avinu. I am only Zusya.” I am afrad that God will say to me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?!”

We all are all unique… each with our own potential. It is up to us to work at fulfilling it. Only then can we be worthy of the 2 middle Tefachim that bestow upon us the rays of glory.

Adapted from Festivals of Faith by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm