We can do it!

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It’s so hard not to give up! We try countless times to succeed but when the door seems shut we just want to ‘call it quits’! It’s far easier to accept defeat than to encourage ourselves to keep trying unsuccessfully. “So what?” we say. “I’ll be ok without it”! But what we’re not realizing is that by surrendering we are relinquishing who we truly are and selling ourselves short!

What do I mean? Well, I’m always hearing people say things like “I’m not good at math”, “I don’t like playing sports”, “I can’t do puzzles”, “I don’t dance”, “I can’t sit still”,  “I have terrible balance”. But it gets worse! Sometimes we say things like “I’m short-tempered”, “I’m in a bad mood”, “I’m too spaced out” and “I’m a bad parent”.

Most of the time the reason why we say these things is because we’re so frustrated and/or ashamed by our failure to succeed that we subconsciously rather stop trying than make another attempt and suffer defeat. You know the kid who gets embarrassed in school by his friends? He comes home, slams the door and yells “I’M NEVER GOING TO SCHOOL AGAIN!!” That’s pretty much what we’re doing when we file away (for life) our talents, in fear that somebody (not sure who?) will laugh at us if we fall down in the process.

On Rebbi Nachman’s last Shabbos Nachamu in Uman, about two months before he passed away, many chassidim gathered at his meal on Friday night to hear him speak. Although he would usually go to his private room right after kiddish and prepare himself for the meal, instead he sat at the table quietly. Appearing weak and tired he said, “Why did you come to me? I don’t know anything at all! If I had something to say then I understand why you would come here. But I’m a simple peasant. I don’t know anything at all”! He kept on repeating these types of things for awhile until he finally said, “The only thing that’s keeping me alive now is that I was in the Land of Israel”. Slowly he began to expound on that idea until he delivered a long lesson on it (תנינא ע״ח). After the lesson it’s said over that he was ecstatic and instructed the chassidim to sing zemiros and he sang with them, even though he hadn’t sang in recent months due to his illness. Then he spoke to the chassidim the entire meal with tremendous sweetness and encouraged them greatly. Finally, he yelled out from the depths of his heart “Gevalt! Don’t give up on yourselves! There is no reason to ever give up!״

We might not understand the Rebbe’s mysterious simplicity at that time. But in some concealed way, although his mastery of Torah was unparalleled, at that moment in his mind, he really knew nothing at all! But he didn’t give up. He found some way to open himself up and succeeded in saying over beautiful Torah with awesome joy! In doing so, in his greatness he saw that there is never ever a reason to quit. The chassidim describe how he cried out and lengthened the words “Don’t give up”, like he was charging every Jew eternally never to despair!

This story happened more than 200 years ago in a small house in the Ukraine but it couldn’t be more true and relevant today. We have so much potential. Hashem, the Jewish people and the world at large needs us. Let’s not write ourselves off because of some past difficulties. We have too much to offer! “Gevalt! Don’t give up”!

Think to do

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Buddhism teaches that ones goal is to reach Nirvana, where you’re no longer serving your insatiable cravings. I find that sometimes I also set my goals to be liberated from my own thought enslavement.

I once heard that “Judaism starts where Buddhism ends”.

Rabbenu Bachya writes (חובות הלבבות שער חשבון הנפש) that from the following verse the Torah requires us to do a self-inventory :

“וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך, כי ד’ הוא האלוקים בשמים ממעל, ועל הארץ מתחת, אין עוד”

“And today you know, and will take into your heart, that God is the ruler in the heavens above and on the land below. There is no other”

Rav Kook asks (מוסר אביך פ״ד), How does this verse obligate us to consider our actions? It seems only to necessitate our firm belief in the oneness of God? He answers that “in the heavens above” suggests our thoughts and “on the land below” alludes to our actions. So the verse requires us to contemplate if our thoughts and actions demonstrate the oneness of God.

That’s a charming allusion, but is the verse really saying that?

Here’s the idea: If we know in our minds and adopt in our hearts that God is everywhere, above and below, then we should feel compelled to act in unison with that knowledge. It’s simply foolish to believe that God created the world and doesn’t expect something from us in return. Real belief in God behooves commensurate action from us; duties of the heart and aligned performance. It’s not enough to feel God in our lives, we need to serve God.

One of Rebbe Nachman’s most essential themes is to serve God without sophistication (תנינא י״ב). We must simply clarify to ourselves in every situation, “Will this action bring out the glory of God? If it does, then do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t”.

Our goals shouldn’t be to achieve feelings or to detach from inferior feelings. Those landmarks are merely a means to our greater goal of performance and ultimate unity.