“What am I truly capable
is one of the biggest questions in life. This week’s Torah
enlightens us to impossible possibilities.
As a younger man or woman did you have a mentor
– perhaps a friend, a teacher or a colleague –
that motivated you to reach great heights?
If you did, feel blessed. If you didn’t,
it’s hard to describe what you were missing. But all
is not lost.
Moses, the quintessential leader, the ultimate
mentor, demands – and in effect empowers us all –
to achieve the unfathomable.
In this week’s Torah portion Moses says, “And now, Israel what does
G-d want of you? Only to be in awe of G-d, to walk in all
His ways and to love Him and to serve G-d with all your
heart and with all your soul; to keep the commandments of
G-d, and His statutes, which I command you this day for
your good?” (10:12)
Asks the Talmud: “Is awe of G-d a minor thing [that Moses
says “only to be in awe of G-d”]?” And the Talmud answers: “Yes,
for Moses it is a minor thing” (Talmud, Berachot 33b).
In Tanya he asks, “At
first glance, the [Talmud's] answer is incomprehensible, since the verse says
"What does G-d ask of you" [not of Moses!]. “But the explanation
is as follows: Each and every soul contains within it something of the quality
of our teacher Moses, for he is one of the "seven shepherds" who
feed vitality and G-dliness to the community of the souls of Israel.... Moses
is the sum of them all, called the "shepherd of faith" (raaya
meheimna) in the sense that he nourishes the community with the knowledge
and recognition of G-d... So although who is the man who dares presume in
his heart to approach and attain even a thousandth part of the level of the
faithful shepherd, nevertheless, an infinitesimal fringe and minute particle
of his great goodness and light illuminates every one in each and every generation”
(Tanya ch. 42).
In other words, each one
of us has within our souls a dimension where serving G-d is a relatively “easy”
and “minor” thing to accomplish!
But what exactly does
that mean? The empirical fact is that even for the most G-d fearing person
living a virtuous and spiritual life does not come easily. Life for most of
us consists of a battle between good and evil, spirit and matter, self-indulgence
and transcendence – between selfish cravings of material narcissism and commitment
to a higher calling, with the former more often than not winning out.
Indeed, modern secular
thought sees the human being as an evolved beast, a billion year old bacteria,
whose primary drive is survival (“survival of the fittest”). From biology
to psychology, from genetics to archeology – from Darwin to Freud – we have
been taught that humans are driven by the irrational and emotional primitive
“id,” which is all “want, want, want,” self-gratification driven by one rule
– the “pleasure principle: “I want it and I want it all now”.
Moses however saw the
human being in quite a different light. While its true that every person has
a selfish inclination, we also have a Divine side, which is capable of the
noblest behavior. Indeed, Torah sees that the deepest part of the human being
is the “yid” rather than the “id.” The essence of the soul is like the letter
“yud,” a dot, a spark of the Divine.
The easier route may be
the narcissistic one. But a person always has the choice to overcome his/her
primitive temptations and access the transcendent soul within.
The soul is a rich resource,
with layers and layers of potential. And in the soul lies a dimension that
is a “spark” of Moses. At this level it is as natural to connect to G-d as
it is for a fish to be in water. The challenge is to recognize and draw forth
this dimension, which can lay concealed beneath the outer shell of material
This is why Moses, a true leader, felt it necessary to,
at least once, declare “And now, Israel what does G-d want of you? Only to
be in awe of G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and to serve G-d
with all your heart and with all your soul.” Though Moses clearly understood
the frailty of human nature, as he witnessed time and again in the errors
of the Jewish people, yet he knew that each person has another noble dimension.
By demanding – and expecting – that we can easily be “in awe of g-d and serve
G-d,” this itself creates motivation in the part of the person to live up
to his/her potential.
Moses understood the most
basic aspect of human nature: We need someone to believe in us. This belief
helps us gain the confidence to rise to the occasion. To “remove the barriers
from your heart” and its “stubbornness” (as Moses continues, 10:16), and allow
our true Divine nature to emerge.
The lesson therein is
quite obvious: Find someone that believes in you!
impossible.” How often do we hear these discouraging words, pouring cold water
on our freshly hatched ideas? Don’t you think that the first creators of the
airplane or any other modern feat were told by their peers that their dreams
were an impossibility? Yet, they persisted and finally prevailed. History
is witness to countless stories of humans achieving the impossible.
And how else do we explain
the seemingly irrational drive that we can overcome any challenge. How, for
instance, are doctors utterly convinced that they can ultimately conquer every
illness?! It is because we have an instinct that all is possible. This instinct
stems from the Divine power of the soul that transcends mortality and all
the shortcomings of human existence.
It is critical that we
believe in ourselves to be able to achieve anything in this world. But we
must also know that our psyches are under a constant assault of many forces
reminding us time and again about our limitations, feeding our insecurities
Comes Moses and says no!
You have the power to be Divine, and with ease! You only need to believe that
it is possible.
In essence, one can say,
that this is the ultimate battle in life: How much we believe in ourselves;
how much we believe in our possibilities.
Moses dedicated his last
36 days on Earth to address all the issues that the people would face in the
years and generations to come. As true shepherd, he anticipates the challenges
of life and discusses them accordingly.
The last book of the Torah,
Deuteronomy, in effect is Moses’ last will and testament – ensuring that the
legacy of Exodus, Sinai, the travels in the wilderness, would live on forever.
Read the book carefully
and you will find fascinating lessons on virtually all the issues we face
till this day. In future columns we will occasionally attempt to focus on
some of these powerful messages.
This week we learn about what is expected of us; what we are truly capable
of. The greatest leader of all time, Moses, tells us that
we have it in us to reach the highest places; we have the
power to be
G-dly, spiritual people, to the point where it is easily
accessible to each one of us. Hence, the request and demand:
And now, Israel: What does the L-rd your G-d ask of you?
Only to fear G-d.
When things sometimes
seem impossible, think about Moses’ words. Think about the fact that by virtue
of the “Moses” within” your soul you are within reach of achieving virtually
anything you set your mind to.
So now that we know that
the great Moses believes in us, the question we each much ask: Do I believe
With a leader like Moses the impossible may just be possible.