“What am I truly capable of achieving” is one of the biggest questions in life. This week’s Torah portion 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 survival.
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. Absolutely 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 and fears.
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 in myself?
With a leader like Moses the impossible may just be possible.