Becoming a Visionary

Do you have a vision of your life in, say, 10 years? What dreams and aspirations would you like to see fulfilled? (And this is not about how much money you want to make…). Do you have an overall vision for your life, or is your life driven and defined by the needs and demands of the moment?

No enterprise or business can function without a vision statement. Can you? A life with vision is dramatically and radically different than and a life without it. The former is guided by a unifying principle; the latter, by random circumstances. Vision provides direction. Lack of vision is aimless. Can you imagine driving without seeing the road ahead, without knowing where you want to reach? Do you control the details of your life, or do the details control you? Do you ever wonder what your life would look like from a birds’ eye view? What is the bigger story of your life, rather than the frame-by-frame chapters? And what will the picture look like years from now – when you can see your life in retrospect?

The name of this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, means “see,” or “behold.” In one word we are being told that we each have the power to be a visionary.

By no means is this a minor statement.

Usually we think of visionaries as rare beings. Governments, monarchies and institutions throughout history have been built on the premise that most people, consumed with daily survival, preoccupied with petty details, are not equipped – or for that matter interested – to be leaders, or even educated enough to choose good leaders.

Some thinkers have expressed outright disdain and condescension toward the “masses,” dismissing them, in Voltaire’s words, as “la canaille” [the rabble], a phrase used to denigrate the masses. “As for the canaille,” Voltaire told d’Alembert, “I have no concern with it; it will always remain canaille… [without] the time and the capacity to instruct themselves; they will die of hunger before they become philosophers…. We have never pretended to enlighten shoemakers and servants; that is the job of the apostles.” Diderot couldn’t have agreed more. “The general mass of mankind,” he wrote, “can neither follow nor comprehend this march of the human spirit.” Diderot believed that we must distrust the judgment of the “multitude” in matters of reason and philosophy because “its voice is that of wickedness, stupidity, inhumanity, unreason and prejudice.” “The multitude,” he concluded, is “ignorant and stupefied.”

Other, less elitist, scholars have not been quite so heartless, but still hold that the masses are not fit for leadership or choosing leaders. Take the USA’s electoral college. It is built on the basis that the general population is not able to wisely choose leaders; they therefore vote for their local Electors, who in turn are more educated and suitable to choose the right leader.

Even in our so-called modern age, in which democracy thrives, the debate still rages amongst theorists what capacity the average “Joe,” the common citizen, has when it comes to leadership, direction and looking at the bigger picture. Cynics, many of whom actually lead political campaigns, argue that with well-tuned marketing, advertising and manipulation of the media, people can be convinced to believe virtually anything.

If this is true about basic leadership, where does that leave visionaries? Few and far between. When was the last time you met a visionary – someone who was able to see the forest from the trees?

Yet, this week’s Torah chapter unequivocally tells each and every one of us: “Behold,” “see” – you have the power to step back from the details of your life, to transcend your immediate circumstances, to focus and discover the vision of your life.

“Behold” is one of the most powerful words we will ever hear. It means that you have a choice. As difficult as it may seem, you are not doomed. You need not be consumed and overwhelmed with the pedestrian concerns of the struggle to survive. Left to our own accord, we humans will usually gravitate to the easiest option, which is to our materialistic needs and immediate impulses and desires. If this means, living in the moment and not seeing the larger horizon and the long (or even short) term consequences of our behavior for the sake of instant gratification – so be it.  The greatest casualty of this myopia is, of course, ourselves.

The directive “behold” gives each of us the mandate – and the power – to be a visionary in our own right. You have the ability, should you choose to access it, to climb up and see your life in perspective.

But how? How can we rise above the multitude of forces that dominate our lives; the constant demands and expectations placed upon us; the psychological wounds and ghosts that haunt us; the fears and insecurities plaguing our psyches?!

“Behold” informs us that despite all these voices, you have within another most powerful voice. But it may have been silenced by the surrounding din; it may have gone undercover due to the anxieties we have allowed to control us. This voice is the song of your soul. And your soul contains a vision – the vision of your entire life’s mission.

“Behold” you are told. Behold the larger picture, and then allow it to inform the details of your life, rather than the other way around.

This week you are given the power to become a visionary. The first step is to believe in yourself and in your soul’s capacity. The second step is to work on it – to establish regimens in your daily schedule that allow your visionary soul to emerge, to allow it to rear its head and breathe…

No different than your daily body exercises, your soul too needs daily work. And in this material universe, you need extra effort to draw out your soul.

When you begin to exercise your soul, you will be surprised by the discovery of new tools that will help you discern and establish the vision of your own life. Armed with this vision your life will never be the same.



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Jory Lipp
6 years ago

Dearest Rabbi Jacobson,
You actually know me through your brother in law, Rabbi Aron Margolin. To express how I feel at this very moment is Impossible! Your words, the timing of this Parshah, how it was just explained so eloquently have just explained to me , in My Life, what seemed impossible to understand. Yes ghosts of the past can be paralyzing and have been for me. Ironically, earlier this week they were purged from me in a way I could never imagine. Maybe not purged but quieted down tremendously.
As I wrote a letter to one of My Rabbiem barring so much, the rain started softly and turned into a turrential down pour. When I was finishing and almost done the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. I felt as if the heavens cried for me and finally I was free and clean of the past. I wanted to burn the letter I had just wrote. Yet, I knew if I did that there would be No vision for My future. So I Had to deliver what I had written. It wasnt pretty!
I did not know the name of the Parshah at that moment nor it’s contents or meaning.
I did not plan to read your article this week, but something pulled me toward reading tonight. Yes, it’s difficult to look at the whole picture instead of the painful chapters of our lives sometimes. I was looking at the chapters NOT the whole picture book. It doesn’t change Anything! However, it brought me some peace of mind and a better understanding of Everything I’ve been through to this point in my life. It helped me understand what My grandfather truly meant when he told me years Ago that I had No vision. I did Not understand it then like I do Now after reading your article. Yes , I See now better than I did before and perhaps …. with view that I didn’t have before.
Thank you So Much Tonight for helping me finally “See” and from that hopefully move forward towards a truly Happy and Meaningful Life!
Take care my friend. Warm Regards, Refua Yakov Dov

Gila Rappaport
2 years ago

Thank you very much Rabbi

Violetta Tarpinian
2 years ago

Thank you, Rabbi Jacobson! The so-called dumb masses are individual people with a soul and a brain, capable of vision and understanding.

The Meaningful Life Center