For the week ending 5 May 2007 / 17 Iyyar 5767

Be Like Mike

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Mike Flisser in Atlanta

Dear Rabbi,
As a beginner to observant Judaism, during my studies and my prayers I have the feeling that what we do as Jews on a daily basis does not hold a candle to what Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Isaac, Moses, and others did to be blessed by G-d. I know G-d loves all His children and His greatest hope is with us, but it seems like an impossible act to follow. It may be a common feeling with Jews that have started studying again, but I feel somewhat unworthy of all the wonderful things G-d has given to me in my life, as well as my friends and family. I know the blessings are there and I thank G-d for all of them, but how do you fill in the feeling of inadequacy when praying and studying the Torah?
Dear Mike,

I admire your sensitivity and enthusiasm in your newfound interest in Judaism. It is a wonderful period in one’s spiritual growth, and may you always feel such novelty in your relationship with G-d, the Torah and prayer.

You mention your feelings of inadequacy in comparison to the Patriarch’s and Matriarch’s phenomenal level of service of G-d. However, they didn’t view themselves or their service as great. David referred to himself as a worm, Abraham called himself dust and ashes, and Moses and Aharon barely recognized their existence by asking, “What are we?” This was not feigned humility — they were honestly aware of their insignificance in comparison with G-d and thereby felt unworthy of His blessing. In truth, this awareness and sensitivity did not discourage them from serving G-d. On the contrary, it motivated them to serve Him even more and was thus the very source of their greatness. So you see, as a descendent of our illustrious Patriarchs, you are actually walking in their footsteps.

Another point to ponder is related to what you yourself mention regarding G-d loving His children. “Children” is the key word here. Consider the great joy and love a parent feels when his child takes his first steps or utters his first words. The wellspring of emotions is so great that it’s indescribable. Yet these steps are so awkward, uncoordinated, imbalanced, and short-lived — the baby falls. Similarly the baby’s first words, far from eloquent, are a combination of barely perceptible syllables mixed with drool. Yet the parents are ecstatic as baby mutters, “maw-mee” – “daa-dee”. Far from repulsing the parent, baby’s cumbersome and inadequate movements and speech are all the more endearing.

This is, to a certain extent, how our deeds and prayers appear before G-d. Nevertheless, the fact that we have embarked on the path of growth and are making an effort despite our inadequacy is very endearing to G-d. It is regarding people and situations such as these that our Sages in the Midrash understood the verse “v’diglo alai ahava” to mean, “The omission of these people is beloved to Me.” Even if they read the word ‘v’ahavta’ (and you shall love your G-d) as ‘v’oyavta’ (and you shall estrange), since it comes from simple and wholehearted people, it is beloved to Me, says G-d (Shir HaShirim 2:4).

A last point to keep in mind is that what we are taught about the amazing way in which the forefathers served G-d is not intended to mean that we must be just like them. They were extraordinary men and women who thereby merited being the foundation of the Jewish people. Rather, what we are told about them is intended to spur us to realize our own individual potential to the greatest degree possible as they did, even though both quantitatively and qualitatively we cannot come close to them. This is an important lesson regarding all of the stories we hear of the ways in which the righteous tzaddikim served G-d. We are to be encouraged to try our best as they did, even if we can’t do what they did. This is what the great Reb Zusha meant when he said, “After Zusha dies, the Heavenly court won’t ask, ‘Why weren’t you Moses’ but rather ‘Why weren’t you Zusha’?”

Remember: The awareness of your “inadequacy” makes you greater; your “shortcomings” make you dearer; and G-d only compares you to the best Michael you can be.

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