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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Vaeirah

Vaeira: Doing Our Best

Submitted by on January 6, 2018 – 9:02 pmNo Comment | 2,207 views

Children And Adults

The roaring twenties were not so roaring for the Jewish community of Poland. The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s trusted disciple, Rabbi Yechezkel (Chatshe) Fegin administered the Chabad network of Jewish schools in the region, but there was always a lack of funding. One day, Rabbi Fegin informed the Rebbe that there was’not enough money to feed the scholarly students at the academy.

Rabbi Fegin asked why the Rebbe continued to earmark much needed funds to reward young children for memorizing Torah verses while neglecting the academy’s older students, who were studying much more Torah. The Rebbe replied, “Chatche Chatshe, when did you become such a specialist (meivin) on Jewish souls?” The story goes that Rabbi Fegin began to cry, and the Rebbe joined him.

The Rebbe never answered Rabbi Fegin’s question, but Rabbi Fegin never needed to ask again.

The value of a learned scholar versus that of a sweet and innocent child. How does one choose? The answer is, we don’t. So long as they are doing their best, their age and station don’t matter. The child and the scholar are equal before G-d because G-d does not count pages as much as He counts hours. If we invest time with a complete heart, our particular accomplishments are irrelevant. We need to be the best that we can be, because our best is all that G-d wants.

Moses and Aaron

After introducing us to the lineage of Moses and Aaron, the Torah introduces us to Moses and Aaron by saying, “This is Moses and Aaron, whom G-d instructed to extract the Jews from Egypt.” Then one verse later, the Torah reverses the order and says, this is Aaron and Moses. Why does Moses come before Aaron in one verse and after him in another verse, who was the greater brother, Moses or Aaron?[1]

Rashi, the eleventh century commentator, explained that despite the obvious differences between Moses and Aaron, they were of equal merit. When we do our best, no one can take it away from us. When we do our best, we rise to the top even if others shine more than us. When we do our best, it is no longer a race to the top. We are already at the top – at the pinnacle of achievement.

Aaron and Moses. Ordinarily we would not put them in the same sentence. Moses was the greatest prophet that ever lived. Moses freed the Jews from Egypt. Moses climbed Mount Sinai and brought down the Tablets of Law. Moses performed miraculous feats in the desert and at the Red Sea, can we really claim that Aaron is just as great as Moses?

Yes, because Aaron fulfilled the limited role that he was given, with a full heart. So, yes, he deserves to be in the same verse.

The lesson to us is clear and obvious. We are not expected to be more than we can be, but we are expected to be all that we can be. When do our best and max out our capacity, we are as valuable to G-d as Moses. Indistinguishable.

Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli, an early Chassidic Rebbe, once told his students that when he dies G-d would not ask him why he wasn’t like Abraham or Moses. Rather, G-d would ask him, why he was not like Zushe. If Zushe would fail to maximize his potential, G-d would call him on it. But if Zushe turned out to be all that he could be, G-d would be as pleased with Zushe as He is with Abraham.

Bottoms Up

The Talmud relates a remarkable story that is as insightful as it is astounding. Rabbi Yosef the son of Rabbi Yehoshua fell ill and fainted. When he was revived, his father asked him what he saw in the world to come. Rabbi Yosef said, “I saw a world that is opposite, the lower ones are above, and the higher ones are below.”[2]

This story is ordinarily understood to mean that those with power and fame in this world are not highly regarded in the world to come, but those who fly under the radar in this world, are highly respected in the world to come. This understanding of the story is legitimate, and it carries a powerful message that is worthy of reflection.

But I would like to share a different interpretation of this story. When he spoke of the “higher ones,” Rabbi Yosef was referring to the great scholars and leading Jews of the generation, and when he spoke of the “lower ones,” he was referring to the quiet, ordinary, unremarkable people.

It turns out that those whom we regard as leaders, are in fact lowly, they are below, and those whom we consider inferior, they are above. Why is this? Why are the superior lowly and the inferior seated above?

The answer is that people with superior capacity cannot easily fulfill their potential. Their potential is so extensive that it might be beyond their ability to maximize it. On the other hand, the inferior Jews, who sit at the back of the Shull, who are barely noticed, whom the rabbi never addresses by their first name, those whom no one ever spares a second glance, they sit at the top. They are at the top because they maximize their potential. Their potential is rather limited, but they fulfill it in every sense of the word.

In this world we are judged by our accomplishments, in the world to come we are judged by what we could have accomplished. If showing up is the extent of our potential, G-d is mightily pleased when we show up. But if we are capable of more and all we do is show up, G-d is severely disappointed. The higher ones, the ones with a higher potential, are below, they are lowly, because they often don’t their best. They don’t do all that they can do.

The Lesson

The lesson we learn is that we can never sit back and say, I did my part and am now free to relax. There is no time to relax. If we finished our part and still have the capacity to do more, it is incumbent on us to do more. The proof is in the pudding, if we are able to do more, then it was G-d who gave us this ability. If He gave us this ability, how can we not use it?

At the very least, we must do our best. More than our best, we need not. Less than our best, we dare not.[3]

[1] Exodus, 6:26.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Basra, 10b.

[3] This essay is based on Devar Moshe, Rabbi Moses Feinstone’s commentary to the Torah on Exodus, 6:26.