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Home » Free Choice, Vaeirah

Vaera: Determination

Submitted by on December 22, 2013 – 1:12 amNo Comment | 4,164 views

Hard Heart

When Moses and Aaron first came to Pharaoh they made a reasonable request, let my people go for three days so they could worship G-d in the desert. Pharaoh denied this request and dismissed the miracles that Aaron performed to prove the authenticity of their message. At this point Moses began to threaten Pharaoh with plagues.  The plagues were not a reasoned approach based on dialogue and negotiation. It was a stubborn insistence that Pharaoh acquiesce. Once Pharaoh had hardened his heart and obstinately refused to free the Jews, G-d knew that reasonable appeals to his conscience would fail. The only response to heavy handedness is heavy handedness.

Neville Chamberlain believed that he could negotiate with Hitler and returned from Munich hailing” Peace in Our times.” But he failed to grasp that Hitler was hard headed and obstinate, impervious to reason and negotiation. The only possible response to Hitler was to meet him in battle, army against army, armor against armor. Meet him on his own terms and give him a taste of his own medicine.determination - innerstream

A Taste of Itself

What is the most effective way to chop wood? With an ax of course. And of what is an ax handle made? Wood, of course.[1] That’s right. If you want to chip away at resistance, the most effective way is to offer it a taste of itself. The diamond is a perfect example. Diamonds are unyielding and resistant. The only way to cut it is by using another diamond. Only a diamond can cut a diamond – with a taste of its own medicine, resistance fades away.

This principle applies internally as well. Suppose you want to eat a healthy diet and lose weight, but you love unhealthy fatty dishes and cannot bring yourself to eat bland healthy meals. Your resistance to a healthy diet is rooted in your enjoyment of tasty food. Rather than fight your love of good food, recruit it to your dieting effort by devising delicious dishes with healthy ingredients. You can force yourself to eat bland healthy food, but it will be a struggle that you will win and lose with equal regularity. But if you neutralize the problem by drafting your very resistance to your cause, you will surely prevail.

Then there are those that cling tenaciously to their unhealthy diets no matter how delicious the healthy dish might be. No matter how often you offer a tantalizing fat-free dish, they opt stubbornly for their unhealthy dishes. Designing appetizing dishes are not the answer to this problem. Of course you can endeavor to create healthy dishes, each more lovely and appealing than the next, but there is no guarantee that your dishes will be favorably received.

You see, the taste of the healthy diet is not this person’s problem, it’s his/her stubborn intransigence. Such obstinacy cannot be neutralized by lovely dishes, it must be countered by a taste of itself. In other words, the only way such people can diet effectively is to recruit their stubborn nature to their diet.

When they resolve firmly to lose weight and eat healthy they bring their formidable determination to bear against their own determination. It is metal against metal, diamond cutting diamond and only then can they succeed. When they are faced with a fierce desire to indulge in unhealthy treats, they resist it determinedly and force themselves to say no. Not everyone can succeed with this approach because not everyone has the inner strength to do so. Only those with firm unbending characters can achieve success with brute force and stern determination.

Religious Commitment

Just as it is with dieting so is it with every commitment including our commitments to G-d. There are a plethora of reasons people commit to religion. Some out of conviction, others are spiritually inspired, others respond to the call of tradition and history and yet others to its intellectual integrity.

No matter our initial attraction, in the course of life we sometimes encounter spiritual crises that tempt us to jettison our religious commitments. If we surrender to the temptation, we squander our relationship with G-d and the deeply fulfilling purpose that religion offers. Happily, there is no need to surrender. It is possible to prevail so long as we respond with the appropriate tools.

Some crises are stimulated by ignorance or questions. The responsive tool to this crises is study and consultation with our mentors. Some crises are caused by loss of emotional interest. Rituals that used to stimulate now leave us unmoved. The appropriate response is to interface with those who continue to be passionate about Judaism allowing their enthusiasm and inspiration to rub off on us.

How does one treat a spiritual crisis that doesn’t appear to have a cause? Sometimes we simply lose interest and cannot identify the reason. We are simply disinterested and that is that. Others might dance, sing or stand on their head, they might teach or argue till they are blue in the face and nothing changes. We remain stubbornly disinterested.

In such cases the only solution is to meet stubbornness with stubbornness. In other words to recruit our own stubbornness to the cause. We must stubbornly insist on continuing to observe the rituals and over time the interest will spark and the passion rekindle.

Pass the Salt

A woman with a terrible mean streak sought professional help to cure herself, but to no avail. She turned to Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, for spiritual guidance and he offered simple advice. If you are asked to pass the salt, pass the salt.

Sometimes we try every technique and when it fails, we despair and feel impotent. In truth there is one last attribute that we can bring to bear and it can have a lasting impact – our own determination. Stubbornness is not necessarily a negative trait, it can be a reflection of our very essence. Our fierce determination to do what’s right reflects our unchanging, unbending and unyielding essence.

It would be wonderful for this woman to have identified the cause of her problem, developed a form of treatment and found relief, but in the meantime she could still be kind. In action she could still pass the salt. Even if she was tempted to be mean, she could stubbornly refuse and compel herself to be kind.

When all else fails, when every approach falls short and you continue to feel disinterested, when your heart is hard and your resistance intransient, there is still a way out. Treat your resistance to a taste of its own medicine. Use the determination of our stiff necked nation against the stubbornness of your apathy and disinterest. Not only will your behavior ring true as a reflection of your essence, chances are excellent that over time custom will become habit and what once felt forced will one day feel natural.[2]

[1] Shabbat 121b

[2] This essay is loosely based on Likutei Sichos v. 36 p. 32.


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