Dvar Torah for Parshat VaYetze
There is Only the Trying
“It’s twenty years that I’ve worked for you! … I was consumed by scorching heat during the day and frost at night; sleep was driven from my eyes” (Genesis 31:38–40).
Rebbe Nachman got annoyed when someone said that tzaddikim were great because they had great souls. He insisted that this was not true, maintaining that their achievements depended completely on good deeds, effort and devotions. He said outright that every person in the world can attain the highest level because it depends on nothing but one’s own free choice … For everything depends on a multitude of deeds (Avot3:15).
This is a crucial point in growing as a Jew, but one that seems to get very little attention. Perhaps it’s so obvious that people don’t think of mentioning it, let alone emphasizing it. But we’ll mention it and emphasize it. The point I’m referring to is: Success is one per-cent inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Some things in life are just given. This is how they are and this is how they will be. Your height is your height. As much as you may want, no one can teach you how to be tall.
Other things in life are gifted. You might have a particular talent or aptitude in a certain field. You were born that way, you’re a natural. For example, without any previous knowledge or instruction, you may just pick up a guitar and start playing. (Please don’t confuse aptitude with mazel. You may have more musical talent than Mozart ever did, but that doesn’t mean that it’s your mazel to be a world-famous composer.)
Then again, you may not have a special gift. Nonetheless, if you desire, you can try to learn and improve. Yet no matter how much you invest into improving, there is no guarantee that you’ll succeed.
There is a curious exception to the forgoing. Your ultimate success in life, the degree of daat (God-consciousness) you attain, has nothing to do with anything you were given or not given. You may be descended from a long-line of the holiest tzaddikim who trace themselves back all the way to King David, or maybe you’re a newly-minted convert the child of petty thieves of questionable lineage. You may be gifted or not. You may have the IQ of a genius and a phenomenal memory. Or maybe you’re just of average intelligence. None of this makes a difference.
Rebbe Nachman teaches us that Jewish success depends solely on one’s own effort. He claimed to be such an example. The Rebbe declared that even if he had not been from the family of the Baal Shem Tov, even if he had come from the lowliest Jewish family, he still would have attained what he did through his intense toil and effort in the service of God.
We don’t see Avraham Avinu traveling the length and the breadth of the Holy Land to teach people how to pray to God. We don’t see him and Sarah Imeinu cooking, serving and tending to thousands of guests over the decades. We don’t see Yitzchak Avinu supervising the search and the digging of wells. We don’t see Yaakov Avinu spending fourteen years learning in yeshiva without ever going to bed, and we don’t see him birthing livestock, staying up all night or suffering the vagaries of the weather to do an honest job for his employer.
We don’t see Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai buried up to his neck in sand, hiding in a cave for ten years learning Torah. We don’t see the years and years that both the Arizal and the Baal Shem Tov spent in fasting and in solitude. We don’t see any of their extreme devotion, perseverance or willingness to die—but we reap the rewards.
What are those rewards? One is their merit which, when we invoke it, redounds to our credit. Another is their teachings which guide us on every point, from the mechanics of how to go about basic human living to how to deal with the deepest (and most confusing) mysteries of life. The greatest reward is that we have the opportunity to live Jewishly, and that we know that if we are determined enough to transform our inspiration into genuine effort, if we truly try, we can discover further opportunities for daat, for ourselves and others. Amen. May it be His will.
Based on Shivchei HaRan (Rabbi Nachman’s Praises) #25–26
© Copyright 2011 Breslov Research Institute