Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Facing the big challenges

Bo

One of the great secrets of life is knowing how to measure the possibilities of success before embarking on a new project.

Do I or do I not have the necessary resources to achieve the goal I have in mind?

The key to answering the question is to know how to correctly calculate the resources that you have, both directly and indirectly.

The name of this week’s reading [1], Bo (“Come”), contains a powerful tool to help us face the major challenges in life.

G-d had commanded Moses to convey His message to Pharaoh that the time had come to free the Jews from slavery. After seven warnings and their subsequent plagues, G-d —in this week’s reading— once again instructs Moses: “Come to Pharaoh, for I have made him and his courtiers obstinate…” [2]

The Zohar points out that Moses was afraid to confront Pharaoh, the paragon of evil, the superpower of that time. That is why G-d did not say “go to Pharaoh”, but “come to Pharaoh”; in other words: “Let’s go pay Pharaoh a visit”. You will not have to face him alone, for I am with you. Do not compare your limited strength with the Pharaoh’s —real or imagined— superior strength; compare his great strength with My infinite strength”.

What does this story teach us in practical terms that are relevant to us today, in our daily struggles?

There are two different possible stimuli one can have to do something: 1) “I want to and I can do it”; 2) “I can’t not do it”.

When one decides that he wants to do something and understands that he is able to do it, his motivation is limited by his personal desire and ability. If any of these run out, he stops fighting. It is very different, however, if you fight for something because you have no alternative. Since your struggle does not depend on your will or personal resources, these are not determining factors in the duration or intensity of your struggle.

“Come with me to Pharaoh,” G-d says to Moses. In other words, G-d says to each one of us: “If you want to defeat ‘Pharaoh’, both any external one as well as any internal and personal ones, meaning those powerful almighty attitudes that keep you enslaved, remember that your infinite strength comes from Me. If you do something because you think it is a good idea, it is very possible that you will get tired and  give up at some point. If you enter into the struggle motivated by the fact that I understand the objective to be important, in other words, that its importance transcends your personal preferences, you will have access to unlimited resources.

I am reminded of an anecdote that happened with my father, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov. Years ago he received a call from the Rebbe’s secretary informing him of the need of a neighboring community to build a mikveh. “You are probably wondering, Avraham, how you can be asked to do such a thing, knowing about all the community burdens that you already carry,” said the secretary with a smile that was perceptible even on the long distance phone call. Just think: everything that you have achieved so far was because you were able to do it?”

If one approaches decisions on the basis of personal preferences and resources, the results will be doubtful. If you make decisions based on what G-d wants, the results will be unimaginable, and will go far beyond your personal limitations.

There are two general objectives people think about: “what can I get?” and/or “what can I give?”. The satisfaction of achieving the former is – by definition – limited; that of the latter is – by definition – infinite and eternal.

So, this week’s tool is: when you are about to make an important decision, think hard about why you want to do it. If your reason is personal, and you doubt whether you can do it or not, don’t waste time: drop it. If, on the other hand, your reason for going ahead is that you understand that it is the right thing to do and you can’t in good conscience not do it, don’t think too much: even a powerful almighty Pharaoh ends up throwing in the towel when challenged by selfless conviction.

  1. Exodus 10:1–13:16
  2. Ibid, 10:1
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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