Our 22 year-old son, who recently rented an apartment in Jerusalem, left the following message on our family Whatsapp this week:
“You know how it says in Pirkei Avot (2:5) “וְלֹא הַבַּיְשָׁן לָמֵד,וְלֹא הַקַּפְּדָן מְלַמֵּד”
“The shy person cannot learn, and the rigorous/impatient person cannot teach?”
“The first part is clear,” he continued. “If you are afraid to ask questions, you will not advance in your learning. But tonight I understood the meaning of the second part of this Mishnah. Someone I work with in the restaurant tried to explain something to me, and when I tried to clarify what he meant, he lost patience and became annoyed. Then I lost all motivation to learn from him, and he certainly could not teach me.”
My instinctive motherly reaction was empathy for my poor son, who so honestly described one of life’s uncomfortable moments.
But then I thought – voi’ la! This child of ours knows how to frame his experiences and grow from them! And to share his insights with others.
We face so many challenging moments throughout life, throughout each day. “Ki sheva yipol tzaddik v’kam” King Solomon writes in Mishlei – i.e. an authentically righteous person will fall seven times – that’s every day – and get right back up. That’s what helps him or her grow into a Tzaddik.
In Parshat V’Etchanan, Moshe recounts his final pleas to see the beautiful land that we have been privileged to come home to. And God allows him – “Go up to the peak of the mountain and raise your eyes West, North, East, South and see, because you will not cross this Jordan River.” (Devarim 3)
Through his enormous life journey, Moshe grows from being “slow of speech and a heavy tongue” (Shmot 4) to the greatest orator and teacher of the Jewish People, and also a man who acknowledges God’s plans, even for himself.
The understanding that he will not personally enter Israel does not weaken Moshe, but seems even to strengthen his selfless resolve to remind future generations how they can inherit and earn their life in this Land. His speech in this Parasha is overwhelming in its power, including the first paragraph of Shema Yisrael, the Ten Commandments, and the mitzvah of loving God and of teaching our children (the basis of the Pesach Haggada): “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…and he took us out from there in order to give us the Land He promised our forefathers.”
“Not because you were many did God desire you…but because you were small in number among the nations.” (Devarim 6-7)
Our strength is not in our demographics, but in each Jew’s ability to look at events in our lives and in history all around us, connect them to our learning, and to grow from them, hopefully leading us to the right life-changing conclusions, every day.