Have you ever felt paralyzed by “What If” syndrome? Chances are we all have. We consider visiting someone in the hospital but then worry that they may keep us there longer than we’d like. What if we commit to a new Torah class and don’t keep it up? Let’s not mention all those fresh January resolutions we’ve learned not to make in case we let ourselves down.
“What If” thinking immobilizes us at critical times. As a Chabadnik, I’ve experienced dozens, maybe hundreds of “What If” moments while engaged in Jewish outreach. “What if Ripped Jeans Guy is offended when I ask him to don Tefillin?” or “Is it worthwhile to wrap Tefillin with him once if he never does it again?”
I recently stalled when someone dared me to send him a short daily Torah thought via Whatsapp. I had worked for ages to convince this fellow to study with me. He consistently fobbed me off with the old “busy schedule” excuse. When I didn’t let up, he challenged me to send him a sub-five-minute daily thought. “What If” flooded my brain: “What if I can’t think of something fresh every day?”, “What if I miss a morning or lose interest altogether?” The scariest of them all: “What if he never listens to them?”
I should have paid attention to the section in this week’s Torah portion with Aaron and the mutant frog. Moses and Aaron are on their mission to crack Pharaoh so that he frees the Israelites. Before the plague of frogs, G-d tells Aaron to raise his staff over the rivers and bring frogs across Egypt. Cue the dramatic music. You’d expect thunder and lightning as Aaron stretches his arm over the Nile. And then, against the blackened sky and streaks of lightning, millions of menacing toads would leap into action from the riverbanks.
Nothing of the sort.
One little green guy hops out of the river. No lighting. No swarm. One frog.
Imagine how inadequate Aaron could have felt at that moment. G-d had ordered him to summon an amphibious storm, and all he could conjure up was one little croaker. In that freeze frame, Aaron’s actions appear impotent.
A moment later, everything changes. The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, describes how the Egyptians attacked Aaron’s little frog. Each time they attempted to beat it to death, it exploded into thousands more frogs. Within minutes, the place was swarming with green critters- all from the one frog Aaron had summoned.
“What If” thinking is the product of our need for control and our urge to understand how things will play out. Aaron’s mutant frog teaches us that our job is to get the ball rolling. We don’t have to plot the trajectory of our first step; we only have to take it.
I don’t know if the guy I stopped for Tefillin will ever do it again. I do know that if I don’t offer him this opportunity, he’ll never have it. And if my commitment to the Torah class or helping a friend in crisis isn’t sustainable, at least it will have been good while it lasted.
So, I agreed to send the daily Whatsapp thoughts to my friend. He tells me he still listens to it every morning on his way to the office. So does his father. And his brother. And a few hundred people around the world who have now joined our little daily Whatsapp inspiration group.
Don’t get stuck in “What If” thinking. Launch your frog. You never know what exponential potential it may hold.
Inspired by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe