A few years ago, someone told me about an all–you-can-eat restaurant that charges customers a fixed price no matter how much food they pack on their plates. But then, the establishment ALSO charges customers by weight for the food they leave on their plates, basically for the food they waste. What a clever idea to minimize squander!
And since my mind is always steeped in Torah, I could not help but make the quick leap to our relationship with the Almighty and our purpose in life: When our time comes, how much of our life’s purpose will be actualized and how much will still be left on the “plate” and wasted?
Indeed, all of us have things for which we need to repent and have regrets for things we’ve done. We pray, we’re contrite and beg G-d to forgive us. But few of us realize that on Judgment Day, we will also have to account for all the things we failed to do.
We have only one life in which to partake and utilize the beautiful “smorgasbord” of opportunities and talents with which we were blessed. Yet, sadly, so many of us waste our lives. We starve our potential and feed our fears. But that is no healthy regimen.
As the famous quote goes: “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Why are we starving? Because we satisfy ourselves with artificial sweeteners instead of harvesting our talents and potential. We get lost in a world of distractions and amuse ourselves with frippery to pass the time. We let all that life has to offer us and all that we have to offer life, rot and grow cold on the table. We forget that we are here for a reason, a G-dly reason.
And that is a shame, a travesty, and a tragedy because each one of us is special and has something unique to offer the world.
Do you recall the old General Electric motto? “We Bring Good Things to Life” Well, if GE brings good things to life, just imagine what G-d brings to life! For certain, remarkable things and necessary things. G-d indeed created ex nihilo, i.e., something from nothing. But He doesn’t create something for nothing. He made man and fashioned us in His image. And each of us has a Divine and moral obligation to fulfill our unique potential. G-d said, “Let us make man,” in the plural. We must be partners in our own creation.
If you’ll oblige me a moment of levity this reminds me of a joke: “Why did the patient fire his therapist after eating a buffet-style meal at his doctor’s house? Because when the patient arrived his therapist told him, ‘Help yourself!’”
What stops us from helping ourselves and activating our potential? The answer can be found in this week’s Parasha, Ki Teitzei, which prohibits us from plowing a field with an ox and donkey together. There are many explanations for this prohibition, but the one relevant to us now is that the ox represents the elevated part in us that strives for spiritual greatness, while the donkey represents materialism with its earthly, gravitational pull. We cannot cultivate our Divine potential and greatness while tethered to the disruptive forces of the donkey. In fact, if you rearrange the Hebrew letters of chamor, meaning donkey, it becomes machar –“tomorrow.” We have the ability to activate our purpose now, but too often we put it off until tomorrow. And as we all well know, tomorrow never comes.
And so this week’s Torah reading starts with the words: “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd, your G‑d, shall deliver them into your hands….”
The sages teach that this is not just a physical war, but also a spiritual war against the evil inclination, the Satan. Playing on our fears, he is the one who advocates for tomorrow and distracts us from doing things now! He stalls us and makes us afraid to try positing possibilities of failure. In fact, he is procrastination’s best PR “person.”
But he is an enemy we must and can fight. We must live in faith, not fear! Imagine a seed that was afraid to change, so it never became a flower; imagine an acorn that was afraid to change, so it never became an oak tree; imagine a caterpillar that was afraid to change, so it never became a butterfly; imagine an embryo afraid to become a fetus and a baby afraid to leave its mother’s womb.
People equate change with loss. But the loss is in NOT changing, in not becoming, in not growing, in not developing and in not maximizing our talents to add value to the world and to serve G-d’s will.
There is an old but sad joke about Brazil: “Brazil has great potential and it always will.” In other words, the potential is never fulfilled. Don’t be Brazil!
G-d promises us that if we go to war against this enemy, which I call the naysayer, the propagator of fear and self-doubt, G-d will help us. G-d helps those who help themselves. So don’t be afraid to fail. You cannot become a great juggler without first dropping a lot of balls.
To quote Winston Churchill: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
It’s been said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” What’s true in a geo-political historical context is true for us personally as well. The evil inclination triumphs when we, good men, good women, do nothing with our lives and squander our potential.
How many gifts and blessings has G-d put on our figurative plates? Many more than we can digest in a lifetime. Yet how many of our gifts and talents do we really use and develop to better the world, to serve G-d, to help humankind, and to help ourselves?
With the High Holidays before us, it would serve us well to home in on our unique purpose and talents and start taking stock of our unused and untapped potential. Waste not, want not! Know that G-d will weigh our figurative plates and each of us will be asked a simple question: Why weren’t you as fruitful as you could be? And then, of course, there is always a price to pay.