When changing the world fails

A man was sleeping one night when he heard God say there was holy work for him to do. God showed him a large rock and told the man to push against the rock with all his might. The man did this, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, pushing the unmoving rock with all of his might.

Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day was spent in vain. Discouraged he started thinking: “I have been pushing against that rock for a long, long time, and it hasn’t moved. The task is impossible. I am a failure. Why kill myself over this? I can just put in my time, with minimum effort; and that will be enough.”

But then the man decided to study some Torah wisdom from the book Pirke Avot to counteract his troubled thoughts. “Lord,” he thought, “after all this time, I have not budged that rock even an inch. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

As he studied Torah wisdom, he felt God responding to him: “I asked you to serve God in holiness and you accepted. I informed you that your holy task was to push against the rock with all of your strength, which you have done. I did not say that I expected you to move it all at once, or by yourself. “You are not going to complete the work by yourself, but you are not free to avoid your holy task of pushing”. (Avot 2:20)

Now you come with your strength spent, thinking you have failed. Not so! Look at yourself. Your arms are strong, your hands are callused from constant pressure, your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass what you used to have.

True, you haven’t moved the rock. But your holy commitment was only to try to push as much as you could; and to exercise your trust in Torah’s wisdom. “Be like the workers who serve loyally without seeking a prize.” (Avot 1:3) That you have done, and you have become holy.

If you keep pushing you may find that in some wholly unexpected way the rock will move. That is one result of holiness. Even if the rock doesn’t move in your lifetime, you will become holy by trying to move it.”

At times, when we do mitzvot we expect to see the results we want, and think we have failed if we don’t get them. But what God wants from us is a holy commitment to study our Torah, try to live our lives through mitzvot, and to persevere in trusting God. (Micah 6:8)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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