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Parashat Vayeshev

Anyone who blesses Yehuda is disgusting to G-d. (Sanhedrin 6b) If Yehuda had the power to persuade his brothers to sell Yosef, he had the power to bring Yosef back to his father, as well. (Rashi ibid.) And because he did not take responsibility when he had the power to do so and did not finish the Mitzvah, he was punished by losing his wife and two children. (See Sotah 13b) For if he had the power to start, he had the power to finish. This is so true in our own lives, not only as a halacha (Haye Adam 1; 68), but also as an axiom of productivity.

People who start things and finish them are fueled by an inner sense of responsibility.  And not taking responsibility for our given abilities brings us great stress. David Allen, the stress-free productivity guru, once said, Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started. Why is that so? Because if you have the power to start, you have the power to finish. Potential that goes undeveloped is a great cause for stress. I have found this to be true when helping teenagers find themselves. Instead of focusing on all the things that are negative in their lives, I focus on self- development on each person’s terms. Voice lessons, speed reading, sports, music, karate, art, dancing, etc.  This is why coaching is one of the best therapies. It builds self-esteem, while focusing on potential and responsibility. It is amazing how the stress level of my clients drops, just when we discover together their potential, power and responsibility. Planning together an awesome life of productivity, of actualizing potential, helps so many clients and teenagers who feel that part of them has been left undeveloped. Why? Because they had difficulty with just that. Actualizing. Finishing. Achieving “coulds”.

Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy, or stupid. Those things generally result either from not having a plan of “coulds” or not taking responsibility to reach your goal.

Why do many people with power not take commensurate responsibility for it? There are various reasons; we will mention four, below. The main reasons is lack of belief that “with great power comes great responsibility”. If you can do something, you do not have the option do it when you feel like it, when you are in the mood. It means you are held responsible to do whatever you are able to do. R Chaim Shmulevitz expounded on this at length, especially regarding one’s level of spirituality and consistency in learning Torah. Despite R’ Akiva’s lofty Torah learning, he was punished with an extremely painful death for not learning another level of Torah from R’ Eliezer.

Now, let us take this a step further. Why aren’t people aware of the fact that responsibility comes along with power? I believe that the answer is that they feel that if they do nothing wrong or bad in life, they are good. Flying under the radar. This can be the greatest mistake of your life. G-d holds it against you, if you are not striving to be the best YOU you can be. Yehuda, after all, did a good thing by selling his brother Yosef. Yet, he was punished for not doing more. Esther was held responsible for doing her thing in the palace, and not staying complacent, quiet or comfortable. וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מָרְדֳּכַ֖י לְהָשִׁ֣יב אֶל־אֶסְתֵּ֑ר אַל־תְּדַמִּ֣י בְנַפְשֵׁ֔ךְ לְהִמָּלֵ֥ט בֵּית־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ מִכָּל־הַיְּהוּדִֽים.כִּ֣י אִם־הַחֲרֵ֣שׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי֘ בָּעֵ֣ת הַזֹּאת֒ רֶ֣וַח וְהַצָּלָ֞ה יַעֲמ֤וֹד לַיְּהוּדִים֙ מִמָּק֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר וְאַ֥תְּ וּבֵית־אָבִ֖יךְ תֹּאבֵ֑דוּ וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת. (Esther 4:13,14) All this teaches that if you are in the position to do something great, and you don’t, you are held accountable. As the Yerushalmi teaches Any generation in which the Temple was not built in its day, it is considered that it was destroyed in its day. (Yoma Chapter1),

One of my favorite things is to meditate on all the things I could do in life. This gives me hope, power, and motivation. I realize that I could be on time for Shacharit; so, as a servant of G-d, אני עבדך בן אמתך, it is my responsibility to be there on time. Not just “If I want to, I could”. I could sleep on Shabbat and still find X amount of time to learn. So, it is my responsibility to make sure that I am woken up with ample time to learn. This thought gave me motivation. Because all motivation is dependent on three questions, which are the three tools in the motivation tool box… Why? (Why is it important? And why is that reason important?) How? (How can this be achieved? How did others achieve this goal?) Can? (Can I reach this goal? Do I believe in myself?)

What stops us from taking responsibility for our “coulds”, from reaching the clouds?

  1. We do not tap into our inner power because F3 – Fear, Frustration and Failure- takes over and weakens us. As Rabbenu Bachye says, שהדאגה והיראה מחלישין כח האדם בדרך הטבע ומקריבים ימי מיתתו Worry and fear naturally weaken the power of man, and bring closer his death (R Bachye Ki Tisa 30, Intro.)
  2. We do not have a clear perception of what we really can or cannot do. We see what others are doing, or not doing, and learn from them. It has been said, The No. 1 reason people fail in life is because they listen to their friends, family, and neighbors. (Napolean Hill) Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.(Mark Twain) Do you have a Rebbe? He is the only person you should be listening to. That was the power of the Maccabees: they listened to their Rebbi, their father Mattityahu, and they did not listen to or look at anyone else. And this was the reason Yehuda failed the test with selling Yosef, because he did not have his father, his Rav, to ask for advice.
  3. The everlasting lie that obsessively controls our thinking, that we can live forever, that we are not time-bound, saps our potential. Our Rabbis teach, אל תאמר לכשאפנה אשנה שמא לא תפנה (Avot 2;4) Put off until tomorrow only what you are willing to die having left undone. (Pablo Picasso)
  4. We doubt that we have the ability to do something that is, in fact, within our reach. Yirmiah did not believe in himself, saying that he was but a lad, and G-d told him not to say that again. וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְקֹוָק֙ אֵלַ֔י אַל־תֹּאמַ֖ר נַ֣עַר אָנֹ֑כִי כִּ֠י עַֽל־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֶֽשְׁלָחֲךָ֙ תֵּלֵ֔ךְ וְאֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲצַוְּךָ֖ תְּדַבֵּֽר ח) אַל־תִּירָ֖א מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אִתְּךָ֥ אֲנִ֛י לְהַצִּלֶ֖ךָ נְאֻם־יְקֹוָֽק: And Hashem said to me, don’t say “I am a lad”, for wherever I send you, you will go, and whatever I command you, you will speak. Do not fear them, for I am with you, to save you, the word of G-d. (Yirmiyah 1; 7,8)

The Chida asks, in Chomat Anach, if Yirmiyahu was a lad, a na’ar, why did G-d tell him not to say that? The answer is huge. G-d was telling Yirmiyahu, who was about to face the world alone, You are not just YOU! You are MY MESSENGER!

You are much more than you! You are the mission that G-d brought you down to the world to accomplish!! Each and every Jew is a Yisrael, with the power to fight angels. Or to fight our Yetzer Harah, which is also an angel. The two most empowering days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why, and when you do find out, and you take responsibility for it, you are unstoppable!

About the author, Yosef

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