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Thought for the Day: Growth Through Emulating Great People

I made it to work today in just over 40 minutes of bike travel time (that is, not including time spent waiting for signal lights at intersections).  That's 14.3 mph.  I had mixed feelings on pulling up to the parking garage gate; both exhilaration and trepidation.  Exhilaration at having achieved my best time so far.  Trepidation at the thought of trying to beat or even reproduce that time.  I had the wind at my back, hit several traffic lights just right, and was not blocked by blokes on Divvy bikes.  I wonder if I'll ever again find myself with a confluence of all those external factors and feeling physically capable of pushing harder than before.

Of course, that's the nature of any endeavor to improve.  Each achievement become the new bar by which future achievements are measured.  It is very difficult, therefore, feel pride in any given achievement; both because it depends on so many external factors and because, frankly, I am not likely to achieve that again soon (if ever).  By the same token, I don't feel any particular distress that I can't get up to 760 mph.  Why not?  Because no one can go 760 mph on a bicycle.  (Just over 760 mph is the current land speed record, btw.)  Moreover, I don't even feel a twinge that I can't achieve any where near the 167 mph land speed record for bicycles.  Why not?  Almost the same reason... no one at my age and physical condition can do that; it's not in the realm of possibility, so it's not a target to which I aspire.

So far, there is nothing that separates us as Jews and anyone else striving for constant improvement.  There is, however, a great divide between us and the rest of the world.  We need only look to those whom our tradition calls great and contrast them to whom the surrounding culture calls great to appreciate just how wide that gap is that divides us.

Just to pick on one class of their "hero": the sports hero.  The sports hero is someone who achieves the greatest accomplishment.  The one who can jump highest, run fastest, consistently hit a ball the furthest.  It doesn't concern them in the least that the one who can jump highest is tall and has long legs, the one who hits the ball the furthest has strong arms.  The greatest athlete has a physique predisposed to being great in his chosen sport.

What about our "heros"?  Avraham Avinu is known for his great kindness.  However, he did not act kind because that was his nature (though, in fact, his nature was entirely kindness); as evidenced by Akeidas Yitzchak.  Yaakov Avinu is known for his exceptional honesty.  However, he did not act with honesty by nature (though, in fact, his nature was entirely truth/honesty); as evidenced by his dealings with Lavan and Esav.  The greatness of our illustrious ancestors is not in spite of going against they nature, but is דווקא/precisely because they went against their natures.

When your pride comes from expressing your nature, you are more than happy to publicize how great your achievements are; you'll happily parade your greatest exercise in exceeding all bounds and barriers.  A Jew, on the other hand, takes the most pride in fighting his nature and achieving any success despite the difficulties.  The pride a בעל עֲלִיָה is intensely personal and private.

R' Zusha said, "I am not worried they will ask me on my judgement day why I didn't achieve what the Avrahamd, Yitzchak, and Yaakov achieved.  I have simple answer for that: I am not Avraham, Yitzchak, nor Yaakov.  What worries me is the one question for which I have no answer: Zusha... why weren't you Zusha?"

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