While on a walk, I passed a construction crew completing work on a bridge. I stopped to ask them if they take their families and friends to see roads and bridges they had built. They all laughed; “All the time!” They had a sense of pride in their work. They had a tangible way to measure their success.
A few minutes later, I met a friend who is a therapist. I asked him if he ever could point at someone and say, “That person is my accomplishment.” I think I sent him into therapy; he was despondent and bemoaned the fact that he can rarely point at something tangible as a measure of his work, and certainly cannot point an accomplishment out to another person.
Many people struggle to define their success and walk around with a sense of failure.
How can we measure our work and effort in prayer, Mitzvot and Torah? The results are not as tangible as a bridge over the Henry Hudson Parkway, and yet, although I am fortunate to find them all rewarding, I am not sure how to measure my success.
Would the prophets consider their efforts successful? Few people changed and yet their words continue to resonate thousands of years later. I believe that they did not care about success results as they were acting. Chuang Tzu taught: “When an archer shoots for nothing he has all his skills. If he shoots for a brass knuckle, he is already nervous; the prize divides him. He cares. He thinks more of winning than of shooting – and the need to win drains him of power.” The success of our service of God will never be measured by a brass knuckle. We do not shoot to win. We shoot to shoot our best.
This week’s Haftarah – The Prophet and The Priest – offers a powerful perspective of Amos, considered a failure by people who wanted to assimilate, yet who successfully shook the power structure of the Northern Kingdom. The Music of Halacha – Forks and Knives – celebrates the success of Halacha to respond to new challenges and inventions. Rabbi David Rue discusses a sense of success in Israel on Yom Ha’aztmaut in his Letter from Israel. Bentzion of Medziboz describes success in battling the Evil Inclination in his Keter Shem Tov and the successful efforts of the Ba’al Shem Tov in helping others. Rabbi Irwin Katsof warns us about Teasing that is too successful, and the Midot Hayom guide us in a successful path from Redemption to Revelation.
I wish you all successful shooting without the distraction of a prize. Then, by shooting your best, you might be surprised when you get a prize…
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg