Sunday, 23 August 2009
A TEACHER OF LIGHT
Usain Bolt, the unbelievable athlete has done it again! Not only did he make a new world record for running the 100 metre sprint in just 9.58 seconds, but this past week, he added to this by breaking (his own) new world record for the 200 metre sprint in just 19.19 seconds. For those mathematicians out there, he managed to achieve the 200 metre sprint in just 3/100 of a second slower relative to his 100 metre sprint. For those not mathematically inclined, he was able to run the 200 metre sprint at roughly the exact same speed as he ran the 100 metre – an achievement very few could ever perform. Some of us manage to "keep our breath" for just a certain time, but trying to maintain the same standard for double the distance takes real doing!
So, Mr Lighting Bolt (Flash?) is better than the best – even when the best was himself! In a previous article we looked at how much we can learn from such a focused ray of light. But, with a new outstanding achievement, what more can we learn?
For one as focused as a laser beam in achieving his goal, distances small or large are equal. There's really no reason to feel that one can only go so far at a certain speed. In fact, the more focused one is at one's task, the more likely it is that one can maintain the same speed – even when the road seems longer. There's no reason to quit just because one has past the 100 metre finish line. There's still a 200 metre point, and 400M and 800M and…
Does Mr Bolt deserve all the credit though? Is it possible that there were others who helped him achieve his phenomenal results? Those reading this might think the question preposterous! Everyone can see – he did it… *on his own!* Or did he?
A brief reading of Usain's life reveals that by the age of 12 he was already the fastest runner (for the 100 metre sprint) at his school. It was, however, a cricket coach of Usain's that noticed his awesome speed. He was playing cricket – not running, when someone from the outside noticed his speed. Of course, Usain may well have become the next best thing in cricket… Then again, he may well have only ended up quite mediocre. But someone from the outside saw something different. He saw – not a cricket player – but a runner… a sprinter. He urged Usain to focus on track events – not cricket!
Then there were another two outstanding athletes involved in Usain's story. Pablo McNeil (a previous 100 metres Olympic athlete), and Dwayne Barett coached Bolt. McNeil became his main coach – though was a little frustrated with Bolt's lack of dedication to athletics, being more interested in practical jokes. (Perhaps Bolt could even have become the next best comedian, made it to Hollywood, become an actor in comedy or the like, and made a success this way!)
There were quite a number of other amazing people involved in coaching Mr Bolt, ultimately making him into the success he has become. Outstanding to himself – and outstanding to the world.
Where does this leave us?! It seems that our success is divided. It's made up of ourselves as well as those who recognise in us the greatness that we really possess. Everyone needs a teacher!
Imagine, Mr Bolt could have become a comedian… He could also have become a cricketer. As far as *he* was concerned, athletics, when he was much younger, didn't mean quite as much to him as it probably does today. His real greatness though – as can be seen retroactively – lay in his phenomenal running speed. It was something that only someone else could see though.
In fact, this is a great lesson in life. Each of us possesses tremendous talents in a variety of areas. We are also surrounded by a variety of other people who are constantly taking part in our lives (teachers?) This should not surprise us, as likewise, we too take part in the lives of countless others, each and every day. Our task is to be able to excel in life – to become who we really are. We can all be comedians at some time in our life, cricket players, football players, miniature-golf players too… but these may not be the talents we are most set up to excel in. Parents may think we're terrific miniature-golf players, but will this be best for us when we're trying to become the great people we are – in those areas we are greatest in?
Usain Bolt is not Mr Lightning Bolt for nothing. His name reveals far more about life than his speed. Light, shining from a large source – such as the sun – goes everywhere. It is able to warm the world in general and bring happiness to many. But when that same light is focused (correctly!) into a thin laser beam, with all of it's power in one line, it becomes a most powerful weapon to burn through material it could never have dreamt of had it been stuck in the sun! Usain's lesson for us all is the power of that laser beam. The power of being focused – "on track!"
But it doesn't come of it's own. It comes through the motivation and encouragement of everyone around us. When those around us see in us our true potential and support us – even when all we seem to be doing all day is just "running around", then we are able to become someone truly great in the world! Truly great – in whatever area we are best suited to.
While this is an important lesson for each of us to know regarding how others should interact with us so that we can become great, we can take it into ourselves – to see the greatness that lies in others. Everyone has a laser beam just bursting to shine its light into something, to make something in this world even greater and better! But being young, immature, and perhaps not knowledgeable enough, we might not be able to express ourselves correctly. What's needed is for someone else to come around and point it out to us. Not to just point it out, but to make it happen. Our job then is to see this bursting light in others, and to bring it out into the forefront.
Most of the worlds greatest of the great have become what they did because they had a teacher behind them, coaching them along the way. This person may have been greater, but very often was not. He was just someone who could see the greatness of the other, to help him draw out of himself what was resting their all along.
Our job is to be prepared to be the "coach" for every other single person in this world, whenever they need it – to make them realise their greatness, and to help them along until they reach it. And even when it seems that we know better than they what is good for them, our job is to still see the greatness and talent that *they* have – and to support them in that. Once the support is given in the direction most suited for the individual, he will shine outwards – not with the power of the sun, but with the power of a laser beam. Through this, the awesome warmth that will be created in the world will far outshine the sun. From the rays of light floating everywhere, there will be focused light everywhere, with not just those "closest to the sun" enjoying it's warmth, but rather every single person will gain from every other – each contributing what they are best at, and ultimately lighting up the entire world with goodness and kindness.
It can take a Bolt of Lightning to teach us this lesson. It can take a flash of light. It can take the sensitivity of another to simply be there for another, encouraging, supporting and helping them to grow and become the great person that they really are.
Not for nothing did the wisest of all men – King Solomon state – "Teach a child according to his way. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
THE MOST POWERFUL SOURCE OF BLESSING
Being involved in outreach and a variety of Torah projects, we are asked for assistance in many areas. To such a degree, one would think that those writing to us think of us as nothing less than magicians and Rebbes – each of which will be discussed briefly later in this article.
Imagine the scene for a moment – an easy one, which we can all relate to. The news is in: The market has crashed, and there's no money left. Or perhaps a Shidduch fell through. Or perhaps there is some hopelessness in the family in general. What do we do?! Life is filled with tests on a daily basis. Not just daily – but hourly and every single minute as well. We are in this world to be involved in some sort of major rectification and test for our entire lives. Throughout our lives each of us will experience the ups and downs of so many factors, that ultimately we get to "enjoy" the full gamut of what life truly has to offer. Some seem to receive more. Others seem to have it harder. But what do we do when we've simply had it with everything and no hope seems to be on the horizon?
At this point in time, many people begin to panic about what to do. Some turn to magicians, "psychics" and fortune tellers in the hope that they will restore our trust in a bright future! Others believe that the "Kabbalists" have all the answers. Some feel that anybody who is more religious than they, have some sort of mystical unique connection to the Creator of the world and can make things happen better and faster – if only they will recite their name in prayer.
Granted, the Jewish people are blessed with Tzaddikim – righteous individuals whose entire lives are dedicated to G-d – every single moment of the day and night. Indeed, in almost every situation, their word literally has an effect in the world and can turn everything upside down in a second! But these are unique people, who most of us never really get in touch with. So instead we feel that there must be someone else who can answer our difficulties for us.
Sadly, we give up on the "Ikkar" – the Main (sic) thing, for the "Tafel" – the second best. Imagine being frustrated with a purchase you're about to make or have just made at a large chain-store. You see someone packing the shelves and immediately approach him with your problems. "There's no price on here," – you tell him. Or perhaps, "This product is damaged," you say. Or maybe, "I bought this product and it exploded in the home when I opened it," you tell him. He looks at you… You begin shouting, raving and ranting that things should be different and you expect better service, better products and a better price. It doesn't take a genius to realise such a customer will get nowhere.
If the customer is smarter, he might think to take his problem to the main teller and explain the problem to them. Of course, in all likelihood, he'll be met with a blank stare! He could look around and see some sort of central manager area and take his problem there. Realistically he'd probably get involved in a really good discussion with them, though it may not meet with a positive solution. He could take his problem to the financial manager of the store, the marketing manager, the product manager, the operations manager, the human resource manager – or just about any other manager, in the hope of sorting out his problem… but it may be that even this will not help.
One who wants to make sure that his problem really gets addressed should take his issue right to the top. He needs to speak with the very owner of the store. After all, it's HIS store. He knows what type of products should be in it. He knows the type of people working there. And if he's committed to making sure things run smoothly and wants to keep in business, he knows what the prices of everything are. Should anything be reported incorrect, he'll be the guy to get things changed – and fast!
When it comes to our own difficulties, we must attune ourselves regularly to behave in the same way. Of course, the "managers" (the students of Torah) and administrators (Rabbis, Rebbis, Tzaddikim etc.) of the "store" can often work wonders. But then, keep in mind, they're really doing nothing more in life than the exact same thing that every other Jew is obligated to do.
We have a Torah filled with 613 Mitzvot to perform. Whether we were born into a religious family or not. Whether we were born and brought up our entire lives with every value opposite to the Torah – or not. Each of us is equally responsible for every commandment in the Torah. From how we eat (kosher), to how we conduct our business. From how we rest one day of the week (Shabbat) to respecting the laws of Family Purity (Niddah). From not charging another Jew interest, to honouring and respecting them. From honouring our parents, to giving a loan or charity to a Jew in need (without the barest resemblance of causing embarrassment!) We are given the opportunity to truly do what the King wants from us – every single second of the day.
Our duty is to focus on what we are required to do – by G-d Himself. Though we can always try to take short cuts by asking those who may be working harder on themselves to do the hard work for us, we must realise that at the end of the day, what's most important for each of us is to examine realistically where we stand in terms of doing the right thing – under the kingship of G-d Almighty.
What good would it do to ask the shelf-packer to speak to the manager of the store on our behalf regarding receiving a discount on a product, when just two days before we were caught stealing from the managers own store – by the manager himself?!
Yet we try to achieve our same goal in this world by miraculously hiding G-d away from us, and then asking others to intercede with Him on our behalf. Those connecting with "psychics", witchcraft and hoping for hocus-pocus blessing to descend directly from the King Himself, while ignoring His own requests to improve their behaviour and deeds, is not much different than the thief who asks the shelf-packer to convince the manager to give us discounts on our goods (shortly after having been caught!)
Where does blessing come from? It comes from G-d Himself. What does He require from us? To fear Him and to do His commandments. If we're still not up to par (or just having a hard time getting there!) and there's something blocking the channel for blessing, it is certainly high time to ask those greater than ourselves to help us, to daven at the graves of the Tzaddikim (if they have left this world) or to ask in person if we can find these giants of the Jewish people.
Every Jew – no matter who he is – is considered in G-d's eyes to be as an only child born to elderly parents in their old age – says the Baal Shem Tov. If so, we are certainly all equal – and equally as great! If so, it is our duty to call upon Him ourselves to begin with, imploring with every possible excuse we can come up – why we are deserving of nothing less than the best! Are we praying three times a day?! Are we spending some time alone with G-d speaking out our difficulties – every single day?! We are to implore for the very best for ourselves – and for our friends in need. When these steps are in place, we should feel the need to move a step closer – to do even more, by making certain that we connect with those who are indeed far greater than us, asking them to daven for us and to intercede Above so that blessing should flow down even faster.
But, it takes that first step to realising that our main duty to elicit blessing from above is already clearly laid out for us. It begins with Modeh Ani in the morning. An acknowledgement that G-d is here with each of us every single second of the day. And in every move that we make, every word we speak, and every thought we think – we are to connect ourselves with nothing less than becoming servants to G-d, so that our every being becomes a vessel for G-d's light to shine in, ultimately delivering the blessing to the right address.
Are you ready for the challenge? Or are you looking for the quick fix? Are you in need of blessing in your life?! We all are! That real blessing can come and certainly will (at some point in time!) when we connect ourselves to Torah as we should – when we connect ourselves to our fellow Jews as we should. When there is unity between ourselves and unity with G-d, and all the parts of the "machine" are oiled and lubricated as they should be… then the blessing we need, will certainly flow.
The most powerful blessing available – the one each of us is looking for, is found in nothing less than our holy Torah. Through observing her Mitzvot and through learning her ways, every person is able to clearly grasp the truth of blessing. You're welcome to try the hocus-pocus – because you have free choice – though it's clearly forbidden by the Torah. Real, truthful and everlasting blessing comes through no other source than the Torah herself.
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
LEARNING FROM A BOLT OF LIGHTNING
THE VALUE OF 1/100th OF A SECOND
This past week saw a truly amazing world record being made. Not for nothing is the man who made it known as "Lightning Bolt". Usain Bolt – a Jamaican athlete ran the 100 metre sprint in less than 10 seconds – 9.58 to be exact! For those wondering just how fast this is, take a 1 Metre ruler, and lay it out 10 times. Look at the distance, and then consider traversing this distance in… less than 1 second! Perhaps only the speed of a lightning bolt can make it.
Man is a wonder. While one person can barely manage to get out of bed in the morning spending hours on end making themselves up in preparation for the day, another can move so fast that even to imagine the rate as feasible within the imagination of the mind, is a difficult task to consider!
But what can we learn from this? Torah and life are not simply about getting from A to B as fast as one can. And a simple run of 100 metres accomplishes very little in life. It accomplishes no good for anyone in the world at all! There is no act of kindness, and neither the runner nor anybody watching him gain much to change the world into a better place. In fact, were the average person to sprint 100 metres and tell all his friends about it, it is highly unlikely anyone would praise him for it (let alone be interested in his "daily activities.") Were he to do this all day, he probably wouldn't receive much more of a compliment than something like "Why don't you do something constructive with your day, instead of just running nowhere and expecting praise for it?!"
I have no doubt than Mr. Lightning Bolt would tell us nothing less than the fact that every second counts. But he's the best of the best. And when it comes to the best of the best, it's not every second that counts… but every tenth of a second. In fact, every hundredth of a second is worth something. Bolt's second competitor came in at just 9.71 seconds, just one thirteenth of a second slower than he did – and for that lost all the honour due to any normal person capable of running at such a lightning speed!
Indeed, we are given a certain amount of time every day, every week, every month, and every year of our lives – right up until our last millisecond of life. Every moment is precious. Every moment must be guarded. Achievement must be made every hundredth of a second. The "race" is on. We could choose to be the tortoise if we wish to – though still make it through the finish line, or we could even choose to be the second best. But real honour is accorded only to one so dedicated to what he has to do, that nothing else interests him than his achieving the goal he needs to. To him, there are no second places. There is a goal that must be achieved as fast as possible.
There is no opportunity to look around and see who else is in the race. The slightest turn-around to see who's following us, may well lose us the entire race. Do we really care what the Jones' have? Imagine Mr. Bolt regularly turning around during his sprint to check up on his competitor? He does a quick scan to check out the competitors shoes… "My, what expensive shoes he managed to purchase for this race," he thinks to himself! "What a pity I could not afford *that* pair." And then he looks at his shirt… his pants… even his hair cut – just to check if he managed to get a better one than he has! As he runs, he gives a quick glance over his shoulder to see if maybe – by luck – his competitor has fallen! (What a help and a win this would be for him!) Or alternatively he looks around at all the spectators cheering him on, as he waves to them all, pointing to his $10 000 sneakers that he recently bought… brand new, never been used!
Let's imagine Mr Bolt regularly checking in with the referee just to see that he's watching to see that everyone else is behaving as they should. Or perhaps making sure that everyone else is keeping to their lane. Let's imagine Mr Bolt staring at the bodies of all the other athletes, thinking to himself how lucky some are to be taller than 6 foot 5 inches… who weigh a little more than he does (or less!) – and who seem to have worked out better during the year. Imagine Mr Bolt deciding – 5 seconds into the race – that he'd like to let his competitors in on some "tasty" nuggets of news of the happenings of others? Just 5 seconds into the race, he turns to his competitor to share the juicy news of what happened to so-and-so, his failures, his arrogance, his….
Of course, all these points are ludicrous. But then this is what makes Mr. Bolt the hero! He values his time. He knows that what counts is *his* achievement. He's not really interested at all whether the other competitors did manage to purchase more expensive shoes than he did – or whether the referee is watching closely to see that everyone is keeping to the rules of the race! In fact, he takes all these things for granted. He must… because he wants to win!
He knows one thing – he's got to get the finish line as fast as he can. He doesn't care whether the audience watching are cheering him on personally – or whether they're just shouting for joy. His mind is made up. He sees a goal – one that he is ready for having trained himself and prepared well in advance. He's got his act together and about to win – no matter what.
Instead of bickering about travelling 100 metres in a hurry, he realises that this is the goal. He must get there. What others do – and the time it takes them, is of no interest to him. He must do what he must – and they must do what they must.
When it comes to our lives, it's not surprising, but the same laws of the "race" apply. We too have our own personal goals. We must be the best we can to achieve them, realising that every single millisecond counts. Every single millisecond will make the difference in making us win this race, or marginally coming in to second place. We can look around us and hope that everyone is cheering us on – but it will probably distract us from our main goal. We can check out what everyone else is wearing, what everyone else is driving, and what everyone else owns in general, but we should well realise that it will only aid in allowing the more focused amongst us to get far ahead of ourselves. Hoping that the competitor has fallen (YAY!) and looking around, won't in fact help us one bit! On the contrary while we think out our negative thoughts about others and keep looking around hoping and praying they'll be fulfilled, we're doing nothing more than slowing ourselves down. What a waste!
When we're finished our goal, having attained our own world records, we too will be able to jump up and down for joy as the crowds see our achievements. Indeed, the crowd will still be there cheering us on – but now finally, we'll be able to enjoy the respect we've earned. We can then even look back to see what everyone else has/had (but will we actually care?!) We can be proud at having made the right decisions for what we wanted to accomplish. BOOM! We can be like lightning, focused on our goal, aiming for it, shooting for it, and achieving it, only to receive the most amazing rewards for having attained it.
Alternatively we can check out everyone else, quarrel with the "Referee", complain about everyone else's good things – all of course while running the "race". We're welcome to, because this is what free choice is all about. It would be quite wise to remember though, that while we may do this, we may find ourselves – even if just milliseconds in second place – having actually lost the race we so much wanted to win!
I recall a poem I read many years ago, though do not recall the author (if the author was known). It's something we can all appreciate and take with us throughout our lives, appreciating every moment we have:
Tiny drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty oceans
And the great big land.
So the tiny minutes
Humble though they be
Make the mighty oceans