I think I’m pretty lucky. Thank G-d. I have an amazing husband, an awesome job with a great boss, a nice apartment in the heart of the Chabad world, a supportive family, caring friends… Yet despite all of this, I sometimes get a little voice in the back of my head. A voice that tells me, “things would be even better if…”
“Is engineering REALLY what I’m supposed to be doing with my life?” “I wish I could learn like I did in Seminary… I miss that.” “I would be so much happier if I had more time/money/inspiration in my life.” “It would be so much nicer to just write/speak/travel for a living.”
I recently read a story in one of Dr. Abraham Twerski’s books. It’s a bedtime story, so it takes a little bit of imagination, but it has a great lesson. This is my own little rendition:
Once upon a time, there was a man. This man had a very hard job: He had to cut stones out of a mountain. The stone-cutter went to work every day at the crack of dawn and worked until the sun was setting, chiseling and hammering stones out of a massive mountain so they could be used for building materials. He had been doing this job for years, and was not fond of it. In fact, he had a ritual that every day while he was cutting stones out of the mountain, he would engage himself in dialogue about how awful his job was, how hard he had to work just to put food on the table, how lucky everyone else was with their cushy jobs, and how he wished he was anyone else but a stone-cutter.
One day, while he was in the middle of his traditional monologue about the inadequacies of his profession, he noticed a parade going on around the other side of the mountain. From where he worked, he had a great view of the procession and saw that the king of the land was traveling on a gorgeous white carriage and all the people had gathered around to greet him and shower him with flowers. The stone-cutter stood there watching, jealous of the king and his comforts. He thought to himself, “Oh, what it would be like to be that king! To stand on a carriage and have the adoration of all of the people of the land and be the most powerful person of all… I wish I was that king!”
Little did the stone-cutter know that Someone upstairs was listening and hear his wish. It was his lucky chance to get whatever he wanted and soooo
The stone-cutter suddenly found himself in a horse-drawn carriage. There were people all around showering him with affection and flowers and praises. He was the king! The most powerful man in the land! He smiled graciously at his adoring subjects and waved politely to those he passed by. He had it all! But before long… he realized that he was starting to get uncomfortable. The sun was shining in his face and giving him a headache, and his kingly robes were beginning to get quite hot and itchy from the sun’s beaming rays. The king was so offended! “I’m supposed to be the most powerful in the land, and that little sun can be such an annoyance?! It must be that he is more powerful than I! This is unacceptable! I want to be the sun!”
A gorgeous view of the little tiny earth, a vast open expanse of stars in every direction, nothing as big as he was for light years around… The sun enjoyed every second of existence. He shined his light benevolently on the earth, gracing the creatures there with the sustenance and vitamin D that they needed. He was indeed the most powerful thing in the universe… or at least the solar system. But then… as he was shining his light down on the earth, he noticed a dark patch. A part of the land wasn’t getting his sunlight! It was being blocked! “How could that be?! I’m the most powerful thing of all,” complained the sun. “Somehow this little cloud has discovered how to block my sunlight… It must be that he is more powerful than I! This is unacceptable! I want to be that cloud!”
Soaring high above the earth, the great and mighty cloud did as he pleased. He drenched some places with torrents of water, he covered some places with feet of snow, and best of all, he blocked out the sun. He truly had it all. But then… as he was in the middle of putting on a great lightning display, a strong wind picked up and pushed him away! “How could this be?!” yelled the cloud. “It must be that this wind is mightier than I! This is unacceptable! I want to be the wind!”
Whipping through tunnels, pushing through buildings, traveling the globe… the wind was unstoppable. He went where he wished, stirring things up wherever he blew. And best of all, he pushed little clouds out of the way, interrupting their downpours and snowfalls. He truly had it all. But then… he came to an enormous mountain. This mountain stood fast, he couldn’t move it out of the way. He couldn’t get through it. He couldn’t even reach all the way over it! “This mountain must be mightier than I! This is unacceptable! I want to be this mountain!”
Standing tall and majestic, the mountain could be seen from anywhere in the land. An imposing figure, the mountain was immovable. The sun couldn’t bother it, the clouds couldn’t even reach the top, and the wind didn’t even catch his attention. People had to travel far out of their way because of him and he sculpted the landscape for miles around. He was finally the most powerful of them all. Untouchable. But then…DING!….DING!….DING! “OWWW!” yelled the mountain as a sharp pain rose in his side. He looked down and saw a little man… chiseling chunks of him away! “How could this be?! How could a little man dismember me piece by piece! I’m supposed to be the greatest of all! It must mean that this little man is actually mightier than I! This is unacceptable! I want to be that little man!”
And so he was…
This is not a case of “the grass is always greener, so you might as well stay put.” Rather, wherever we are at a given moment is exactly where we are meant to be to make the most out of that moment. It’s not that we’re supposed to be satisfied with where we are… on the contrary, we should always be pushing ourselves further. But the way to do that isn’t by complaining about the reality that we’re currently in and wishing we were someone else; it’s by using tough times like a springboard to propel us to the next level of personal growth. The stone-cutter finds out that the way for him to be the “most powerful” is to become the best “him” that he can be. The work he does is hard, but it actually makes him stronger…
There’s an idea of “living with the times,” which means finding a practical application for each week’s Torah portion. We’re taught that Torah isn’t just a bunch of stories about things that happened thousands of years ago; Torah is also an applicable lesson that is meant to be used in our lives! And there’s a lesson in this week’s portion that I think ties into this beautifully.
This week’s portion has a LOT of miracles. The escape from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the miracle of the Manna bread that appeared every morning to feed the Jews in the desert, a miraculous victory in the war against Amalek… Yet the name of this week’s Torah portion doesn’t reflect any of those. It’s called “Beshalach,” which not only doesn’t speak of miracles, it’s actually a bit of a degrading statement! It means “when he sent,” alluding to the fact that Pharaoh literally had to throw the Jews out of Egypt!
You’d think that after all the hardships they went through there, they’d RUN at the first chance. But sometimes it’s easier to stay complacent in a hard place rather than seize an opportunity for growth that sits right in front of us. The Jews would have preferred to stay in Egypt and just complain rather than work on themselves and followed G-d’s directives to become the best Jews they could be. It was Pharaoh, the very source of their hardships in the first place, who finally got them moving.
So too in life… Sometimes a hardship is what it takes to get us moving. And sometimes that moving comes reluctantly and with a huge leap of faith. Inevitably the ups come with downs and clarity is sometimes followed by confusion, but those those tough times are meant to be used as springboards for personal growth.
While we may not see Manna outside our door every morning, tapping into the potential of each situation that we find ourselves in draws little miracles down into our own lives. It allows us to be the “mightiest in all the land” in our own way: we start to see the deeper purpose behind the hardships and the opportunity for growth that is hidden in them. We start to realize that by tapping into ourselves we can leave our own personal Egypt. Tough times become opportunities for unlimited growth. Something we never necessarily wanted to do becomes a chance to make ourselves into better people.
Do I want to be an engineer forever? Not necessarily. But for now it’s up to me to find out how to make the most of every moment and use my job to make me the best “me” I can be. It’s about pushing through those late nights at the office to learn how to work hard at the other things that really matter most in life. It’s about using the hours of commuting each day as a chance to work on my spiritual self instead of complaining about the waste of time that the traveling sometimes seems to be. It’s about always looking for new lessons on taking life to the next level. It’s about always finding new ways to leave my own personal Egypt.
Here’s to discovering the springboards in our lives, and realizing that they’re there for the best :)
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