12- The Tortoise or the Hare
In this episode we continue our discussion about effort.
Hello, my friends, I'm Menachem lehrfield and this is 0%. We've been talking about the importance of effort and how from God's eyes all that truly matters is how much we've moved our needle. It doesn't matter necessarily how far we get, what matters is how much do we move from where we started to where we are right now. You may look at two people, one who does so many good things and is so charitable and philanthropic and kind and giving and another that we would look at and say, that's a bad person. But without knowing where somebody started and where they are right now, there's no way to truly know which one is a better person. The person who moved their needle the furthest, the person that grew the most in their lifetime is the one who's a better person. Now, this is a hard concept for us to wrap our head around because we don't really work in an effort based system. We live in a very result based system.
If I hire you to paint my house and I come back at the end of the day and the house isn't painted, I'm not going to pay you a dime because you didn't do your job. I don't care how much you tried. I don't care how much you wanted to paint the house. If you didn't do it, you don't get paid. We live in a very result based system. All we really care about, all we focus on is the result, but from God's perspective, he doesn't need the result. The outcome, as we said is always outside of our control. And so the result is never the focus. The focus is always on the effort. That is what I bring to the table. Jewish wisdom teaches us “L'fum tzara agra" based on the effort is the reward.
With this concept we can understand an interesting episode. We find Abraham has a nephew named Lot, who he raises as his own son and takes care of him and provides for him and eventually for whatever reason they part ways and Lot goes off to live in the city of Sodom and eventually the city is so corrupt that God decides he's going to destroy the whole city and Abraham pleads on behalf of the city. He goes back and forth. It's what Alan [inaudible] calls the first example of a Jewish lawyer and he actually says that perhaps that's why so many Jews have gone into law because it's kind of part of our DNA going all the way back to Abraham. But in any event, Abraham fights on behalf of the city of Sodom unsuccessfully but he does get permission to save Lot and the angels go to the city. They save Lot's life and what's interesting is the reason that's given for why Lot is saved.
Rashi who's our classic commentator and I call him our classic commentator because he wrote on almost everything. Rashi who is Shlomo Yitzhaki is a medieval rabbi born in the 1040s I believe, wrote commentary on the books of the Torah [inaudible] the entire collection of biblical books he wrote on the Talmud. Rashi's job was always to help us understand the words that are in front of us. Rashi's job is to provide context and understanding in the words, as we see them in these classic sources. So when the Torah describes Lot being saved from the city of Sodom's destruction, Rashi explains why he was saved and Rashi explains the reason why Lot is from Sodom and Gomorrah is because of his behavior in a previous episode.
There was a famine in the land and Abraham and Sarah and Lot were escaping to Egypt to get some food. Now in ancient Egypt, they had some pretty messed up priorities. So they had no problem killing somebody, but for whatever reason, they were very strict in adultery. They would never ever take another person's wife. But if they really wanted to, they had a great solution. They would make the woman into a widow that do it yourself way, which reminds me. I had a teacher who was once a chaplain in a jail. He was meeting with the prisoners and he met with one prisoner and he said to him, so what are you in for? And this big muscular man leans over the desk and says, I became a widower, the do it yourself way. So back to Egypt, if people would come to Egypt and there was a woman who they wanted, they would kill her husband as a way of taking her, again messed up priorities.
Now Abraham knew this. He knew that the second he gets into Egypt, because Sarah is so beautiful that she's going to be taken, but not only is she going to be taken, they're going to kill him first and then they're going to take her. And so he tells Sarah, when we go into Egypt, just tell them that you're my sister. God is going to protect you. Nothing's going to happen to you. You'll be just fine. But if we don't do this, they're going to kill me and they're still going to take you. So that's their plan. And they come into Egypt. As they're coming in, Sarah says that she's Abraham's sister.
Now Lot is watching all of this and Lot could have easily ratted out his uncle. He could have said, they're lying. Sarah is not Abraham's sister Sarah is Abraham's wife. And in the merit of the fact that Lot didn't rat out his uncle, who again, raised him as his own son who took care of him and provided for him and was taking him on this journey to get food so they didn't starve to death. But in that merit, the fact that he didn't rat out his uncle, which again, would've been a horrific, terrible thing for him to have done, he merits to have his life saved, even though he doesn't really deserve it in the land of Sodom.
But why, why was that a reason for him to be saved as Chris Rock would say, what do you want, a cookie, you're supposed to do that? If he would've ratted out his uncle, that would've been the lowest, most despicable thing he could have done. And yet with that action, he gets rewarded with life itself. What makes this even more puzzling is that leading up to this destruction of the city of Sodom, Lot risks his life to take care of the angels. He doesn't know that they're angels. They come knocking on the door in need of hospitality. And in the city of Sodom offering hospitality was a capital offense. In the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, you are not allowed to offer any hospitality to strangers. If you did, they would come in and kill you. And Lot despite having his life threatened takes in these people. They're angels, but he thinks that they're people, he takes them in, he provides them a place to sleep, he gives them food. He does all of these things and risks his life to do so.
If anything, I would think that should be the merit with which he is saved. Why the episode earlier with Abraham and Sarah, I have two things, two episodes where Lot does something that's good and right. I would think the thing that causes him to be saved was the one where he risked his life and he did so much more than the passive act of not ratting out his uncle, which would've been a terrible thing to do. So why do our sages tell us that it was the episode with Abraham and Sarah that deserves this reward?
We said, Lot grew up in the house of Abraham. Abraham was the pillar, the epitome of kindness and hospitality. We know that Abraham and Sarah's tent was open in all sides. When a young couple gets married, they get married under [inaudible] and the [inaudible] is open on four sides, like the tent of Abraham and Sarah, because just as their home was open to everyone and their primary goal and their primary focus was taking care of people in need. So too, we hope that every Jewish couple, as they get married will have a home like Abraham and Sarah, have a home that is open and they too will be hospitable and look out for the needs of everybody else. Lot grew up in that kind of home. For Lot providing hospitality was second nature. And yes, his life was being threatened because of what he was doing. But what he was doing was something that was normal for him. It was something that was automatic.
When Abraham and Sarah came to Egypt, had he ratted out his uncle, he could have potentially gained financially. And for Lot who was a greedy person who valued and loved money, as we see from many episodes in Lot's life. For Lot to not say anything took so much tremendous effort, it took effort to keep his mouth shut as the dollar bills were rolling in his eyeballs. And therefore he's rewarded for that. On Friday night, there's a custom to give your children a blessing. And the blessing we give our boys, our sons, as we say, "Yesimcha Elohim k’Ephraim v’chi-Menashe". We say may God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph and the biblical verse in Genesis tells us why. The reason why we ask that God make our sons like Manasseh and Ephraim is because they are like Reuben and Simeon their uncles, meaning to say that even though Manasseh and Ephraim were one generation lower, they were the sons of Joseph.
They had the stature of the sons of Jacob, the stature of the heads of the tribes of the Jewish people and they were on the same level as Reuben and Simeon, Levi and [inaudible] Judah, the sons of Jacob. Now that might be makes sense until you actually think about it. If the reason why we want our sons to be like Ephraim and Manasseh is because they were like Reuben and Simeon, they were like the sons of Jacob. Then why don't we just say on Friday nights, God, please make our sons like Reuben and Simeon. I would think that being like Reuben and Simeon is better than being like someone who was like Reuben and Simeon. So why not just say "Yesimcha Elohim k’Reuben v’Simeon", make our sons like Reuben and Simeon.
But the answer is that Reuben and Simeon were born as sons of Jacob. They were born at that level whereas Manasseh and Ephraim had to work to achieve that level. Yes, they became like the [inaudible] and they became like the tribes of Israel, like the sons of Jacob, but they weren't born there. They worked for it. The Imrei Emes Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter who was one of the Hasidic masters would tell the tale of a gentleman who spent his entire life preparing for this very difficult Trek to the top of one of the tallest mountains in the land and after years of preparing and getting himself ready, he takes this very difficult journey up to the top of the mountain. And it takes him weeks and weeks and so much difficult effort and strenuous circumstances and he finally makes it up to the top of the mountain.
And as he's summiting the mountain, he looks around, he sees this young boy, maybe two, three, four years old and he looks at this young child and says, how on earth did you make it to the top of this mountain? Do you know how hard it was to get here? And yet a little child climbed this mountain and the young boy looked at this man and said, I didn't climb this mountain. I was born here. And Judaism, our hero is not the person born at the top of the mountain. It's not the person who we look at and we admire and say, wow, look how great this person is, how smart they are, how charismatic, how successful, how wealthy, even how good or philanthropic. In Judaism our hero is the person who worked hard to climb that mountain, the person who moved their needle, because we see effort not as something that is dirty or negative, effort is the key to mastery to someone with a fixed mindset.
Effort is really for people who can do it. If you can do it anyway, so then you have nothing to lose by trying, whereas somebody with a growth mindset understands that effort is the only thing that matters. Effort is the only thing that will achieve greatness, because if I didn't work hard for it, it was not a success. Carol Dweck talks about the story of the tortoise and the hare, this story we like to tell our children. She says in trying to put forward the power of effort, it actually gave effort a bad name. It reinforced the image that effort is for the plotters and suggested that in rare instances, when talented people dropped the ball, the platter could sneak through. [inaudible] the saggy baggy elephant, the scruffy tugboat, they were cute. They were often overmatched and we were happy for them when they succeeded.
The message was, if you're unfortunate enough to be the runt of the litter, if you lack endowment, you don't have to be an utter failure. You can be a sweet, adorable little slogger and maybe if you really work hard at it and withstand all the scornful, onlookers even a success to which Carol Dweck says, thank you very much. I'll take the endowment. The problem was that these stories made into an either/or, either you have ability or you expend effort. These stories that meant to teach us about how important it is to put an effort did exactly the opposite.
Nobody wants to be the tortoise when you can be the hare, but in Judaism our heroes are not the people who were born brilliant and charismatic and powerful and strong. Our heroes the people we want our children to be like are Manasseh and Ephraim, people who worked to become the people that they were. We tell the story of the greatest sage who ever lived Rabbi Akiva to the extent that Moses prophetically saw that there was going to be a Rabbi Akiva and he said to the almighty, why are you giving the Torah through me? Give it through this man, Akiva, who was he? Who was this person who we look at as one of greatest Jewish heroes of all time?
He was a man who at the age of 40 was completely ignorant and illiterate. He could barely read. That's the person that we look up to because at the age of 40, he set out on a mission to educate himself, to become knowledgeable and he worked and worked and worked until he became the greatest sage who ever lived, the sage so great that Moses looked at him and said, that's the man you should be giving the Torah through.
In Judaism, the hero is the tortoise. You look at the great sages we have today and many of them were born brilliant and very smart, but not all of them and the genius in the brains is not considered a compliment. When we look for people to admire the stories we tell our children at night are not the stories of the tortoises and the hare, not the stories of the poor person who tried so hard and finally made it when the other person wasn't paying attention.
We tell our children that they can be like Rabbi Akiva that no matter what their God given abilities are, they can grow. They can change. They can work hard and through diligent effort, they can become better, stronger, smarter, greater. It's the stories of effort that truly count. Perhaps the greatest man I ever met was Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, he was one of the leading sages of our generation. And if you looked at him towards the end of his life, and you saw this great sage, you would think he was born in Jerusalem and he's been studying Talmud 18 hours a day since he was a young child of three or four years old, but that's not his story. He grew up as an American kid in Chicago.
He was captain of his basketball team and through diligent work and effort, he became one of the greatest sages of life, not just in his ability to study and teach Torah and Talmud, but in the perfection of himself as a human being. At the end of his life, he had Parkinson's disease, but he refused to take the medication because it would alter and affect his mind and a group of friends and I had the enormous privilege to have a small meeting with him once a week and more often than not, he would be laying down on his couch, writhing in pain, shaking like a leaf, but there would be a smile on his face, because he had worked to become like an angel. That's our hero. Effort is a key to mastering, not a sign of weakness. Join us next week, subscribe and share with your friends.