top of page

8 - Not My Circus Not My Monkeys

In this episode, we continue the conversation "Enjoy the Journey" and discuss facing challenges, and the outcomes that come from those challenges.


Hey everybody, I'm Menachem Iehrfield. Welcome to Zero Percent. In this episode, we continue our discussion about enjoying the journey, so make sure you listen to part one of this, which is the previous episode. I want to start our conversation today by exploring the Hebrew word, nissayon, which means an ordeal. The root of the word is nes, N-E-S, or [foreign language 00:00:34] in Hebrew, which means a miracle. When we find a Hebrew root of a word, that means that there must be a connection between the word and its root. What is the connection between a nissayon, an ordeal, and nes, a miracle?
When we're challenged with something, all right? When I look at a challenge, I'm looking at an obstacle, something that I didn't necessarily choose. When God challenges us, why does he challenge us? Why does he test us? I test a student because I want to know whether or not they know the information, whether they can pass. If God is all-knowing, then he knows whether or not we can pass the test, so why would he challenge us and give us a test? Either I can pass it or I can't. If I can't pass it, it would seem cruel, and if I could pass it, it would seem pointless.
There was a mother who was trying to encourage her young child to play the piano and she took him to see the great Paderewski. They get to the concert hall, and before the show starts she sees a friend she hadn't seen in quite some time. So she goes over and the two women begin talking. While they're talking, the lights go down and it's time for the show to start. So everyone goes back to their seats, and the woman looks down and her son has gone. She's panic-stricken. She has this pit in her stomach of fear. Where is her little boy? And that pit in her stomach, that fear, very, very quickly turns into embarrassment, because she sees her child and he is on the stage. She is mortified. I mean, she wants to dig a hole in the ground and jump right in. So the spotlight is on this boy as he walks right to the grand piano, and he sits down at the bench and he begins pounding on the keys.
Meanwhile, Paderewski walks out. Everyone is just sitting there in silence, trying to see what is this great pianist going to say. What is he going to do? He walks over to the boy, he puts his left hand to the left, his right hand to the right, and he whispers in the boy's ear. He says, "Don't stop playing." He begins to play all around the boy and the people there said they heard the most magical music that night. He transformed that boy's noise into music.
In life, we're that little boy sitting at the piano, and we bang at the keys and we make lots of noise. Ultimately, God takes that noise and he whispers in our ear, "Don't stop playing." What he does is he transforms that noise into magical music. That is the process of an ordeal. When somebody is truly being challenged, not something that's difficult, not something that's uncomfortable, because if we haven't figured this out at this point, life is not supposed to be comfortable and it's not supposed to be easy. That's not what we're talking about. I'm talking about a real challenge, a real ordeal, a nissayon. To really be a nissayon, means that at that moment you truly can not pass the test. And that's where the miracle lies.
And when you talk to somebody that's going through a real challenge, they'll tell you, especially when they're on the other end, they'll tell you, "At that time I do not know how I made it through, and if you would've asked me then, I would tell you, I can't make it through, I can't do it, I can't get through this, I literally can't." And the truth is you can't. But that is a nissayon, that is what it means to have a real ordeal. An ordeal is something that you need to try your hardest at that moment, and you jump and God takes you to the other side. He says, "You on your own could've done up until here. I'll take you the last five feet. I'll take you to the other side." The amazing thing, and the miraculous thing is not just that he helps you accomplish it and you get to the other side, but now this is something that you can do. Now this is something under your tool belt, and the next time you have a similar challenge, you can do it.
My point is that one of the reasons why it's so crucial to focus on the journey and to enjoy the process, is that the outcome is always out of our hands. Judaism teaches us that the outcome, literally, is always out of our hands. We can do everything we can. There's an expression, man plans, God laughs. You can make all the plans, and you should make all the plans, and you should have goals and they should be realistic goals that you set and you're trying to accomplish. But ultimately, the only thing you can do is put in the effort. You can almost never control the outcome of a situation. You can always control your response, you can always control your reaction, but you can't control the outcome.
There's an expression we use in my house where we say, "I'm doing the best I can with the tools that I have." My wife once said that when my kids were really young, and I don't remember what the situation was, but she looks at my two children. It was probably my then five-year-old and the four-year-old, and she says, "Come on kids, mommy's doing the best I can with the tools that I have." And Ozzie turns to his younger sister and says, "She doesn't have any tools." All we can do is the best we can with the tools that we have. And ultimately whether or not it succeeds is out of our control. [foreign language 00:06:11] said, "If someone tells you I tried and I did not find, don't believe him. I didn't try and I found, don't believe him. If he says I tried and I found, believe him." [foreign language 00:06:21] doesn't say that if someone says that I tried and I succeeded. What does he say? He says, "[foreign language 00:06:29], I toiled, I worked [foreign language 00:06:31] and I found."
When you find something, that's something that happens accidentally. It something that happens for you, it's a gift. It's not something that you work towards. You don't work to find something. You might work to look for something you lost. But when you find something, [inaudible 00:06:44] is something you find in the street that you weren't expecting that's owner less. You don't expect to find that. That's not something you work towards, it's something that just happened. So even when I work hard, the outcome is the [foreign language 00:06:56] telling us [foreign language 00:06:57], it's something I found. It's a gift, because that is ultimately outside of my control.
I have a friend of mine, Mendel Boxer, who has an expression that I absolutely love and I've begun trying to make this my mantra for life. He says, "Not my circus, not my monkeys. I would so love to help you with whatever it is that you're asking me for right now, but right now that is not something that I am able to be in control of. I'm so sorry. It's just out of my control." And being able to accept that that is not in my wheelbarrow right now is something that's so freeing.
That expression is generally used to mean that's just not in my department right now, or not in my department ever. But, if you think about it, the outcome is always out of our control. What if the same way, if someone came to you with some sort of project or problem that needed solving, but it's just not in an area of your expertise or not something that you can deal with right now. And, the same way in those instances, I can say, "You know what? I'm so sorry, but that really belongs in the accounting department. Can you please go speak with them?"
What if we were able to look at the outcome of every situation in that same way? I'm required to put in my effort, I'm required to do my utmost at every moment to try and bring this thing to fruition, but after that, I'm done. I'm like the boy sitting at the piano, I'm pounding on those keys, I'm putting in my effort, but I can say to the almighty, "Now it's up to you to transform that noise into music. Now it's up to you to take my effort, and whatever is meant to happen will happen." It's no longer in my control. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
This attitude can allow us to let go of so much stress, so much of that questioning of, "Well, what if, and what if, and have I done everything I can?" Yes. So now the worry doesn't accomplish anything. I can focus on the journey, I can focus on the process and the end product is out of my control.
We spoke last time about the beauty of the growth mindset and how somebody who's focused on the journey is able to try all kinds of things that they wouldn't try otherwise. And the reason is, that if I truly believe that the outcome is in my hand, it's in my control, if I am only outcome oriented then if I don't succeed in exactly the way I planned, exactly the way I wanted to, then the whole thing was a waste. When I begin to focus on the journey, when I acknowledge that the outcome is anyway completely out of my hands, so then all I can do is try. All I can do is put in the effort. And if I choose to see the journey as the most important part of this process, if I choose to enjoy the journey, if I choose to grow and learn from the journey, so then no matter what happens, I have that. I control the things that I can truly control. I become, in the words of Seinfeld, master of my own domain.
Why spend our lives trying to control all of the things that we were never able to control anyway, and get stressed about what's going to happen, and how it's going to happen. Or think about, "Am I going to be good at it? Am I not going to be good at it? What are the people going to say about how good I am or not good I am?" It doesn't matter. Right now, I enjoy what I'm doing. Right now, I'm growing from the process of whatever it is that I'm going through. Why are we constantly sacrificing the present for the future that we don't know and that we can't control?
When the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai, the verse says that they stood under the mountain. And many translators want to explain it to me in that they stood at the foot of the mountain, like a poetic expression. But it's not what the words say. The words literally translate as, the Jewish people stood under the mountain. And the [foreign language 00:11:41] says, the reason why it gives that expression, is that God held a mountain over their heads and said, "If you accept the Torah, great. If not, [foreign language 00:11:53]. There will be your burial place." Now, this whole thing obviously needs to be explained, it's really difficult to understand. Here the Jewish people had already accepted the Torah, and God is threatening them, so to speak, and saying, "If you don't accept the Torah, this is going to be the end."
It's like you're going to a business deal and they already agreed to all the terms and conditions, then you pull out a gun and say, "If you don't sign the contract, I'm going to shoo..." "I already agreed to all the terms, I already said I would sign. Why are you threatening me?" Great questions, maybe we'll deal with them at a different time. What I want to focus on is the terminology that's used, the words that are used. It should have said, "If you accept the Torah, good. If not, [foreign language 00:12:44]. Here will be your burial place." Why does it say, "[foreign language 00:12:49], there will be your burial place"?
The Almighty is not threatening the Jewish people. Like we said, they already agree to accept the Torah. What Hashem is telling them is, "As long as you live in the shum, as long as you live over there, as long as you are constantly focused on the next step, and the next step, and the next step, without ever being present to enjoy this moment, then that will be your end. That's where you will be. If you choose to be over there in the shum then that is exactly where you will be." If I experience life through the camera of my cell phone instead of the eyes that God gave me, if my thought and the process that's going through my mind as I'm experiencing life and watching my children grow up is, how can I share it, and who's going to like it, and what are they going to think, and what are they going to say? And the outcome, and the next step, and the next, then that's not living, that's not life. [foreign language 00:13:56], that is where you're going to be buried. Because you're going to fast forward your life, and you're going to wake up and it's going to be over.
What was that movie with Adam Sandler? Click, I think it's called. Where he gets this magical remote control that he can fast-forward parts of life. If you have that remote control and you're constantly fast-forwarding, you fast forward everything. You'll always want to get to that end point, that end result. But instead, we have the ability to cherish the now, to live in the now. If you think about it, the past is gone, it doesn't exist anymore and the future is not here yet. All we have is the present. Yes, we need to plan for the future, and yes, we need to learn from the past. But where do we live? We live in the present. We live in the journey.
The most well known song from the Haggadah, that we read on Pesach, Passover night, is the song of Dayenu. And in it we go through all the different things that the Almighty did for us and we express our gratitude for each one. But the words alone don't really make a lot of sense. Had he split the sea for us but not let us through on dry land it would have been enough. No, it wouldn't have. Imagine the movie. This is the scene. The entire movie has been building to this one point. The music is reaching a crescendo. The Jewish people have nowhere to go, they are trapped. The Egyptians are getting closer, and closer and closer. Their enemies about to attack. The water in front of them, literally nowhere to go, nowhere to escape and all of a sudden, miraculously, the sea splits and they enter on dry land. And then all of a sudden it comes in and they all die. Movie's over. Can you imagine that?
What do you mean, had he split the sea for us but not let us through on dry land, it would have been enough? Had he brought us to Mount Sinai, but not giving us the Torah, it would have been enough. What would be the point of bringing us to Mount Sinai if he didn't give us the Torah? That's literally why we went there. The point is that Dayenu is not some sort of intellectual construct. It's an expression of gratitude. We're thanking the Almighty for all that he did. But it's not enough to thank him for saving us and bringing us to the land of Israel. So often we forget about the moments in between. We don't relish and appreciate what we have right now, because we're thinking about the next step. So when we sing a song of gratitude, we sing the Dayenu. We can't just talk about the end. We talk about the journey. We talk about every step of the process because we want to remind ourselves how important it is to appreciate every step of the journey while we're living it. So that's our E, for enjoy the journey.
Join us next time as we continue this journey with our third point, which is that failure is not a permanent condition. If you're enjoying Zero Percent, why not subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode? You can subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. The greatest compliment is a referral. If you enjoy this podcast, please find some other friends you think would enjoy it as well and share it with them. And please don't forget to leave us a five star review so that others can discover this podcast as well.

bottom of page