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Don't Let Your Weakness Define You!

11/10/2016 11:50:50 AM


Dear Rabbi,

I am scared. No matter the outcome of the elections, I am still very anxious for our country. We are a hugely divided nation; too many families suffer from financial instability; racism and bigotry seem to be more rampant; and the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

Things seem so messy, that I doubt any president is capable of cleaning things up. How can I find hope for my children's future?

Signed – A bundle of nerves

Dear A bundle of nerves,

Thank you for being so open and sharing your fears. I appreciate how you feel. I want to share with you a spiritual insight into psychology that helps me when I experience feelings similar to yours.

The Jewish mystics teach that each of the twelve months of the Jewish calendar correlate to a particular organ or sense of the human body. During each month, we are called to make a tikkun – to fix any kind of damage to that particular organ or sense.

We are now in the month of Cheshvan, which is connected to the sense of smell. What kind of tikkun is necessary to this sense? After all, we know that in the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve’s grave sin defiled four out of the five human senses. They ‘listened to’ the serpent’s alluring words; the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was a ‘delight to their eyes’; they ‘touched’ it by taking from its fruit; and they ‘tasted’ the fruits. But their sense of smell was never an accomplice to their sin, so why would it need a tikkun?

Moreover, Jewish Tradition is filled with references to the sense of smell and the necessity to harness it in order to achieve atonement and perfection. When G-d commands us to offer sacrifices in the Temple, He describes its purpose as “a smell of satisfaction for Me (Numbers 28:2).” When the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies chamber once a year on Yom Kippur, he would offer ketoret – fragrant incense – in order to beseech G-d to forgive His people. When Korach challenged his cousin Aharon the High Priest, claiming that he was more deserving of the position, Moses instructed that both Korach and Aharon are to prepare a ketoret incense offering to G-d, and G-d’s reaction would display which of them is the valid High Priest.  

Why does ‘smell’ receive all this attention, when in fact it is the only sense that wasn’t corrupted by Adam & Eve’s sin?

The answer to this is profound. When we look to change ourselves and fix our deficiencies, we must begin by identifying our strengths and using them as the foundation and impetus for our growth.

Too often we make the mistake of defining ourselves by our weaknesses. When we do that, many things go wrong. 1) We create a false narrative about who we really are, which leads us towards depression and despondency. 2) Without real clarity about ourselves, we are unable to create a truthful vision of who we can be, nor can we devise constructive decisions about how to get there. 3) We lack effective tools, and the necessary faith in oneself, that help us endure the challenges of the self-improvement journey, and achieve the progress we are aiming for.

Nobody is perfect. We each have our weaknesses, but we also each have our strengths. Let us not be fooled to believe that our weaknesses define us any more than our strengths do. Our strengths are that part of ourselves in which we have indeed succeeded to hone, to remain focused, to overcome challenges, and to maximize our potential. So isn’t it only logical that we should learn from our successes how to apply those same winning traits to the other aspects of our lives?

This is the beauty of the month of Cheshvan. Our attention is drawn to our sense of smell, the only sense which maintained its pristine level of human perfection. On a deeper level, the sense of smell represents the deepest levels in our soul which can never be tainted, and always remain pure and innocent. This is who we truly are, at our core. All the dust that we collect through our life’s stumblings can only cloud other and more external parts of our persona, but our innermost identity always remains honorable and virtuous.

When you truly believe that you are a genuinely honorable person, and that G-d created you because you are necessary to His grand scheme, and that you have a unique role to play in the world, then you will be able to build upon these strengths, and to find the courage and means to change, grow, and achieve your potential.

When we look at America today, we can certainly see the many faults that you described. These are our national weaknesses. But we can also see other things as well. We can see a country that was founded upon revolutionary principles – each person’s rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” - which separate and elevate it over many other nations in the world. We can see a country that has a history of kindness and fairness to all, not only to her own citizens but also to others around the world. We can see a country that vibrantly makes strides in academics, technology, medicine, welfare, and justice. We can see a country that principally embraces minorities and respects their religions and cultures. We can see a country that believes that “all people are created equal” and that each person is endowed by the Creator with value and importance. These are our national strengths. All of this has been happening for over 240 years, and has been continually improving over time.

So, it is no coincidence that the elections occurred during the month of Cheshvan. During this time, we are called to focus on our strengths, value them, and learn from them how to make improvements to those other areas which need fixing.

One US president once said in his first inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We mustn’t fear. We have no reason to fear. We must be proud of who we are and how far we have come. We must know, that we will continue to go much further, despite the challenges. We will soon be witness to a perfect world, when Moshiach will come and usher in the era of universal peace and perfection. 

Signing off with bundles of hope,

Rabbi Eliezer Wolf

My thanks to Stephen Korn for sharing the nucleus of this article with me.

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