A New Model of Growth, Deeply Rooted in Torah and Jewish Thought
Know Your Own Strengths
Transcribed notes from the VAAD of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt'l 10 Cheshvan 5763, October 16, 2002
After the creation of the world, with man representing all the worlds and ruling over all, Adam sinned and "like an animal does he become." Then came the holy fathers, and later all of us, the Jewish people, who are their grandchildren. Know that every child inherits strengths from his father and his grandfather. Therefore, every Jew has some special power he inherited from our holy fathers. This is why the Sages command us, "You have to ask yourself: When will my deeds reach the deeds of the forefathers?" This questioning of ourselves is an obligation!
That means that each of you has to find within yourself a certain power that you inherited from our holy fathers.
Avraham Avinu was a man of kindness. Yitzchak Avinu was a man of strength. When he learned that Avraham Avinu was to make him a sacrifice to God, he went willingly and wanting to be a sacrifice. When Avraham Avinu put him on the altar which he had made, Yitzchak asked his father to bind him tightly so that he should not ruin the sacrifice. He had great strength of heart. Yitzchak was a man of strength. About Yaakov Avinu it is said, "Ascribe truth to Yaakov." Yaakov was a man of truth.
Every member of Klal Yisrael has some special power (nekudah), whether it be kindness or strength or truth, that he or she inherited from the holy fathers. "You have to ask yourself: When will my deeds reach the deeds of the forefathers?''
Notice that this is an obligation, not just a suggestion. Why? Because it is forbidden for us to see ourselves as little people. It is forbidden for you to think that you are like all the other people in the world. What do they want to make out of their lives anyway? They work to make money, they get a nice house, they eat and drink like everybody else. This is not for Klal Yisrael. Every member of Klal Yisrael has special powers that it is up to him to reveal and to make perfect.
Even when we learn Mussar we must be careful not to think that the purpose of Mussar is for us to find all our bad character traits. Before anything else you need to recognize your good character traits! What is inside us? The soul came from God. Every soul has its source in one of the character traits of God. Whatever that source of the soul is, that is the strength of the person.
If the source of your soul is in God's character trait of truth, then you will be a person of truth. If the source of your soul is in God's character trait of kindness, then you will be a person of kindness. That is the first step you must take in learning Mussar. Recognize your good character traits. When you find your good character traits you have to use them!
This is how you are going to build yourself. Recognize the character traits you have that are not good, but live with your good character traits. Those good character traits are what you are going to use to amend the not good character traits. This is how you can reach perfection. That is our goal in life, and to assist us in this effort we have the commandments and learning the holy Torah. Every one of you can and must reach perfection. "You have to ask yourself: When will my deeds reach the deeds of the forefathers?''
Each one of you has a special power that you inherited from the forefathers. That is what Klal Yisrael is; it is the greatness of being a person! Every member of Klal Yisrael can perfect his character traits. Ask yourself: "When will my deeds reach the deeds of the forefathers?," find something in you that they had, open it up and reach some kind of perfection in your life.
This is our work in life. Everybody in Klal Yisrael needs to know that he cannot look at himself like a little person, he cannot say to himself, "Who am I with all my sins, no, no, I am nothing, no, no."
For sins, one must repent. But once you start knowing your good points you will see that you are not so much a little nothing at all. This will start you building yourself, and you will reach some kind of perfection in your life.
First, God made Adam, and then He made Avraham Avinu. Really Avraham Avinu was supposed to have been created first, but God reasoned, "What will happen if he falls to sin? There won't be anyone to perfect the world!" Therefore, God made Adam first, and only later did He create Avraham Avinu. Avraham Avinu rectified the sin of Adam and built himself to such a state of perfection that God calls Himself "Elokei Avraham," "the God of Avraham"!
And so he bore Yitzchak, and afterwards Yaakov Avinu was born. Why do we not think of this when we pray the Amidah? Three times a day we mention "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, and Elokei Yaakov" in the Amidah prayer. Why did the Men of the Great Assembly ordain that we always mention the three forefathers in the first blessing of the Amidah prayer? It was for us to know who we are! They were worthy of God uniting His name upon them. They are our fathers. We must have inherited something from our fathers.
Do we remember this, do we think of this when we call God in the Amidah prayer, "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, and Elokei Yaakov"? This is not just extra words in the Amidah. This is telling us something of immense significance at the very start of the Amidah. "Blessed are You, God...," Creator of the world, Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, and Elokei Yaakov, the God of our own fathers!
This calls upon us to wake ourselves up, to ask ourselves if we have not yet searched ourselves for our similarities to them. Have we yet asked ourselves, "When will my deeds reach the deeds of the forefathers?" That is how every Amidah begins, obligating you to build yourself into someone with perfection. You can do it.
May it be God's will, if we remember this in every Amidah, that He give us the strength to find some similarity we share with our holy fathers. Each one of us surely has some special power from the lives of the forefathers. Upon this power we will start to build ourselves, and may we be worthy of having God help us to reach some kind of perfection in our lives, Amen.