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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Stop making excuses for being mediocre

Sukkah 20

Mo’s life is pretty average.  He makes an average living.  His level of education is average.  His Torah literacy is average.  There is really nothing outstanding about Mo.  He’s not a bad fellow, he’s just pretty plain.

On many occasions, I have attempted to motivate Mo to strive for greatness, but he’s bogged down in his own mind by impediments from his childhood.  And even when he can get past those, he is so busy chasing his tail that he can’t seem to break free from the daily grind and achieve success. 

Why do some people go through the doldrums of life without ever being able to soar higher?

The Mishnah states that one who sleeps on a bed with a canopy inside the sukkah has not fulfilled his obligation of dwelling in the sukkah, because instead of being beneath the schach, he finds himself beneath the canopy.  How do we know that the bed would disqualify him from being in the sukkah?

Rabban Gamliel’s non-Jewish servant, Tavi, was once under a bed canopy in the sukkah.  “Did you see my servant, Tavi?” asked the rabbi of his colleagues.  “He is such a Torah scholar that he knows that servants are exempt from the sukkah.  That’s why he’s sleeping under the bed canopy!”

Thus we see from this exchange, says the Mishnah, that sleeping beneath the bed canopy invalidates one’s mitzvah of sukkah.

Asks the Tosfos: If Tavi was such a scholar that he knew he was exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah, then why was he even in the sukkah in the first place?  Tosfos answers that Tavi wanted so much to listen to the Torah discussions of the Talmudic Sages that he was prepared to squeeze into the sukkah.  Not wanting to inconvenience the scholars, he found a corner of the sukkah to occupy: on the bed where nobody else would want to sit, due to its canopy. 

Did Tavi have a prestigious background?  No, he was a slave!

Did Tavi come from a family of Torah scholars?  No, his family wasn’t even Jewish!

Most people in Tavi’s situation would simply throw their hands up and resign themselves to a life of mediocrity.  Not Tavi – despite his humble roots, both physically and spiritually, he became such a great Torah scholar that the Mishnah determined the law by his behaviour! 

Maybe he was just a brilliant guy that everyone treated with respect?  No, he was shoved into a corner of the sukkah that nobody else wanted! 

And yet Tavi didn’t allow circumstances to impede his spiritual growth.  He stayed in the sukkah – no doubt being jeered at by some of the young scholars who knew that where he was sitting didn’t even qualify for the mitzvah – just to hear the words of Torah.

How many of us settle for mediocrity due to our parents, our upbringing, our background?  I could never be a great Torah scholar, I came to it too late in life. . . . I could never be a leader of the community, I’ve always been an introvert. . .

Or maybe it’s due to my current circumstances.  I just don’t have the time to learn Torah. . . I don’t live in a Jewish centre. . .  People don’t respect me. . .

These are all excuses!  Success in life is in your hands, whether it’s spiritual or material success!  You have the power to overcome any shortcomings in upbringing, background or circumstance!  If Tavi could do it, so can you!

Today I pledge not to be a victim of history or circumstance.  I shall be the best that I can be.  G-d has blessed me with the ability to succeed spiritually and materially.  I will capitalize on His blessing.

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