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Monday, 19 January 2015

Are you a headfirst diver or a toe-dipper?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 107

You know the hardest part about learning to swim?  It’s not treading water.  It’s not coordinating your strokes with your breathing.  It’s not staying straight and keeping in your lane to avoid bumping into other swimmers.  It’s getting into the pool. 

It’s a gorgeous day outside and the pool beckons.  But you dip your little toe into the water and it’s cold.  You know that diving in headfirst, you’ll be freezing.   And so you let your legs hang over the steps of the shallow end of the pool avoiding the discomfort of jumping in.  But all around you are people who have jumped right in are telling you that for the first little while it feels a bit cold, but once you start swimming, you will warm up in no time.

Should you jump in?  Is it worth it?  How do you know you’ll warm up?

The Mishnah states: The House of Shamai says we only permit betrothed minor girls to dissolve their prearranged marriages.  The House of Hillel says we permit those who are betrothed and even those who are completely married.

Rava teaches: The House of Shamai’s reasoning is that one will not toil to make a feast only to have it go to waste
Rashi explains: The feast here refers to the wedding feast.  If we were to permit her to subsequently dissolve the marriage, people would avoid getting married to begin with.

The prophet Habakkuk declares “the righteous person lives by his faith.”  Dedicating oneself to a life filled with Torah and mitzvos is the most rewarding way of living possible, not only spiritually, but emotionally and psychologically.   The joy one experiences from doing mitzvos, the intellectual stimulation one partakes of from learning Torah, and the faith that whatever happens is in the hands of the Almighty – all serve to provide fulfillment and elation throughout every facet of life. 

Nevertheless, most people are hesitant to dive headfirst into the deep-end of their Judaism.  They’re scared.  It’s a huge commitment.  And what if it doesn’t pay off?  What if you make all that effort and at the end of the day it doesn’t warm up?  So instead they opt to dip their toes into the shallow-end of Judaism.   The ‘brave’ ones might wade a little through the water – but don’t you dare splash me!  And there’s certainly no way I’m putting my head into the waters of Judaism!  

This fear of diving in is the same fear that keeps most people in mediocre positions in life generally.  They are scared to ‘make a feast only to have it go to waste.’   What if I invest all that effort and the rewards aren’t there?   What if I quit my job to start a business and I fail?  It’s much safer to stay in a boring job than to risk it all by jumping headfirst into a feast that might amount to naught. 

How do you know that a life dedicated to the service of the Almighty will indeed be emotionally and psychologically fulfilling?  Maybe you’ll invest all that headspace only to find that the water’s cold no matter how hard you swim.   But it’s worth it!  Your ancestors toiled to make that feast and the fact that you are Jewish today is living proof that the water is warm!    No toil goes to waste. 

The Talmud teaches “If someone tells you ‘I have toiled and not accomplished,’ do not believe them.  If they tell you, ‘I have not toiled but accomplished,’ do not believe them.  If they tell you, ‘I have toiled and accomplished,’ believe them.”  It takes hard work, commitment and sometimes the willingness to take risks to accomplish.  

Isn’t it time you took the plunge instead of wading about the shallow-end?  Don’t be afraid to prepare the feast.  It will be absolutely delicious!  It won’t go to waste.  May you merit the courage to dive in headfirst and the fortitude to withstand the initially cool waters!  Once you are swimming and enjoying the feast, you will never look back!