Daf Yomi Kesubos 97
The great Chasidic master, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk would say, “When I was young, I thought that I could change the world. As I grew up, I decided that I would be satisfied if I could at least change my country. As I got a little older, I thought it would be nice if I could at least change my city. But now I have matured and I understand that indeed I would be fortunate if I could only change myself.”
Rav Yosef taught: If a widow needed money for sustenance and sold her late husband’s property with a guarantee just in case any prior creditor should come and claim the property, the guarantee is the responsibility of the children, who are heirs to the estate.
What if the widow herself attempted to claim the sold property in an effort to acquire further sustenance, which is an obligation of her deceased husband? Do we say that since the children are guarantors, she has the ability to seize the property or could they say to her, ‘It’s true that you did not accept responsibility for the world upon yourself (i.e. she is not the guarantor for anyone else’s claim, the children are), but did you not at least accept responsibility for your own soul (i.e. if you sold it with a guarantee, shouldn’t you yourself honour that guarantee)?’
Some people think they can change the world. But they fail to realize that sometimes it’s not the world that’s broke, it’s they themselves. If they would start by working on themselves, the world around them would become much more livable. Others shy away from any responsibility to repair the world, but they too must understand that at the very least, they must take responsibility for repairing their own souls. And that begins with reassessing one’s perspective on the ‘problems’ one encounters in the world around them.
Some of things the Almighty puts in your life are there for you to become stronger. They are there to provide you with a framework with which to work on your own character traits. It might be about learning patience. Or goodwill. Or kindness. They seem like problems outside of yourself, but if you would only look within, you would discover why the Almighty placed this or that issue in your life.
Maybe you have difficult children. Or a stubborn spouse set in their ways. And you think, ‘If only I could change them, life would be rosier.’ Perhaps the Almighty wants you to repair your own character and has thrown you this challenge as an opportunity to introspect and work on developing your character traits. Start working on your trait of patience. Start working on your trait of kindness and you will find that the ‘problem’ is not as big as it once was.
Maybe it’s a lazy employee you’re dealing with. And all you ever do is get upset and angry with them. Perhaps the Almighty has sent you this person to develop your skills in working with people. Perhaps He wants you to work on anger management. Perhaps He wants to make you a better manager and He’s telling you that it is time to rethink your employee motivation strategy, so that they feel empowered and enthusiastic about coming to work each day.
Maybe you’re fed up with a dysfunctional communal organization – your shul or your kids’ school. It’s easy to place the blame on others and walk away. Perhaps the Almighty has given you an opportunity to step up to the leadership plate and become a community visionary.
It’s true that the world needs fixing. But none of us are perfect as individuals. Sometimes the Almighty hands us an imperfect world in order to spur us on to self-improvement. May you merit a life dedicated to developing your character and repairing your own little world – with time, you will find that the big world will begin to fall into place!