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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Is one little olive holding you back from success?

Daf Yomi Nedarim 58

A number of years ago, I watched a senior colleague conduct himself in formidable fashion as he debated a Palestinian activist.  I marvelled at the facts and figures he quoted; how he knew every anti-Israel resolution ever presented by the United Nations General Assembly; how he could explain the motives behind every military move Israel had ever made; how he remembered every month and year that negotiations had taken place. 

After the debate, I asked this senior rabbi what his secret was.  He asked me if I’d read Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel and Mitchell Bard’s Myths and Facts.  
I told him, ‘Of course.’ 
‘How many times?’ he inquired gently.
‘Just once,’ I responded.
‘Once?!’ he exclaimed incredulously, ‘If you want to be an effective Israel advocate, you need to know those books by heart!’

Rabbi Shimon taught: Our Sages provided no nullification measure for any item that has a release mechanism, like tevel (untithed produce), maaser sheini (second tithe), hekdesh (sanctified goods), and chodosh (new grains).  But our Sages did provide a nullification measure to any item that has no release mechanism, like terumah (priestly tithes), and terumas maaser (levite priestly tithes), challah (priestly dough), orlah (non-matured fruit), and kilei hakerem (forbidden vine mixtures).

The Ran explains: If these substances got mixed up in regular produce, the first category have a release-mechanism which would permit their consumption.   For example, if the tevel fruit got mixed up in a barrel of tithed produce, the solution would be to take tithes from the barrel, thus making the entire barrel tithed.  Therefore, the Sages saw no need to nullify a mixture even if only a minute amount of untithed produce were mixed up in the tithed barrel, since there is a simple solution to the problem.  In the second case, however, there is no way to untithe the priestly gifts, for example, and so the only solution is nullification. 

Most people in this world fail to succeed not because they don’t have the talent; not because they don’t have the skills; not because they don’t have the connections; not because they’re not smart enough, good looking enough, put-together enough.   The greatest cause of failure is that most people simply can’t be bothered.

Let’s examine the Gemara’s second example: maaser sheini.  What is it and how does it work?  Maaser sheini (second tithe) is separated from your crops in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the seven year agricultural cycle.  After you’ve given away the priestly and levite offerings, you separate a further ten percent and take the produce to Jerusalem to eat.   In our situation, somehow an olive from the maaser sheini pile rolled into the vat of regular olives. 

Imagine what’s going through your mind when that happens.   It’s one little olive’l in a vat of over a thousand!  Couldn’t we just apply the concept of nullification?   When a drop of milk splashes into my cholent pot, I simply estimate whether it’s less than a sixtieth overall; and if it is, I can ignore it.  Why can’t I just ignore the silly little olive and wish the problem away?

Nope, sorry, no can do, say the Sages.  In the case of the cholent, without the concept of nullification, you would have to throw out the entire pot of food.  And so we offer the remedy of nullification.  But in the case of maaser sheini, there’s a solution – simply take the entire vat of olives (or its monetary equivalent) to Jerusalem and eat it there! 

You want to know why most people aren’t successful in life?  They just can’t be bothered to make the effort.  They’d rather just nullify the olive and get on with their leisurely pursuits.  It’s too much work to pack up and make the trek to Jerusalem.  And so they tell themselves that they can just ignore the problem and it will go away.

Successful people will tackle a concern head-on.  They won’t ignore it, hoping that with time it will resolve itself.  They face up to their issues.  They gird their loins and deal with the issue, whether it’s big or small.  Only those who are willing to make the effort and trek to Jerusalem in life make it.  That’s the secret of success.

Anybody could be an effective Israel advocate, but most people aren’t willing to take the time to memorize the facts and figures.  Anybody could get a Ph.D., but most people aren’t willing to make the effort to do the readings and hand in a gazillion proposals until the committee accepts their idea.  Anybody could build a successful business, but most people aren’t willing to pound the pavement and bring their ideas to the next level.

What’s keeping you from your best?  Have you been ignoring that little olive because it’s just too much effort to deal with?  
Is it easier to just flick on the telly than read a good non-fiction book? 
Is it easier to play around on the internet rather than answer those important emails? 
Is it easier to show up to work nine to five rather than work a couple more hours and become the winner you know you can be?
Is it easier to hang around at the water cooler and coffee machine rather than sit at your desk and become the company’s star employee?

You are destined for greatness.  Most people aren’t willing to make the effort but you know you have it in you.  May you merit success beyond your wildest dreams – success that comes from hard work, tenacity, and never ignoring the little olive’l! 


  1. "most people aren't willing to make the effort". what are the underlying reasons for that?

    1. Making the effort is really the challenge of life. Every decision you make is a result of the struggle between your animal soul and G-dly soul. The former seeks instantaneous gratification in life. The latter is willing to delay gratification, knowing that the future reward will be so much greater if one makes the effort and investment today. Our natural instinct is to follow our animal soul's desires; the challenge and our ultimate purpose in life is to be victorious over our animalistic instincts and delay gratification in order to receive greater reward in this world and the next.