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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Steps to Success

Daf Yomi Nedarim 55
A friend of mine is the vice president of a prestigious university.  I once marvelled at his incredible achievement given his tender age and asked him how he did it.
“It wasn’t as if I ran around campaigning for the position,” he said to me, “I guess I was just always there.  Whenever anyone needed anything done, I was the one to raise my hand and offer to do it.”

Concerning the travels of the Children of Israel through the wilderness, the Torah declares, “And from the Wilderness to Matana (gift), and from Matana to Nachaliel (G-d’s inheritance), and from Nachaliel to Bamos (heights), and from Bamos to the Valley . . . which overlooks the desert.”
The prophet Isaiah similarly declares, “Every valley shall be raised.”

Rav Yosef said to Rava: You may not sit down until you explain the meaning of these verses to me.
Rava replied: Once a person makes himself like a wilderness, in that he is open and available to everyone, the Torah is given to him as a gift, as it says, “from the Wilderness to Matana.”  And once it is given to him as a gift, G-d bequeaths it to him, as it says, “and from Matana to Nachaliel.”  And once G-d has bequeathed it to him, he rises to greatness, as it says, “and from Nachaliel to Bamos.”  But if he raises himself up in haughtiness, G-d lowers him, as it says, “and from Bamos to the Valley,” and furthermore, He sinks him into the earth, as it says, “overlooks the desert.”  But if he repents, the Almighty raises him up, as it says, “Every valley shall be raised.”

Everyone wants to be successful.  But most people aren’t willing to take the important steps to get there.  You want to achieve success?  According to Rava, the secret formula may be found in these innocent verses about the Israelites’ travels through the wilderness.

Step one.  You need to make yourself open and available to everyone.  Just like my friend the VP, the first stage of greatness is simply to raise your hand and step forward whenever anyone needs a hand.  Some people think that they can waltz into greatness.  It doesn’t work like that.  Nobody is handed greatness on a silver platter.  But if you make yourself available to all who need you, you will be amazed at how much you will be appreciated by a broad spectrum of people.  And you never know which volunteer job you take on will lead you down your ultimate path to success.

Step two.  The difference between a gift and an inheritance is that a gift has no apparent connection to you.  Someone gives you something but you don’t really become one with it – it’s a bonus.  An inheritance, however, is utterly yours.  The biggest cases that come before Beth Din (Jewish court) are matters of inheritance.  You can’t challenge a gift in a court of law, but you can challenge a bequest.  Once it is your inheritance, you become one with it.  And that’s the meaning of the verse’s transition ‘from gift to inheritance.’  At first, people may look at you with envy: how did you achieve your incredible success?  They figure, ‘Oh, he was just lucky.’  But then they begin to realize that there’s no such thing as luck.  You’ve worked hard to get where you are.  That ‘gift’ is really an ‘inheritance.’  You truly deserve to be in your place of success.

Step three.  You rise to greatness.  A colleague tells how he remembers the time he would always be available for speaking engagements across the country.  Back in those days, whenever anyone would ask him to teach, he was there.  Nowadays, his organization is so massive that he finds it hard to get away and so he must limit his appearances.  He feels awful when he declines his friends’ invitations to speak, but he honestly doesn’t have the time.   That’s the meaning of the next stage of ‘rising to greatness.’  At the outset, you’ll need to raise your hand at every opportunity to achieve success but one day you’ll reach that pinnacle of success and be forced to pick and choose which engagements to attend.

Step four.  You didn’t really deserve to pick and choose.  Instead, you decide prematurely to ‘raise yourself up in haughtiness.’  If you decide to start ignoring people who need your help, you’ll get demoted to the ‘valley.’   Truly great people don’t intentionally ignore anyone.  They do whatever they can to assist.  If their schedule doesn’t permit them to be there, they will do everything in their capacity to make sure that someone else can be there.  The path to success doesn’t include a ‘nose in the air’ attitude.  You want to be successful?  Always find a way to be there for others, whether in person or by proxy.

Step five.  The good news is you can always pick yourself up even if you’ve gotten knocked down.   Note the words of the prophet: “Every valley shall be raised.”  It doesn’t say that you’ll rise up out of the valley.  No, the valley itself will be raised.  When you maintain your valley-ant attitude – your humility in the face of success – you will be raised up even without trying!  Be there for others, be humble about your ability to be a resource for all, and the Almighty will raise you to success!

Success begins with raising your hand.  Be there for others and G-d will be there for you.  May you achieve incredible success whilst maintaining your humility and being a resource for the world!