Daf Yomi Sotah 26
Before coming to Edmonton and rejoining the pulpit rabbinate, I spent some time in New York City working for a financial firm, selling all manner of retirement-planning product. It’s a tough business with a low retention rate. I personally left, not because I wasn’t doing well; I simply wanted to return to my life’s calling that was on hold. I did, however, watch many a colleague fall by the wayside.
Each week our sales manager demanded a report – not of how many deals we had closed, but of how many phone-calls we had made each day.
‘Let me tell you how success in this business is GUARANTEED,’ he would bellow. ‘If you make fifty calls a day, you will be successful. I promise you. It’s purely a numbers game. Fifty calls will give you three to five business meetings. Of those meetings, one prospect will buy something from you. It’s that simple.’
Following the drinking of the bitter waters by the allegedly disloyal wife, the Torah declares, “If she is innocent, she shall bear seed.”
Rabbi Akiva says: The verse teaches that if she were barren, she would conceive.
Rabbi Yishmael responds: If so, any barren woman would seclude herself and undergo the sotah test in order to conceive!
Rabbi Yishmael makes a good point. If it were true that a barren sotah would conceive if proven innocent, everyone would jump at the opportunity! How could Rabbi Akiva make it sound so straightforward?
The answer is that even when we know what to do, most people won’t do it. Most people enter the financial sales business wanting to make a lot of money. The formula to get there is clear. Fifty calls a day. That’s all you need to know and you will achieve guaranteed results. And yet most who enter the field drop out.
Let’s take another example. One of the hardest areas to get into is a doctoral program. University graduate departments accept only the brightest candidates into their Ph.D. programs. And yet, less than forty percent of students actually complete their Ph.D. Why is that? We’re talking about some of the smartest people on the planet! They’re in the program; all they need to do now is research and write their dissertation! Why would anyone fail to complete?
Simply put, even if you know the secret to success, it doesn’t mean you’re going to do what it takes. Fifty calls a day only guarantees success if you make the effort and pick up the phone. Graduating from a doctoral program is straightforward just as long as you make time each day to write the dissertation. Most people know exactly what it takes to be successful in their field; they are simply not willing to do it.
And that’s why Rabbi Akiva’s formula is not a fait accompli. Maybe there is a trick to getting pregnant but how many will actually take that route? The way the route appears to work is that you must undergo the embarrassing ordeal of being paraded around the Temple accused of infidelity, and finally demonstrate that nothing happened. How many barren couples would go to all that emotionally-torturous effort?
The truth is, to imagine anyone would want to submit themselves voluntarily to such torment is ridiculous. What Rabbi Akiva is really saying is as follows: If you believe that a barren woman could magically become pregnant, then you believe in miracles. And if you believe in miracles, then the way to conceive is to unceasingly cry out to G-d in earnest prayer, to dedicate and rededicate yourself to His service, and to have the unwavering faith that He will answer you.
The problem is most people aren’t willing to make the effort that would change nature. You want a supernatural response? It takes superhuman effort. And very few are up for the task.
Of course, nowadays, we don’t live in the Temple times of clear and open miracles. Miracles certainly still occur on a daily basis, but the switching of the natural order doesn’t necessarily happen. And so, much as we must never stop hoping and praying, you must never think that G-d forbid if someone is suffering it means they haven’t prayed hard enough. We cannot fathom Heaven’s ways.
Nevertheless, the lesson in terms of our own physical efforts is always true. When it comes to natural pursuits, if you make the effort you will be successful. Guaranteed. While everyone wants to be successful, and almost everyone knows what it takes to be successful, unfortunately the vast majority of people are not willing to do what it takes and will not become successful. May you recognize the necessary steps to achieve success in all your endeavours and take them!