Rabbi Zvi Teichman
Once again Rosh Hashana is approaching.
Most people as they return to this point in our yearly cycle feel a sense of ‘here we go again’. We have been here before and we are right back where we started from. Looking back, we do not necessarily feel we are in a much different place than we were last year. Perhaps some of our dreams have been fulfilled, whether it was: finding a partner in life; being blessed with children; snatching that job or business opportunity; recovering from illness. But did we really change and improve? Have we enhanced our character, or are we still stuck with the same issues and challenges? When evaluating our overall standing and purpose, how many of us sense drastic change?
The frustration is even more significant for those who are still waiting for their ‘moment’ of achieving their dreamed for goals, who do not even have any tangible accomplishment to relish and focus on.
בבא כגל הגלגל להחליף שיטה רעיתך יונתך לך פונה הביטה— When the wheel of misfortune comes rolling over us like a wave, throwing everything in disorder, Your beloved mate, turns and looks towards You with her innermost soul
This excerpt from the sixteenth Selicha we recite on the fifth day, reflects what many of us sense.
The calm waters of life that are agitated by the challenges that suddenly steamroll over us, disturbing our peaceful slumber.
The late great Gaon, Rav Michel Feinstein, son-in-law of the Brisker Rav, and cherished nephew of Rav Moshe Feinstein, suggests an alternative interpretation.
G-d, who ‘In His goodness He renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation’, redirects the plan for His world each Rosh Hashana. Every year a new direction is implemented for our good and we each must merit to be part of that plan for the better. Even the righteous among us must strive to deserve to be included. Not simply because we were alive until now may we assume it will continue. The judgment is not focused solely on being worthy enough to avoid death, but rather whether we will deserve to be part of the new masterplan.
In his understanding it is not a wheel of misfortune that cycles over us, it is the wheel of ‘fortune’, להחליף שיטה — that undoes last year’s plan and brings a new שיטה — ‘system’ for us to be part of in furthering the goal of promoting His honor in this world.
No two years of our lives are identical, no matter how unexciting they may have seen. We encounter new people, face new challenges, and observe evidence of divine providence in the details of our lives, no matter how nuanced it may be.
We cannot fathom the depth of those subtleties, but each of those circumstances are uniquely suited to your neshama — soul, and your role in the greater mission outlined for this year.
The strengths we gain to forge ahead despite our ‘lack of visual success’ is success itself. When we take those talents and apply it to the numerous daily interactions we have, viewing how we deal effectively with those situations, are part of the ‘system’ that G-d renews each year prodding us to personal greatness.
If we wallow in self-pity, becoming apathetic about life, denying the camouflaged opportunities for greatness G-d sends our way, we indeed have no hope.
It takes a moment of honest reflection to reframe and realize we are always on the road of success despite external evidence to the contrary. One can never measure success by the popular definition of success, only through the development of inner strength and character.
One of the most remarkable personalities of recent history is Aharon Margalit, author of the popular ‘As Long as I Live’ series of books. He is a man who was traumatized at a young age causing him to lose the faculty of speech, contracted polio shortly and was confined to an iron lung, went through three independent battles with cancer, losing an adult child due to a criminal’s act, and numerous challenges along the road to ‘success’. He has taken his struggles and transformed them to strength in encouraging those who have given hope on life.
One young man who lost his parents, a sibling, a beloved aunt who was his source of strength, and finally after marrying a wonderful wife ended up divorced, due to no fault of his own, was one of the many to be inspired to find happiness due to a providential encounter with Aharon Margalit.
The morning after Aharon had succeeded in sparking hope in this young man they met up. With his face aglow with newfound joy, the young man shared a thought that came to him the previous night, prodded by his discussion with Aharon.
In the prayer we recite every day, Vayevarech Dovid, King David enumerates, seemingly in ascending order G-d’s praises.
Yours Hashem is the greatness, the strength, the splendor, the triumph, and the glory, for everything is yours — both in heaven and on earth — Yours Hashem is the kingdom and the sovereignty over every leader. And wealth and honor are from You, and You rule over everything, and might and strength are in Your hand, ובידך לגדל ולחזק לכל — and the ability to make anyone great and strong are in Your hand.
“Evidently”, the young man pointed out, “the biggest praise we can give to Hashem is that He can make ‘anyone’ great and strong. No one can claim that he belongs down in the dumps, because Hashem will lift them up.” (The Impact of As Long as I Live p.250)
It incumbent on each of us to believe that. If we accept this truth, the ‘wheel of fortune’ will always land you as a winner.