In this week’s parsha, we talk about the merit of taking personal responsibility.
A former alcoholic described the catalyst to his rehabilitation and recovery. “I thought alcohol could drown my sorrows,” he said, “until I realized that sorrows float.”
Human tendency is to blame our problems, mistakes and failures on everyone but ourselves: “If only I had grown up with more loving parents, I would have more self-esteem…” “If my teacher hadn’t embarrassed me in second grade, I would have never ended up like this…” “If I hadn’t been surrounded with such bad friends, I would be different…”
The giving of the Torah at Sinai was a monumental event. It was a moment in time that radically changed the world and left its mark on every human being. G-d had revealed Himself! Without pretenses, facades or masks, G-d appeared to hundreds of thousands of people and declared, “I am the Lord your G-d.” No room for doubts or ambiguity; it was the “if only G-d would tell me He exists” moment we all wish for.
But the continuation of the dream we all have, “…then I would never do anything wrong,” did not materialize. Mere days after this awesome experience, the Jews succumbed. Afraid that Moses had abandoned them, they created a golden calf and began worshiping it. Never mind the “You shall not serve any other gods” they had just heard from the A-mighty’s voice. Forget the certainty and intense belief with which they had been filled. They were the same fallible human beings with doubts and temptations as always–and they failed.
For ultimately, no one can change our lives but we. Just as alcohol cannot solve one’s emotional challenges, inspiration can not take the place of effort. Just as the giving of the Torah could not prevent the Jews from sinning, neither can better parents, teachers, friends or financial conditions. We, and we alone, are the creators of our destiny. We have been granted free choice.
As a child, a famous Tzaddik experienced a traumatic fire in his home. As he stood with his mother, watching the last remnants of their house fall to the ground, he saw that she was crying inconsolably. “The family tree!” she exclaimed over and over. “The book that outlines our beautiful lineage! It is lost forever.” The little boy comforted his mother, declaring, “Don’t worry about that book. I will create a new family tree. I will establish a new lineage that you can be proud of.”
Let us abandon the “if only I had…” and begin replacing it with “I will establish a new lineage.” Let us not look at what could have been, but rather forward at what must be. What could have been would not have changed things anyway. What will be is in our hands.