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Develop Ambition!Adapted from Daas Torah, v.II p. 348 by Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt"l, Mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir in Pre-War Poland.
And they came, every one whose heart lifted him up, and every one whose spirit volunteered, and they brought the donations to Hashem for the work of (building) the Tent of Meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. (Shemos 35:21) Why was it necessary that their "hearts should lift them up"? Why is this phrase added here? The Ramban explains that they had taken on themselves the task of building the Mishkan. How were they supposed to do this? They had no one to teach them these crafts. None of them had any of these skills at all. Instead, they found within themselves the talents and they instinctively knew what to do. Each one lifted up his heart in Hashem's service to come before Moshe saying: "I will do all that my master has said."
Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt"l, learns from this Ramban a very valuable insight. If you look at all of the successful people of the world, all of the great, wealthy and prosperous, you will find that most of them reached their pinnacle of success thanks to their immense ambition. There is no way that someone can rise to any heights without ambition. It is an unmistakable mark in a person: a person with ambition is groomed and recognized as one who has within himself the making of the great. He can scale the heights. He will reach the top! However, if one is not ambitious, then when he is tested, he will most certainly be found to be a lowly midget, and so will he undoubtedly remain.
The Torah points out the catalyst which resulted in the building of the Mishkan: one of the greatest and most lofty ventures ever embarked upon - "their hearts soared." They were naturally ambitious, even before they had even learned skills from any teacher. None of them had been taught any craft. Rather they lifted up their hearts and said: "I will do everything my master tells me." Thus, they succeeded in their work; they reaped the fruit of their efforts.
Moshe came in Hashem's name and proposed to them a massive undertaking: very complicated with many fine details - the task of becoming the chosen people and a kingdom of priests, a holy nation; a calling of total dedication to God; to bask in the spiritual light and enjoy the radiance of the Shechina. This was something they had never before seen, nor had they any practice or experience. Yet they did not hesitate for even one minute. They didn't run away. Rather they immediately answered and said, "Everything that Hashem said we shall do!" Observe the vastness of heart needed to take on such ambitious responsibility!
"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise; Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provides her bread in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest" (Mishlei 6:6-8). Why did Shlomo choose the ant to teach the lazy fellow? The Rabbanan said that this ant has 3 chambers. It doesn't store its food in the top section because of water seepage, nor in the bottom one because of dampness. Rather it stores its food in the middle chamber. Moreover, it only lives 6 months…. Its entire food consumption for its lifetime is only one and a half grains of wheat. Yet she goes and gathers in the summer everything she can find: wheat, barley, lentils… why does she do this? She says to herself, maybe God will grant me life and there will be provisions ready to eat! R. Shimon bar Yochai said, "Once they found an ant-hole containing 300 Kor (about 5000 bushels) from what the ants had stored during the summer for winter provisions! Therefore Shlomo said to go to the ant, you lazy fellow. Observe her ways and become wise. Prepare for yourself mitzvos in this world for the next." (Devorim Rabbah 5:2)
This is truly amazing. The little ant, as small and weak as it is, and how much can it accomplish anyway? And its needs are so miniscule, and look at what she does merely because maybe she will be granted a long life - which itself is a miracle utterly contrary to the laws of nature. Still, once she starts working, she gathers her strength and already has an enormous ambition way beyond her natural abilities. This ambition brings success beyond imagination!
The same is true when a person realizes the enormous abilities within, as well as the great undertaking awaiting him. He is obligated to become strong and amass within himself the aspirations, the means, and the motivation to climb to unlimited heights. What hope is there for the individual whose ambition is merely for "one and a half kernels of wheat" when his real needs amount to 5000 bushels?!
This, in fact, was the way of our great ancestors. Where did these great giants grow from? Was it not from their powerful and impelling ambition, which was indeed above their natural abilities? We cannot even approach them, all because of our paltry goals. Without unlimited aspiration, we can do nothing. From the first step a person takes, his vision and outlook must be directed to the highest peak. "A person is obligated to say, When will my accomplishments reach those of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov?" (Tanna d'Bei Rabi Yishmael 25).This is a real obligation, because it is the basic, and most important principle of avodah: always keep your sights high and emulate the greatest of the giants. Only then will you rise to the heights of your abilities. However, without this kind of ambition, nothing will happen; there will be no action, and no success (a terrible thought!).
A hint of what we have discussed is found in the possuk (Shemos 3:6) "And Moshe hid his face." The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 3:1) declares:
Moshe had done improperly by covering his face, for if he had not, then HaKadosh Baruch Hu would have revealed to him the secrets of what is above and what is below, what was and what will be. In the end, Moshe requested this lofty knowledge, as it says (33:18) "Show me Your glory." HaKadosh Baruch Hu answered, "I came to show you all this and you hid your face. Now I am telling you that no human can see Me and live. When I wanted, you didn't want. Now that you want, I do not want."
This is so startling. Moshe receive such a severe punishment. And for what? Because "When I wanted, you didn't want!" If it weren't that Chazal made such a statement, this would be unimaginable. We would have understood (like the second opinion in the Midrash) that Moshe was rewarded for his humility in refraining to look at the divine vision. He felt himself unworthy of seeing such holy visions. This humility was the mark of a true leader. Chazal, however, perceived more deeply and found a slight defect in Moshe's aspiration, and saw what he lost because of this.
This tremendously important lesson should inspire us to realize that everything depends upon the amount of ambition one has; that is the whole person.
Adapted and condensed from She'ifos, pg. 17-22
In prewar Europe there lived one of the greatest of poskim: Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Specktor, zt"l. From the city of Kovno, he supervised all of European Jewry. He was accepted as the final halachic authority of his day. Shaalos poured into him from the four corners of the globe. However, the greatness of Rav Yitzchak Elchonon was not in his genius, for he was no genius. He was born with normal, or even less, intellectual capabilities. His greatness came from his aspiration and hasmoda. When the mashgiach in Slabodka wanted to encourage his talmidim he used the following moshol. Imagine a childless couple in a small shtetl. They daven, they cry, they beseech the Ribono Shel Olam, "Please give us a child. We promise to devote him to Your Torah." They go to the yeshivas and beg the talmidei chachomim to daven for them.
And one day, their prayers were answered and they were blessed with a little boy. Mazal Tov. Eight days after his birth they celebrated the bris: "And let his name be called in Yisroel Yitzchak Elchonon."
The little boy grew up and went to cheider. He learned aleph beis and sat in class with the rest of the boys. His head wasn't as bright as the other boys, but he sat and learned siddur and chumash.
As he grew, so too did his difficulty in studying grow. But his parents refused to give up. They put everything into their little boy to enable him to succeed. They hired tutors and spent a small fortune on his education.
His bar mitzvah approached and the melamed worked very hard to teach him his bar mitzvah drasha. It wasn't easy, but he finally mastered it. He entered yeshiva and with great difficulty he finished three years. Then he went on to a yeshiva gedolah. His parents, knowing his problem in studying, hired a special chavrusa to learn with him. He was a good boy, but he had it so hard.
But in the end it didn't go. He was 20 years old and his parents finally realized that it just wasn't meant to be. They went to ask advice and all the "mavens" advised that he should learn a profession. And so it happened. He studied a trade, married, and raised a family. Between mincha and maariv he joined the shiur on mishnayos. He went to the shiurim in gemora and Ein Yaakov and said Tehillim. He joined many chessed organizations. He was an outstanding member of the community. Finally the day arrived. His family gathered around him as he prepared himself to pass on to the next world. "Shema Yisroel!" Wailing and sobbing filled the room.
He arrived in Heaven. Flocks of angels came to greet the tzaddik. Yitzchak Elchonon, surrounded by his holy entourage, made his way to the Beis Din. He felt fully prepared to face judgment, having led such a fine and straight life.
He stood before the Beis Din and as they deliberated he looked around. He noticed two doors. Finding an opportunity to sneak away a bit he made his way to the door on the left. He opened it a crack. Heat poured out and with it the screams of the roshoim. "Oy, Gehinom!" he exclaimed and quickly closed the door.
Then he made his way to the right and opened that door. A wonderful aroma wafted into his nostrils together with beautiful sounds. He opened the door a bit more and was able to see the tzaddikim sitting around, crowns on their heads, enjoying the light of the Shechina.
"Yitzchak Elchonon!" He was being summoned back to the Beis Din. He stood there awaiting the verdict.
"Yitzchak Elchonon. To the left."
"Excuse me. The left? Why left?"
"Nu. Go! Those are your orders. Left!"
"Yes, yes. We know all your wonderful good deeds, all your chessed. We know everything. However, you will have to go left! And do you want to know why not right? Because you murdered!"
"Me! I murdered? I never murdered anyone in my life! Who did I murder?"
"Yitchak Elchonon. Do you want to know who you murdered? You murdered the greatest gaon of the generation. You murdered the rebbe of the entire Europe. You murdered Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchonon! To the left!"
"To the left because you murdered your potential. You murdered your capabilities. You murdered who you could have been."
"But I tried so hard! I spent years trying and it just didn't go!"
"True. But if you would have just tried a little more, if you would have pushed a bit more, you could have turned yourself into Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchonon, the great gaon in Torah, the posek of the generation. But you stopped trying. You didn't reach your potential. You failed in what was expected of you. Moreover, you stopped yearning. You stopped aspiring. That was the breaking point. Yitzchak Elchonon. You are a murderer. There's no choice, left!"
Bent over and with tears in his eyes, he accepted the din and went left.
And on the right side the tzaddikim sat enjoying the radiance of the Shechina. And Yitzchak Elchonon now understood why. Because they aspired, they wanted, they dreamed, and they refused to be broken!
This is what Rav Yerucham concluded. The most important lesson is that we should realize that everything depends upon our ambition; that is the whole person.
Excerpt from Rav Parkoff's upcoming sefer. Adapted from Daas Torah, v.II p. 348 by Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt"l, Mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir in Pre-War Poland.
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