Are You Competitive in Only One Way?
2-½ minutes to read
Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Vezos Haberachah – Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12
Competition has gotten a bad reputation over the last few decades. Children’s programs are notorious for giving everyone a ribbon no matter how abysmal their performance. One of the few places this idea doesn’t reign supreme is the armed forces.
Competition with Others Produces Greatness
The military remains proud of its up or out culture. Annual reviews let service members know where they stand in relation to their peers. A process known as racking and stacking determines the performance hierarchy at a command. A select percentage at the top advances. The rest may see their careers stagnate.
Substantial improvement that doesn't place you in a high relative ranking constitutes failure. You might be able to hang on for a few more years. But if you don't advance, High Year Tenure forces you to leave.
Of course, the military only rates factors related to your military duties. Primarily these include physical matters, such as skills proficiency and leadership ability. Spiritual fitness doesn't come into play. The military relegates this to G-d. Parshas Vezos Haberachah reveals the rating system:
“And Moses, servant of G-d, died there in the land of Moab by the mouth of G-d.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 34:5).
As the end of his life neared, Moses urged the Israelites to reflect. The Almighty showed him the Promised Land from across the Jordan. Then Moses died as he lived, by the word of G-d. No mention is made of a eulogy. But the Torah names him the greatest prophet in history.
The Rambam, an exceptional Torah commentator, said anyone can be as righteous as Moses. How does this reconcile with the Torah’s declaration that there will never be a prophet as great as Moses? The answer lies in not confusing effort with effect. Moses dedicated his life to G-d. By doing so, he reached the pinnacle of virtue. The Almighty endowed him with unprecedented prophecy.
By dedicating yourself to G-d’s service, you can reach Moses’s level of righteousness. But you’ll receive a different reward. You won't become a greater prophet than Moses. But, you may get an outstanding marriage or amazing children. The Creator may bless you with wealth. He may hold a special place for you in the World to Come.
It looks like the Almighty has created a competition for spiritual achievement. Moses appears to set the standard. But not all is as it seems.
Competition Against Yourself Produces Greatness
Spiritual accomplishment is not a contest against others but with yourself. Are you trying to surpass your finest effort? If not, it doesn’t matter that you know more scripture or give greater amounts of charity than anyone else. G-d’s interested in how much you know relative to what you knew last year or last week, not Moses. He cares how much you strive to improve.
Moses and many other outstanding religious figures give you targets at which to aim. But the Creator delights when you use your abilities to their fullest. In so doing, you build spiritual resilience. And, you deepen your relationship with Him.
Competition with others isn’t inherently bad. Nor is self-competition obviously good. A resilient life recognizes each has its realm.
Vezos Haberachah completes this year’s cycle of Torah readings. Like the rhythm of life: birth, death, rebirth, next week begins the next round of sifting lessons for our lives from G-d’s instructions to the world. Each will give you the opportunity to improve your inner life. We’ll pursue the self-competitive goal of perpetual growth, even as we deal with the competitive pressures of military and civilian business life.
How do you motivate yourself to pursue spiritual fitness?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
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