Friday, May 13, 2011

D'var Torah: The Journey

The Journey by Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff

This week was a very sad one for Lakers fans. The Lakers were tossed out of the playoffs because of their humiliating performance. If you think about it, it was really sad for one individual in particular. That man was Phil Jackson. Imagine leading a first rate team and losing in such a shameful and upsetting fashion. What does the loss say about him as a person? Do we look at his 20 years as one of the greatest coaches of all time or do we look at the last disappointing season? What should define him, his career, and his life?

We are raised as very goal oriented people. We are always moving towards the next stage in life, whether graduating high school, getting through college, landing a good job, etc. The question can be asked though, what if the final goal isn’t accomplished? Do we view the whole attempt as a failure, or are there other things gained over the journey?

I’d like to suggest that the journey and process is often more important than the end result. When someone starts college, do we believe that the goal is just to get through college at all costs, or is the goal about facing the challenges in day to day life? In Judaism, we believe that it’s the journey. The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says “it is not up to us to complete the work.” We have to put in effort and deal with the day-to-day issues and challenges. What is accomplished at the end is not always in our control. R’ Nechunia ben Hakanah wrote a Tefillah that he recited when he entered and exited the Beis Medrash. The Tefillah says that we thank Hashem because we work hard learning Torah and we earn reward, while the others (who do not study Torah) work hard and do not receive reward. This raises a disturbing question. We know that, for example, if a contractor works hard and builds a beautiful house, he gets paid for what he accomplishes. How can the Tefillah say that those who work do not get rewarded, when we see countless examples of people being rewarded for their accomplishments?

The answer is that when one learns Torah, it is not so much about how much was achieved and what was completed. Rather, Torah study is the only occupation in which you get rewarded for your effort. The message to us is that life is not just about the accomplishments. Life is about applying effort and overcoming the day-to-day struggles that face each and every one of us. Having said this, looking back at the coach’s career, the fact that the conclusion was not as triumphant as would have been expected does not take away from the greatness of his career.

We too have lofty goals and aspirations. The question should be posed however, are we capable of enjoying and appreciating the processes and the day-to-day routines, or are we too focused on the final goal that the daily routines become meaningless to us? For example, in college there are students who receive grades through unethical methods because the only goal in their minds is of graduating. Others however, while wanting to graduate, appreciate the ongoing challenges of working hard to get their grades with integrity and honesty. We need to learn to focus on our daily life and the everyday challenges and to appreciate life as a journey, as opposed to only focusing on the end result. The goal is progress, not perfection.

Rabbi Gavriel Hershoff

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