As Great as Moses

August 18, 2011 | by

All my friends seem to be talented and smart. I'm just kind of average. I try really hard, but can't seem to ever reach a level of excellence. It's getting me worried about my future. What should I do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

The Talmud says: "Everyone is responsible to be as great as Moses." But then the Torah tells us in Deuteronomy 34:10 that "no one will ever be as great as Moses!" How can I be expected to be as great as Moses, if no one will ever be as great as Moses?!

The answer is that just as Moses fulfilled his own personal potential, so too we are expected to fulfill ours. Each of us is born with a unique set of talents and tools. Some of us are rich, others are poor. Some are tall and some are short. One person can sing, another can write, etc. But these qualities are not what determine your greatness. Rather, it's how you deal with your particular circumstances.

Imagine two people competing in a 100-meter dash. One runs a world record time of 9.3 seconds. The other crosses the finish line in 30 seconds.

Who would you say is the success? The record breaker of course!

Now what if I told you that the one who clocked 30 seconds had developed polio as a child, was unable to walk until he was 14 years old, and had invested years of painful, grueling exercise until he was finally able to even traverse that distance?

We can never know the circumstances another person has to deal with; we cannot see whether he's naturally calm or whether he's had to struggle to control his temper; whether he was born with great intelligence or whether he's had to overcome learning disabilities; whether he's been handed the best of everything or whether he's had to surmount many obstacles.

That's why Judaism says: It's not important where you are on the ladder, but how many rungs you've climbed.

This is a crucial concept for parents and teachers. Consider: Which is the more important grade on a child's report card: "achievement" or "effort"?

The answer is effort. The reason we need grades for "achievement" is simply to have an objective gauge of how much material the child is grasping. But in ultimate terms, all that really matters is the effort.

The story is told of Zusha, the great Chassidic master, who lay crying on his deathbed. His students asked him, "Rebbe, why are you so sad? After all the mitzvahs and good deeds you have done, you will surely get a great reward in heaven!"

"I'm afraid!" said Zusha. "Because when I get to heaven, I know God's not going to ask me 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' or 'Why weren't you more like King David?' But I'm afraid that God will ask 'Zusha, why weren't you more like Zusha?' And then what will I say?!"

So in answer to your question, the Talmudic statement that "Nobody will ever be as great as Moses" means that nobody again will have that same potential. But you can maximize that which you do have. Life is not a competition against anyone but yourself. May the Almighty grant you the strength and clarity to be... yourself!


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