> Weekly Torah Portion > Beginner > Brainstorming with Baars

Dreams and limitations

Yom Kippur (Leviticus ch. 16 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

"Every man's enemy is under his own ribs - i.e. his own desires." (Chovot HaLavovot)

Why is it that some people, of seemingly no extraordinary talent, achieve way beyond that of their peers? Einsteins and Edisons are born out of systems that once declared them failures. What skills did they possess which allowed them to achieve so much?

We need only look inside ourselves to see that in the "modern" educational system, it is often not so much what you learn that makes for such greatness, but rather, what you don't learn.

"There is one weapon which disables the mightiest of warriors and makes waste a hitherto invincible army. When 'I can't' is whispered ever so quietly from the heart of the bravest of men, the smallest mouse might as well be the most fortified tank, for against neither will this soldier do battle."


A child's first breath is as much a miracle for us and no less for the baby. After nine months, oxygen, which previously flowed through the fetus' veins from the mother's own blood, now has to be processed by an untested lung - an organ needing such precision and systems coordination that it would test the skills of a NASA technician.

The child does not think, "This is an impossible world, how can my lungs possibly process the oxygen I need?" Rather, it is unaware of any limitations, and knows not the pain of failure. Ridicule and defeat are not part of the infant's vocabulary.

Is a lung practical? Is the act of walking practical in a world where things do not stand on less than three legs? Everything for this child is possible, everything it will try.

Limitations are something it will learn.

All things have a good and a bad, a positive and a negative. Limitations similarly have these two aspects. It is sometimes important to realize one's limitations. But how much more do we tend to adopt the negative part of limitations? Imagine for a moment if Alexander Graham Bell had said, "You have to be practical." Where would the world be today!? Imagine if the unborn child could fathom the intricacies necessary to breathe, it would give up before even trying!

As children grow up, they learn apathy. Or to be more accurate, adults teach them.


How depressing a thought that we may be locked into some definition of who we are. But whose definition are we locked into? Surely it is only our own. The agility of our tongues to say a myriad of "I can't's" has destroyed our ability to dream. We are so clear and definite on what is and what is not possible, that we have become predictable. There is no spontaneity left in us. We have lost the spark in our living.

As we go through life, we remember our failures and hold on to them dearly. We analyze them, and deduce further what we can't do. This becomes our lifetime baggage. Our mistakes shape our character and our personality by dulling our goals and dreams.

If we could just stop saying, "I can't," a new world would open up.

Try taking "I can't" out of your vocabulary. Be serious about it. Every time you say "I can't," give 10 dollars to charity.


Yom Kippur is about stopping the "I can'ts" and becoming an "I can" person. It is the day when we cast away the mistakes that define our limitations. On Yom Kippur, we affirm: "These mistakes are not me. It was merely a temporary lapse in judgement. I won't do it again. I can achieve greater and bigger. I only have to try."

King David tells us: "[God] opens His hand and gives to all those who want" (Psalm 145:16). In truth, we can do whatever we want. The only condition is that we have to "want." If we don't want, then God cannot give.

In the secular world, dreams are for Mary Poppins and Snow White. They are laughed at, ridiculed and patronized. As we grow older, we categorize dreams as fantasy and fairy tales. The "real world," we are told, is far more brutal.

Yom Kippur is a time to return. A time to dream again the wildest of dreams, and to plan their execution. A time to rethink and regain our refreshing hope in life.


Question 1: If you were born today with no concept of failure, what would you attempt to achieve?

Question 2: When was the last time you developed a major new life dream? Do you spend time thinking about new dreams?

Question 3: What have been your biggest dreams and life goals? How do you continue to nurture and pursue those dreams now?


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