Please Take Your Place
Korach (Numbers 16-18 )
“Arrogance brings one to pursue money and positions of authority over others. It is already well-known what happened to Korach (and his cadre of supporters) on account of his arrogance, i.e., that he sought prominence and stature beyond that which was not allotted to from Heaven [according to Hashem’s Divine Plan]. As a result, he became enmeshed in quarrels and those quarrels spawned jealousy and hatred.” The Ways of the Righteous
Everyone in this world has a role to play, his or her unique Divinely-scripted purpose. And yet so many of us encounter resistance and a nagging inability to come to peace with our particular circumstances – let alone to embrace them wholeheartedly. We often lament that we are on the receiving end of a grade-B deck of cards that leave us dissatisfied with our lot and underwhelmed by our “accomplishments.” Complicating matters is the attendant yearning and envy for some other deck of cards presently enjoyed by some other soul.
When I first got to yeshiva (circa 2001), I was (at times) overly pre-occupied with others’ achievements that on the surface far surpassed my own. This guy was already married with children (despite being several years my junior). Another possessed a photo-graphic memory, a predisposition for languages or an uncanny ability to clearly understand and remember that which I could only vaguely grasp and quickly forget. Another already had years of learning under his belt and ran circles around me in terms of comprehension and scope. The trap of sizing-up my own situation only vis-à-vis others’ situations was an unpleasant force to be reckoned with.
That unhealthy mindset met a formidable opponent in the form of a sage mentor, Rabbi Epstein who explained, rather simply, that I will never produce the music I am destined to make if I insist on playing someone else’s score with someone else’s instrument. “We are all in God’s orchestra,” he told me, “so stop worrying about what everyone else is doing … rather, pick up your fiddle and start fiddling!”
Indeed, this willingness to come to grips and truly embrace one’s station in life – with all its (perceived) imperfections, setbacks and hardships, is a pivotal component to one’s successful career of living. “Greatness,” my rabbi told me, “is much closer than you think. It’s right in front of you,” to be hewn from the very reality in which you find yourself.
For instance, there is a dear friend of mine, indeed truly one of the brightest minds I have ever merited to learn from and converse with. This highly-acclaimed physician could be found immediately after Shabbos … vacuuming the shul and cleaning out the bathrooms. Such menial tasks were not below him, but rather were undertaken quietly and without hesitation simply because he viewed that role as a necessary one that needed to be fulfilled for the greater-good of the shul. The shul needs the Rabbi to give the drasha on Shabbos morning. The shul needs the ba’al koreh to read from the Torah. The shul needs someone else to lead the davening. And yes, someone else to clean-up. No one-upmanship. No quest for recognition.
In the symphony, at the dentist’s office, on the basketball court – everyone’s got a role to play. When one usurps someone else’s role, it’s a recipe for disaster. When one makes peace with their place, it’s a recipe for efficiency, camaraderie and peace.
Perhaps this is why Bill Bradley (former New York Knick and US Senator), claimed to “love the pass that made the pass that made the basket.” Because the one who scored – well, his name is in the paper. And the one who made the assist, his name, also will be in the paper. But the one made the pass who made the pass will never be recognized – and yet lives with the self-satisfaction that he indeed discharged his personal role in the name of the greater good of the squad (despite the absence of any recognition).
Let us not make Korach’s mistake and delude ourselves that greatness can only be achieved under different circumstances. Exactly where you are right now – that is the precise circumstances from which God is awaiting your triumph. You need not usurp anyone else’s role. You need not step on anyone else’s toes. With this attitude in tow, we can borrow the words of Archimedes who, armed with a lever and pulley declared, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.”
We, too, can move the world. Not just from any place – but precisely within the sphere that God has placed you. There is where you can muster the strength, vision and determination to indeed, move the world closer to perfection.