August 7, 2018

You cannot measure success just by numbers (VaEra)

Parshat Vaera begins with a series of verses that describe the five stages of redemption from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Land of Israel, the last of which being that God promises to ‘bring you into the land… and I will give it to you as an inheritance’ (Shemot 6:8). Yet despite this promise, we find that only two adults among those alive during the Egyptian Exodus actually entered the Land of Israel – specifically Yehoshua & Kalev. This means that despite all the miracles and wonders that God wrought on Egypt, only two people experienced the complete process of ‘I will bring you out… I will rescue you… I will redeem you…I will take you to Myself as a people… and then I will bring you into the land’ (Shemot 6:6-8).
According to Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk*, author of the ‘Meshech Chochmah’ commentary on the Torah, we can learn a deep lesson from here about how we measure success. Just as ‘all the miracles and wonders that were performed in Egypt amidst the Ten plagues and at the crossing of the Reed Sea were worth it so that just two people… could reach the ultimate outcome as defined by God’, we should realise that there are occasions when a tremendous amount of effort may only be appreciated by a handful of people, and times when a specific challenge is only completed by a select few. Yet despite them being the minority, the efforts of the few provide inspiration for the many, and the success of the few provides motivation for the many.
As a teacher I see this on a regular occurrence. While teachers work incredibly hard to help students realise their potential, sadly not every student maximises the opportunities they have been given. When this occurs, this can throw a teacher into a dark place of self-doubt and make them question the efforts they invest in the work that they do. But what we learn from the Meshech Chochmah is that you cannot measure success solely by numbers. Instead, success – at least in terms of its relevance to a teacher, guide or mentor – is defined by doing all you can to help others achieve all they can, even when some of those do not choose that path in life. And when – and here I speak with experience – a student does maximise the opportunities they have been given- a teacher is overcome with an incredible sense that, despite everything, it is most certainly worth it.

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