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Friday, 7 September, 2018 - 5:14 pm

A distinguished rabbi once said, “The synagogue is like a swimming pool: All of the noise comes from the shallow end.” In our synagogue, everyone swims in the deep end, with deep wisdom. I want to take this opportunity to wish you, all of our deep-end swimmers, a Shana Tova: A happy and healthy sweet new year!

A rabbinic colleague of mine met a talented young man who seemed like he was blessed with everything. He was smart, charismatic, handsome, and came from a loving family. When the rabbi first met him, he thought that if anybody had a reason for happiness, it would be this man. He seemed to lack nothing. But the rabbi soon realized that the opposite was true. One day the young man confessed, “Rabbi, I have so many problems.” He began to describe how he felt:

I am not smart… I am not talented… I am not popular… I am not handsome… I am not lucky… And I am not a good Jew.

After ten minutes of listening, the rabbi pinpointed the common denominator. He said, “You don’t have many problems. You have just one, and that’s your “I am’s.”

What follows those two simple words, “I am,” determines the quality of your life. If you constantly think, “I am not blessed. I am not capable. I am lousy,” then indeed you will be lousy. But if you begin thinking, “I am blessed. I am capable. I am happy. I am going to succeed,” then you will succeed because you will animate these qualities that lie dormant within you, and you will make wonders happen in your life. Whatever follows your “I am,” you will become. It is a kind of prophecy.

For centuries, people believed it was impossible for a human being to run a mile in less than four minutes. Countless athletes had tried and failed. In fact, it was widely believed that it was physiologically impossible for a human being to break the four-minute barrier; the human bone structure was not suitable, human lung capacity was too limited.

But then in 1954, Roger Bannister broke through the four-minute barrier, setting the world record. What happened next was even more remarkable. Less than a year later, 37 other runners also cracked the four-minute mile. The year after that, the number was 300.

The human bone structure did not suddenly improve. Human perception of what was possible did.

Previous runners had been held back because they thought, “I am not capable of cracking the four-minute mile.” Subsequent runners learned from Bannister that it could be done.

A significant social experiment demonstrates this point. In a study, an ugly scar was placed on participants’ faces. It was realistically rendered with makeup in order to appear authentic. They were then sent into a social setting and asked to report on how people responded to them with this ugly scar.

But here’s the twist. Right before they left, the researchers said, “Hold on, we just need to touch up your scar a bit.” Rather than touch it up, they removed it entirely. So unbeknownst to them, the participants went out looking completely normal.

Nevertheless, they came back and reported how people had acted awkwardly around them. They dwelled on how people stared at their scars, had trouble making eye contact, and were uncomfortable in conversation. The assumption of their ugliness was leading them to “see” things that weren’t there and to misconstrue the meaning of otherwise innocent behavior. Even more powerfully, it was only the participants who were acting awkward, leading others to feel uncomfortable around them. Their mindsets created their realities.

From this story and study, we can better understand a well-known biblical story. G-d appeared to Moses at the burning bush and told him to return to Egypt to free the Jews. Moses felt he was not up to the task, and told G-d:

But I am nobody… I am a stutterer… I am not capable of leading the Israelites... Send someone else.”

Notice Moses’s “I am’s.” He was saying, “There’s nothing amazing about me, and hardly anything wonderful. I’m lousy. I have an ugly scar that prevents me from speaking clearly and eloquently.” The wrong “I am” threatened to prevent him from heeding the Divine call.

G-d told Moses to revise his defeatist mentality. He urged him to start carrying himself like an ambassador chosen by G-d. “You can go to Pharaoh,” He told him, “because you do not go alone. I will be with you.” In other words, after your “I am,” put the words “G- d’s messenger.” Therefore, Moses, don’t argue that “I am not capable.” You can confront Pharaoh, you can confront the injustices and challenges in the world, no matter how difficult they seem, because I’ll always be right alongside you, fighting with and for you. I will give you the strength you need to succeed. Because Moses changed the words that came after his, “I am” he was able to lead the Jews to freedom!

As was true for Moses, we may have had situations in life that tried to push us down—disappointments and bad breaks. Maybe people make us feel like we don’t measure up or are not quite capable. You could easily let that ruin your sense of worth and lessen your life’s richness.

We are beginning a new year full of new energy, new blessings, and new potential. G-d is saying to you what He said to Moses: “Don’t say you are incapable, because I am with you.” Shake off the inferiority, the negativity, and the low self-esteem, and start carrying yourself like royalty.

Emulate Moses and move forward by endeavoring to actualize the feeling, “I am valuable. I am capable. I am handpicked by G-d. I am excited about the future, and I will work hard to bring it about.” This upbeat spirit transformed Moses. At 80 years old, against all odds, he took down the world’s greatest empire and led a nation to freedom.

Shabbat Shalom and a Happy New Year,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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