On Your Mark, Get Set--And Then What?
The evil inclination woke up early that morning and started producing legitimate and convincing reasons of why I should not write a blog on the week’s Torah reading. Sometimes I wonder who is more creative, Aliza the Writer, or the evil inclination with his great rationalizations of why I should procrastinate or ignore my service to G-d. After all, I’ve already written a blog every week on the Torah readings! What is the big deal if I just skip just this one, the very last one in the Book of Exodus?
But then I asked myself, “What if G-d had never finished the Book of Exodus?” When we started reading it a few months ago, the Jews had just become slaves in Egypt and suffered greatly under their cruel oppressors. The End!
No, thank goodness it didn’t end there. The Israelites’ cries reached up to Heaven and their story was just set to begin. And indeed, this week’s parasha truly is a grand finale to the second book of Moses and worth waiting for as the Israelites were now a free people, ready to worship their Gracious G-d in a Divinely designed Tabernacle.
For the past several weeks we read about the construction of the Tabernacle. Now that it was completed, Moses blessed the nation. Indeed, blessings are most potent in things that are completed and whole, not merely started. Imagine a pilot who makes a great take-off but forgets to land!
Interesting to note in Hebrew the word Shalom, which means peace and is also one of G-d's names, also contains the word shalem, which means complete — implying that where there is peace and completion G-d can reside.
How many things in our lives do we begin but never complete? Most of the things which we start, other than chocolate cookies, remain unfinished: diets, workout regimens, language courses, our vows to be better Jews and better people, etc. One of the main reasons that this happens is because we allow our evil inclination to take the helm. He caters to our weakness: “Just stay in bed and sleep more, you work hard”; “Just eat it, you’ll start your diet tomorrow”; “Don’t go to synagogue or give charity, you’re nice enough as you are….” The evil inclination succeeds when you fail.
The threat of Amalek, the nation perpetually set to destroy the Jews through the generations, is not only a physical enemy but an inner enemy as well. It attempts to cool our religious fervor, our spiritual aspirations, and our yearning for self-improvement. Thus, it is our job seven days a week to give ourselves an extra push and not be lazy or distracted and thus to snatch victory from the insatiable demonic jaws salivating in anticipation of our defeat. We have to stop starting and start finishing what we already started.
Indeed, when we take on a new mitzvah, we must complete it. Although it was Moses who found Joseph’s bones and took them out of Egypt, it was the Israelites who got credit for doing so because they were the ones who buried Joseph’s bones when they arrived in the Promised Land.
In addition, we should not rely on the laurels of the past. Even if we did good yesterday, it can’t sustain us forever. Moses had to disassemble and reconstruct the Tabernacle every single day. Each one of us is like a Tabernacle. It is only through the continual building and deconstructing of ourselves that we become aware of the components that make us who we are. Every time Moses went through the process of erecting and dismantling the Mishkan, he invested us with the strength to rebuild ourselves: to learn from our failures and to reinvent ourselves in better spiritual formation.
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Laziness and procrastination must be the first casualties in our efforts to live a healthy, purposeful and holy life. We must never be afraid to start, even if we fear we can’t complete the task. As Rabbi Tarfon said in Pirkei Avos (2:16): “It is not your obligation to finish the task, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
Dash the excuses that begin with, "Just this once I won't," and "Just this once I can't." We must never give up nor allow the last comment on our lives to be stamped with the word: “Incomplete!” We would never tolerate a book where each chapter had great opening paragraphs but the author decided not continue the story line. So why, my friends, would we accept that to be the story of our lives? Shabbat Shalom!