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Want It All

Want It All


There's a story the Lubavitcher Rebbe liked to tell about a five-year-old child and a 99-year-old man. The child was Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneerson, born on the 20th of Cheshvan 5621 (1860), who served as the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe from 1882 until his passing in 1920. The 99-year-old man lived 36 centuries earlier; his name was Abraham and he was the first Jew.

The story goes like this:

On the occasion of his fourth or fifth birthday, Rabbi Sholom DovBer visited his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch. Upon entering his grandfather's room, the child burst into tears. His teacher in cheder had taught them that week's Torah reading, Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:24), which begins, "And G‑d revealed himself to Abraham..." Why, wept the child, doesn't G‑d reveal Himself to me?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: "When a Jew, a tzaddik, realizes at the age of 99 that he must circumcise himself — that he must continue to perfect himself — he is worthy that G‑d should reveal Himself to him."

The Rebbe must have told this story dozens of times. The story, followed by a discussion of the manifold meanings and lessons the Rebbe saw in it, was a regular feature of the farbrengens (Chassidic gatherings) he held each year on the anniversary of Rabbi Sholom DovBer's birthday, which often falls (as it does this year) on the Shabbat on which Vayeira — which begins with the account of G‑d's revealing Himself to Abraham following Abraham's circumcision at age 99 — is read.

I think I know why the Rebbe liked this story so much. The child's question and the grandfather's explanation express two extremes, whose contrast and synthesis are a hallmark of the Rebbe's approach to life.

Imagine: a five year old weeping because G‑d doesn't reveal Himself to Him! To "see" G‑d — to attain a consummate vision of the Truth of Truths — is the ultimate goal of every spiritual quest. It is a goal that takes the greatest of the great at least a lifetime to achieve. Yet here is a child — a very special child, but one who nonetheless is still at the very beginning of his spiritual journey — who is disturbed, to the point of tears, by the fact that he has not yet attained this goal!

And on the other hand, we have a man who has 99 years of the most extraordinary spiritual achievements behind him, who recognizes that he is still not perfect — that he must continue to change, grow and improve himself.

The Rebbe saw these two prototypes not as conflicting visions of life, but as complementary and indispensable to each other. To strive for the ultimate, yet never feel that one has arrived. To have huge aspirations, yet remain humble and unassuming. To say: I want to, and can, do it all — yet, no matter how much one has done, to know that there is still more to do.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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fab ft aluderdale, fl November 6, 2009

a child knows his father is perfect. we all agree that only G-d is perfect. and that if we were to become perfect, then we could not be here and live. this wold is constantly changing. perfection needs no change.. it's perfect! thus yes, as we are in this world, our goal should be to achieve perfection, which is holiness. the Torah says: "be Holy as I am holy". The key point is that G-d is everywhere, and so much more He is within us! But are we aware of that? what is our focus? serving Him or being ONE with him? i.e being the servant who goes home at night and forget his master, or being the sons who bear the mark of the Father and live in His Spirit constantly? if we claim we can do it by ourselves, we are the servant, for a master let the servants work on their own, but the sons, He will be there to teach, guide, and perfect. it is not us who perfect ourselves, but He who is and through whose Spirit we can be lead into righteousness. the child knows to ask his father and on Him he sees as perfect. are we His children? Reply

Eric S. Kingston North Hollywood, CA September 15, 2005

God and Man One day a child sought G-d and the years passed. Many things were occurring around him, but all he sought was G-d. His family and friends always greeted him with cheer, but his only thought was trying to be perfect. For in perfection he thought he would find G-d.

One day he came to a mountain. Up there, he thought, must be G-d. So day after day he climbed. Finally, a few feet from the top he slipped and fell, but G-d, who had watched the boy many years, caught him. While in the Hand of G-d he spoke two things to G-d, "G-d, thank you for saving me, but I've searched for you all my days in trying to perfect myself, why now, in my great mis-step do you appear?"

"Now I shall speak two things to you," said the L-rd. "First, I have always been there. In the faces of your family and in the joy and cheer of those around you."

"And what is the second thing, L-rd?" asked the humbled man.

Thus spoke G-d: "Life is not about being perfect. It is about perfecting." Reply