Ready for a quiz? I selected a few quotes from recent campaign speeches by the two presidential candidates. Can you guess who said what?

  1. "We can't afford to slow down, sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in this last week."
  2. "We will win Florida, and we will win this race tomorrow. There's one day left until we take America in a new direction..."
  3. "With this kind of enthusiasm, this kind of intensity, we will win Florida and we will win the election!"
  4. "Don't believe for a second this election is over... We have to work like our future depends on it in these last two days..."

Even if you are following the campaign from the periphery you should be able to correctly identify which candidate said what. Senator McCain (quotes 2 and 3) is trying to exude confidence and sound upbeat. Senator Obama (quotes 1 and 4) is trying to get across the message that the election is still very much up for grabs, and that each vote counts.

Kind of ironic considering that all the polls suggest that Obama has much more reason to be confident about securing a resounding victory, while McCain should seemingly be emphasizing that it isn't over until the last vote is counted...

No matter who wins this election, I think we can take an important message from this in waging our personal campaigns and struggles—our often difficult endeavor to become better, more spiritual and refined individuals, as well as our struggle to have a positive effect on our families, acquaintances and environment.

Never Be Overconfident...

"Do not believe in yourself until the day you die"—Ethics 4:2.

Everything is going swimmingly well. Everything is going your way. The pieces are all falling in place. Your spiritual progress is coming along nicely, at exactly the pace you envisioned, and you are serving as a great role model for others.

Don't let it get to your head.

During the Second Temple Era there was a High Priest, his name was Yochanan, who dutifully served in his exalted position for eighty years. For eighty years he entered the Holy of Holies every Yom Kippur—and anyone who was not perfectly righteous would immediately perish upon entering this holiest of chambers. After eighty years he decided to reject the oral tradition and he became a Sadducee.

No one is ever too righteous or holy to stumble. One must be ever-vigilant. As Obama rightfully says, we can never "afford to slow down, sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second."

Life is a slippery mountain. You are either exerting yourself and climbing upwards, or you are, G‑d forbid, slipping down.

...But Never Lose Confidence Either

The prognosis is grim indeed; the obstacles seem insurmountable. All the experts agree that your chances of victory are slim to none. You're locked in a constant battle against your whims and capricious tendencies. You have not made even a dent in the spiritual listlessness that surrounds you. You feel like you're getting nowhere. Is there a reason to continue campaigning? Maybe you should just have your name removed from the ballot...

Never give up!

In His attempt to establish human Free Choice, G‑d doesn't give goodness and holiness free reign. He creates obstacles and challenges, and deliberately sets them in our path.

But He didn't create an entirely even playing field. He gave an unfair edge to the path of holiness: when actively pitted against each other, obstacles will always melt away. (The problem is that often we submit to temptation without even entering the battlefield...)

There's one caveat, however: A stronger combatant will be defeated by a weaker foe if the weaker one is excited and confident, while the stronger one is lethargic and depressed.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains (Tanya ch. 26) that the same holds true in our personal struggles. We may be stronger, we may hold the edge, but if we are not happy, excited and assured, we can very easily fall victim to our weaknesses.

So, no matter how bleak the future seems, always remember that you do have the ability to be victorious. All that's needed is an upbeat and positive attitude.

And when all else fails, you can always plead your case before G‑d. As this following fascinating story recounted in the Talmud (Berachot 10a) demonstrates:

Hezekiah, righteous king of Judah, fell ill. He was visited by the prophet Isaiah the son of Amotz, who informed him that all efforts to cure him – including spiritual intervention – would be fruitless. "It had been decreed in heaven," Isaiah foretold, "that you will soon die."

"Son of Amotz," Hezekiah thundered, "cease your prophesying and leave! I have a family tradition, handed down from my grandfather David, that even if a sharp sword is drawn across one's throat, he should not stop praying for mercy!"

The king got out of bed and prayed. His prayer was heard by G‑d, and he lived for another twenty-two years!