Posts Tagged 'Target'

Off the Mark, But On Target

Despite only being eleven years old at the time, Yadid decided to fast on Yom Kippur. Being that he was not yet a Bar Mitzvah (13 years old) he had no obligation to do so. We were clear with him that if he ever wanted to eat or drink he should stop fasting. At the end of the break on Yom Kippur we were headed back to synagogue for Mincha. At this point Yadid asked, ” Is it harder for people who do not see themselves to be obligated to keep mitzvot to fast on Yom Kippur? I mean since I know I can eat it makes it even harder for me not to eat.” What is the interplay with our sense of obligation and ability to be accomplished?

Yadid’s question makes me think about  Lech Lecha. There our nation’s journey began with God instructing Avram (soon to become Avraham) to leave his birthplace and set out to start a new people in a new land. He was off to the land of Canaan. What a novel concept? A people collected by common belief as opposed to an accident of birth place. But if we were paying attention to the end of previous Torah portion, we would have seen that the destination for Avram’s travel was not new at all. Terach, Avram’s father, had set out with his family toward the land of Canaan, but never got there. While it seems that Avram was more successful than his father in terms of getting to the land of Canaan, as we see later in the this Torah portion in Avram’s travels to Egypt he was equally unsuccessful as his father in terms of staying in Canaan. How are we to compare the Avram’s divine quest with Terach’s life journey?

In the Gemara we learn that,  “Greater is the one who is commanded and does then the one who is not commanded and does”( Kidushin 31a). This sentiment can be explained with a basic understanding of the human need to combat authority. It  is more meritorious to overcome our need to rebuff authority and comply than to just do something for its own sake. It is interesting to ponder the opposite of this adage. How would you compare one who is commanded and does not comply to the one who is not commanded and does not comply? The first one is testing the limits of authority, but still might be in a relationship with the authority. The later is just not doing anything at all.

Surely Terach’s intentions were good, but we do not know them. At first Avram is successful in following God’s direction to go to the land of Canaan, but soon after he gets there he does not stay. But still he aspires to go and does eventually comply and settle in the land of Canaan. In many ways we are all still beneficiaries of this aspiration and this relationship. Beyond the scope of going to Israel, we all fail to fulfill God’s commandments, but with clear expectations it is possible for us to try again and succeed.

I was reminded of Yadid’s question again when reading Matot-Massei, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read about the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and  half of Manasseh asking for the lands east of the Jordan as their portion in the Promised Land, these being prime pastureland for their cattle. Moshe is initially angered by the request, but subsequently agrees on the condition that they first join, and lead, in Israel’s conquest of the lands west of the Jordan. Is this a success or failure?

As the story goes there once was a prince who becomes a master archer. The prince excels to such a point that he believes he’s the finest archer in the world. On his journey homeward, the prince stops in a small town to get something to drink. Across from the tavern, the prince sees a barn with painted targets along the entire side of the barn. And, there is a single arrow, dead center in every target on the barn. How could such a master archer be living in this small town? Finally, the prince sees this young boy and asks him. “It was me,” says the boy. “Show me,” demands the prince. They stand. The boy takes aim. The boy hits the side of the barn, far away from any of the targets. Then, the boy runs into the barn. He emerges with a brush and a can of paint. He paints a solid circle around the arrow he has just shot, then two more circles to form a target. The boy says, “That’s how I do it. First, I shoot the arrow, and then I paint the target.” 

A Young Assistant To The King Paints Bullseyes Drawing by Charlie Hankin

We all want to be successful and still we are all prone to miss the mark. It is meaningless to claim success by painting the target. Our shared success and accomplishment is stipulated by clearly stating shared goals from the start. In this case even when we miss the target we can support each other in eventually or in other ways hitting the target. Even though Moshe was initially angered by their request this story of Reuben, Gad, and  half of Manasseh was a success.

 Avram and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and  half of Manasseh are successful even with different results because their commitment is clear, known, and shared. Yadid’s wisdom was in expressing the difficulty of accomplishing goals when we do not share a common understanding of commitment. As my friend Diana Bloom always says, ” People do not fail, systems fail.” In our lives we ask, do we have the systems of accountability in place to make sure we hit the mark?


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