June 12, 2024
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June 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Azi wanted to be great. Not great at everything, just at one thing. Music was Azi’s number one passion and the area in which he aspired to greatness. Azi was a particularly skilled musician who played piano, guitar and saxophone with ease. He had been playing since his parents bought him his first keyboard at three years old. Both of Azi’s parents were musically talented as well, providing Azi with a childhood full of melody and song. Azi, now in high school, had all the tools needed to create a successful career in songwriting and performing. His favorite musician was a multi-instrumental genius by the name of Winslow Solomon, who had wowed the world for over 20 years with his creative and beautiful compositions. Azi knew all of Winslow’s songs by heart and could play many of them note for note.

Izzy also wanted to be great. Not great at everything, just at one thing. Learning Torah was Izzy’s number one passion and the area in which he aspired to greatness. Izzy was a particularly intelligent learner who had an excellent memory and a mind that could simplify the most difficult Torah concepts. To Izzy, a page of Gemara or a passage from Rambam was as effortless to read as “The Cat in the Hat” is for us. Izzy had been learning Torah independently since he was in first grade, and he and his grandfather had been learning together every night since Izzy was 12 years old. Izzy, now in high school, had all the skills needed to become a true talmid chacham. Izzy was also kind, humble and warm—the exact kind of person you’d want as the rabbi of your community. Izzy did not have a favorite Torah scholar, but he actually did enjoy listening to the music of Winslow Solomon. This was one of the few things that Azi and Izzy, close friends since childhood, had in common.

Striving for greatness has its challenges, and Izzy and Azi were experiencing such difficulties at the same time. In addition to the usual balancing between their passions, their schoolwork and their responsibilities at home, both boys were feeling down about missing out on fun. Their friends, who did not dedicate themselves to anything near what Izzy and Azi did, were free to get together, play sports, watch movies and just be kids. Missing out on good times was hard for Azi and Izzy, and as a result, both had begun slacking off. Azi took a few weeks off from lessons and practicing, and Izzy cut out two hours of learning each day to spend more time with his buddies.

This doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Doesn’t everyone need a break once in a while? Is it really so terrible that Azi and Izzy needed a break from their “extra” work? In fact, Izzy and Azi deciding to ease up a bit makes it seem they know exactly how to deal with the challenge of greatness. If you agree with all this, you are correct; choosing to take a break wasn’t the hard part for Azi and Izzy. The challenge was getting back to their usual routines. Both boys felt stuck; neither wanted to return, but both knew they had to. Hanging out with friends was now a source of guilt, and getting back to greatness was a source of pressure. This was not a great spot to be in.

Fortunately, neither Azi nor Izzy had to go through this alone; they had each other. One Sunday afternoon, the boys got together for lunch and to discuss their “stuckness.” After a half-hour of eating pizza and ice cream and just chatting, Azi and Izzy walked over to one of their favorite places in the entire world—November Park. November Park was a beautiful but busy area that was perfect for relaxing to the sounds of people talking, laughing and just enjoying each other’s company. November Park also had a small stage with an open microphone. Anybody who wanted could head up to the stage, pick up the mic and perform. Sometimes a crowd gathered, and at other times, performers played for one or two people. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, Azi and Izzy found themselves sitting at a picnic table within earshot of the stage.

A few minutes after sitting down, the boys heard the sounds of a guitar being strummed. “Sounds like someone’s about to perform,” Azi quipped. “Should we check it out?” Izzy shook his head. “Not now. Let’s listen from here, and if it sounds good we can head down.” So Azi and Izzy sat and listened as the music drifted in their direction. As the opening chords to the song rang out, Azi began to tap his foot. “Catchy. Sounds like a happy song, for sure.” However, the lazy, relaxed expression on Azi’s face switched to a confused look as the performer began to sing. “I haven’t seen the sun for a while. Here in the basement with my dreams!” the song began. “Are the people I love still out there? I have nobody left, it seems!” Izzy smirked. “Happy song? Sounds pretty sad if you asked me. Although, I’ll admit the tune sounds really positive.”

This musical puzzle piqued the boys’ interest enough to get them walking in the direction of the stage. The song continued in this manner—an upbeat tune with sad lyrics—until it came to end. Azi and Izzy arrived just as the song ended and the small crowd shared their appreciation with a round of applause. Actually, the crowd may have been small, but it was getting larger by the second. Five seconds after arriving at the stage, Azi’s and Izzy’s jaws dropped. There he was, at the microphone, guitar in hand, the one and only Winslow Solomon! “How could we not have realized!” exclaimed Azi. “We were too distracted by the song!” replied Izzy.

Before Azi and Izzy had a chance to compose themselves, Winslow took the microphone and began to speak to the crowd. “You know, I wrote that song when I was 15 years old. I never played it for anyone because it was too personal. Starting out as a musician was really lonely; I had to give up a lot of the things I loved. Truthfully, this song used to have a very sad tune to match the words. However, as I got older I realized that all greatness requires sacrifice. If you try to achieve your dreams without giving something up, you are probably doing it wrong. So I changed it to a happy tune.”

Azi and Izzy now had a new favorite song.

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov Avinu struggled with a mysterious “man” and eventually won the fight. However, he did not leave without injury. We are told that this man (who many say was an angel representing Eisav) injured Yaakov, and that afterwards Yaakov was limping. The significance of this detail is what it teaches us about success. After the fight, the angel changed Yaakov’s name to Yisrael, based on Yaakov conquering his struggles. The injury teaches us that sacrifices and losses are necessary in any achievement. However, just as Hashem shined healing rays on Yaakov (see the pesukim for detail), when we realize that what we do is part of something greater, this allows us to heal and eventually appreciate our struggles.

By Yair Daar

 

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