July 13, 2024
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Strength, Weakness or Both?

Kira was a 16 year-old girl who had been studying judo since she was 7 years old. She was all set to try out for the United States Olympic team, and her teacher (or “sensei”) had high hopes for her. In the year before the official tryouts, Kira’s parents decided to homeschool her to give as much time as possible to train. Kira, her sensei and her parents were all-in and feeling confident. However, two months before the tryouts, Kira was out for a walk when a bicyclist knocked into her, causing Kira to fall and break her left arm. Her Olympic dreams all but gone, Kira was heartbroken.

However, Kira’s sensei told her not to give up. “Kira, judo is about more than just arm strength, you know that. Let’s adjust your training plans and move forward.” Kira gave a bitter laugh. “Yes, sensei, I have heard you say that many times. Judo might not require much arm strength, but it does require arms. And right now, I am down to one.” Her sensei smiled. “Which is the exact number of arms you need. Put your trust in someone who has been around a while.”

So, although Kira now had little faith in herself, she had plenty in her sensei, so she agreed to continue. They went back to work, but four weeks later, with only four more to go, Kira started to doubt again—and for good reason. Over the past four weeks, her sensei had taught her only one new move. If she was going to win, didn’t she need an entirely new style?

Not wanting to insult her teacher but unable to keep quiet, Kira asked what was going on. “Sensei? Shouldn’t I be learning more moves? How is this once new move going to be enough?” Kira’s sensei smiled. “Not only is this the only new move you know, it might be the only move you will need.” Not quite understanding but believing in her teacher, Kira kept training. With two weeks to go, Kira’s sensei started to bring in opponents for her. Due to her injury, he received permission from the U.S. Olympic committee to tie Kira’s broken left arm to her side, so this is how she practiced.

Surprising herself, Kira easily won her first two practice matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, Kira’s opponent became impatient and charged. Kira stepped aside, and used her one new move to win the match.

Kira’s success carried her through the end of training and the first few rounds of tryouts. Now, in the quarter finals, all Kira needed was one more victory to secure a spot on the Olympic team. However, her quarter final opponent was the quickest, strongest and most experienced contestant in the tournament. For a while, Kira appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that she hurt her arm permanently, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted. “Let her continue.”

Soon after the match resumed, Kira’s opponent made a critical mistake; She dropped her guard. Instantly, Kira used her new move to pin her opponent and gain the final point she needed. Kira won the match and earned a trip to the Olympics. The crowd roared with approval.

On the way home, Kira and her sensei reviewed every moment of every match. Finally, Kira summoned the courage to ask what was really on her mind. “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?” “You won for two reasons,” her wise teacher answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

Kira’s weakness had become her biggest strength.

The matzah we eat on Pesach represents two opposite ideas. On one hand, it is lechem oni—bread of pain and affliction. On the other hand, matzah was what we ate on our way out of Egypt, making it a symbol of freedom. However, we could argue that these are not two opposite ideas. Instead they are two parts of one story. As it says in Ha Lachma Anya, matzah was the bread we ate in Egypt—as slaves. This means that the same food was present in our pain and in our relief because both parts were necessary for Bnei Yisrael to become a nation.

True growth happens through difficulty and struggle. Dealing with challenges forces us to think differently, learn, and develop tools we didn’t previously have. The same is true for families and nations, and in our case, Bnei Yisrael. Both the smaller piece we eat early on as lechem oni, and the larger Afikomen we save for later, come from the same matzah. This is our legacy and a lesson we must pass down. We must look at challenges as opportunities to grow and turn our weaknesses into strengths.


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at
[email protected].

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