With proper encouragement, the “grit” factor is in our hands
“And the Kohein who is greater than his brothers…” (Vayikra 21:10)
The Midrash lists five areas in which the Kohein Gadol was greater than other Kohanim: wisdom, strength, wealth, appearance, and height. The Midrash demonstrates that
Aharon Hakohein indeed possessed great physical strength — he was able to lift up 22,000 Kohanim in one day as part of the waving ceremony to sanctify them for service in the Mishkan.
Yet Rav Chaim Shmulevitz in Sichos Mussar questions this proof. Wouldn’t such an accomplishment be physically impossible, even for a very strong person? (Rabbi Dov Shapiro, “Torah Insights”)
Bais Yaakov Baltimore recently launched a major fundraising campaign. I made a mental note to donate, but before I had a chance to put my good intentions into play, I got a phone call.
“Hi, Mrs. Peritzman, this is Toby Shechter. I don’t know if you remember me, my maiden name is Toby Daniels. You taught me in seventh grade.”
Toby! A face flashed into my mind: black curly ponytail, slouched into the back seat of the classroom, black eyes snapping, challenging, daring, connecting.
I knew Toby’s background as I’d reviewed all my students’ files before the first day of school. I’d read the reports of dyslexia, ADHD, too much energy — or, as one teacher put it, too much spunk.
I happen to love spunky kids.
Rabbeinu Bechaye says it was a miracle that enabled Aharon to accomplish this. If so, how does this demonstrate his physical strength?
Rav Chaim explains that when a person exerts himself to the best of his ability, Hashem endows that person with a power that exceeds his natural potential. As a reward for the strength he mustered and the enormous effort he’s invested, he is granted success that in fact was previously beyond his natural reach.
Within a week, Toby and I had developed a rhythm and she was running circles around me with her deep thoughts and spot-on questions. She became my assistant, running errands when she couldn’t sit anymore, and organizing class programs and events.
In recent years much has been theorized in the quest to uncover the most essential characteristics that determines likelihood for success in life. We’ve come to recognize that emotional quotients (EQ) are probably more important than IQ.
Psychologists have identified the characteristic “grit” as the trait that is the strongest predictor of a person’s success. “Grit” is defined as the ability and tendency to consistently work hard toward long-term goals, sacrificing short-term gratification in the process. People with grit persevere until they fulfill their commitments, they don’t give up or give in, they don’t lose their passion over extended periods of time. Researchers have discovered that grittier students are more likely to succeed than their smarter, quicker counterparts, and that the vast majority of successful people possess an above-average level of grit.
With an additional spiritual dimension, perhaps this is the Torah version of grit that the Midrash describes in Aharon. He demonstrated hard work and determination, and he utilized of every ounce of his strength to accomplish his goals and responsibilities.
Rav Chaim’s answer leaves us with new insight into the value of hard work. It’s encouraging and inspiring to realize that the most important variable in our success and our children’s lies not in our natural abilities, but within a variable we can regulate and control. With proper encouragement, the “grit” factor is in our hands.
“What are you up to today, Toby?” I was eager to reconnect.
“Oh, I’m president of the PTA, which is why I’m calling you — I’m reaching out to the alumni I know for this campaign.”
President of the PTA. Woohee! What a great full circle. I was tickled pink.
“Are you working? And your family?”
“I’m a licensed PT and baruch Hashem have a houseful of little ones.” She laughed. “You’d love my kids. Each one is a handful.”
I could picture them, a whole bunch of mini-Tobys with sparkling black eyes.
“Toby, you’ve made my day with your phone call. I was planning on donating anyway, but it’s so much fun to give to you personally, kudos to all you do.”
She waved off that comment, but I hung up still grinning.
President of the PTA. Go, Toby! Spunky at its best.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 740)
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