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Powerball Dreams     

     Whatever stage of life we are in, it’s imperative to keep our own dreams — and our children’s — alive

A member of my shul was recently talking to me about the Powerball lottery. He told me that the winner walks away with a whopping $1.5 billion.

Now, I have personally never bought a lottery ticket and most likely never will. However, we all buy some sort of ticket, whether it’s to this organization’s auction or that institution’s raffle. The odds there are, granted, much higher, but still I ask: What is the sense in buying a Powerball lottery ticket when you know that your chances of winning are literally one in hundreds of millions?

Buying a lottery ticket gives you the taste of dreaming big. When someone buys a lottery ticket that could win him $1.5 billion, even though he knows his chances of winning are negligible, he cannot help but imagine that remote possibility for just a moment. He starts dreaming, maybe for merely a heartbeat, about “making it” in life. Becoming a billionaire.

And then he may start asking himself some real questions, like: What will I do with all the money I win? How much of it will go to charity? How much of it will I invest? Will I buy myself a mega-mansion? A yacht? What type of car will I buy, and how many of them? Would I rather use the money to support a new kollel? Maybe I should fund a kiruv initiative? An apartment or two in Eretz Yisrael? Or… is becoming super-rich really the “dream” after all? Maybe I need to focus on a loftier type of dream....

A person gains a lot from having dreams. I don’t mean the specific dream of becoming a billionaire. Dreams, in general, are crucial to our success — because a dreamer will, at one point or another, find himself channeling his dreams and aspirations into the realm of ruchniyus. If he catches his dreams at that critical moment and continues to direct them to growth and personal development, his lofty goals can be used to accomplish greatness in Yiddishkeit.

But this can only happen if he is, at his core, a dreamer. Whatever stage of life we are in, it’s imperative to keep our own dreams — and our children’s — alive.


Raising Children with Big Dreams

Living the life of a dreamer is clearly vital to the way we raise our children. In the Torah, we learn about the greatest leader in Jewish history, Moshe Rabbeinu. We learn a very interesting halachah (Yoreh Dei’ah 81:7) from Moshe Rabbeinu’s experience as a baby. Even though Moshe was offered non-Jewish nurses as an infant, he refused until a Jewish nurse became available.

We derive from this that even though technically speaking a Jewish baby can nurse from a non-Jewish woman if needed, the ideal would be for him to nurse only from a Jewish woman. Just as Moshe consumed milk specifically from a Jew as a baby, so should every other Jewish baby.

However, this seems like a strange extrapolation. The Vilna Gaon explains that the reason Moshe was to drink exclusively Jewish milk was that eventually he would communicate directly with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Such a mouth needed to remain pristine, pure, and unadulterated. But not every Jewish child will have the opportunity to have that special relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu! Why should the same high standards that applied to Moshe Rabbeinu apply as well to other children?

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky explained that every Jewish child should indeed be raised with the mindset that he could be the “chosen one” to directly communicate with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Yes, you could be the next “Moshe Rabbeinu,” the next superstar, the next gadol hador. Raise each child with the ability to dream, to think big, to see himself with the potential to become a person of the caliber of Moshe Rabbeinu.


The Challenges in “Dream-Land”

We have established the importance of incorporating dreams and lofty goals into our lives and our homes. However, it seems that as a society, there are several factors that challenge our collective abilities to “dream big.”

First, so much of frum life is about the details, about routine, about consistency. The day-in-day-out systems of Torah life and observance. Our daily davening, learning, tefillin, brachos, and so much more. We need to train ourselves to develop these crucial habits, but that inevitably detracts from the vibrancy of a “dreamer.”

When a child first learns to say Modeh Ani, he feels big, he feels important, he is ignited by the potential before him. Fast-forward thirty to forty years — we are lucky if we fully register the words that have become rote. The daily mitzvah performance can put us in danger of having a connection to Yiddishkeit that is purely mechanical, losing the warmth and drive of our “bigger picture” aspirations in avodas Hashem. The routine and robotic approach to mitzvos can impede our grandiose dreams of long-term ruchniyusdig accomplishment.

Second, the yeshivah and Bais Yaakov system in which many of us raise our children is a wonderful environment for turning them into the erliche Yidden and bnei Torah whom we can all be proud of. However, every successful system has its pitfalls and dangers — even ours that we so cherish. Perhaps we need to be aware of a possible pitfall in the yeshivah and Bais Yaakov system.

When we embed our children into a large swath of our society, all learning at similar rates, in similar styles, entertaining similar life and career trajectories, they inevitably wind up directed down similar paths. The potential pitfall in this setup is that the individual may come to look on this as the forecast of his future and fail to dream big. Life choices can become quite comfortable and predictable for the typical child traversing this system, presenting a challenge for him to carve out his own way and shoot for the stars.

Third, at some point in life, many of us simply resign ourselves to certain realities. Whether it’s parnassah that bogs us down, or the constant struggle of raising children in our tumultuous world, we simply come to terms with many conditions that impede our lofty dreams from ever becoming tenable. We give up, we “settle” for the status quo that we have come accustomed to, and we consequently put ourselves in danger of accepting a life of mediocrity in ruchniyus.


Recapturing the Dream

In addressing these challenges to a life of lofty goals, it’s worthwhile to highlight something each of us does every single morning, as soon as we wake up. Immediately upon getting out of bed, we wash our hands — a ritual called netilas yadayim.

Why is there a mitzvah to wash our hands as we start our morning?

The Rashba (1:191) explains that we wash our hands in the morning just like the Kohanim were required to wash their hands before entering the Beis Hamikdash every day. Just as the Kohanim require washing before beginning their special service to Hashem, we must wash our hands because we are about to begin a new day of service to Hashem. Every act that we do throughout the day is sacred — literally like the avodah of a Kohein in the Beis Hamikdash.

What an incredible way to maintain our vigor and vibrancy — and dreams of grandeur! Regardless of what I’ve done in the past, regardless of any previous failure or flaw, today is whole new day of avodah, and Hashem considers me a Kohein, worthy of performing the precious avodah in the Mikdash, achieving the loftiest goals known to mankind.

What a powerful way of viewing my daily routine. Hashem believes in what I personally can contribute to impact the world.


Healthy Jewish Confidence

Before we wash negel vasser every morning to start our prestigious avodah, we say the following words: Modeh ani lifanecha, Melech Chai v’Kayam, shehechezarta bi nishmasi b’chemlah — rabbah emunasecha. We thank Hashem for returning our soul for a new day, concluding with the words “rabbah emunasecha.”

What is the meaning of the expression “rabbah emunasecha”? Simply understood, it means, “my faith in You [Hashem] is great.” However, I once heard from Rav Mattisyahu Solomon ztz”l that it can also be interpreted as “You have so much faith in me.” I woke up again this morning. Why? It must be because You, the Creator of the world, think that I can do the job. Your emunah in me is so great that You return my soul every single morning, manifesting Your confidence in my ability to fulfill my mission in life.

If Hashem has big plans for us, shouldn’t we have great aspirations for ourselves as well?


Is Dreaming Really Worth It?

Is aiming high really such an integral ingredient of a successful life? What if, by dreaming big, I am setting myself up for a life of disappointment? Dreams of success, in whatever area of life, will likely not be fully — or even partially — reflected in reality. Won’t the imperfections and flaws of my life be exacerbated when examining the disparity between my reality and my dreams? By dreaming of a life that I want, and contrasting it with the life I actually have, doesn’t that just rub salt on my wounds?

I was recently talking to a couple in our community about a financial challenge they were enduring, and the husband shared that he had a constant disagreement with his wife. His wife always dreamed and imagined that she had the financial comfort to buy anything she wanted and live “the good life.” He felt that by doing so, she was exacerbating her pain, having to leave her dreams behind each day to face her mediocre reality. Who was right, the husband or the wife?

Despite the risks that come along with big dreams, the upside in being a dreamer far outweighs the downsides — because hopes and goals are the only things that enable us to reach our potential. Each one of us has great resources within us that need to be unlocked. Without a life of ambition, we are only able to see our current circumstance, limiting our perception to what might be possible.

If we don’t aim high and aspire to accomplish great things, we will never tap into our inner talents and hidden strengths. Only when we dream about what we can become do we start to see ourselves in a new light, as having greater potential and being capable of growing to reach it. If your vision of yourself is great, your potential is equally as great.

Someone once asked Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz how he reached such great heights in Torah, and he said, “I grew up dreaming of becoming a gadol on the level of the Sha’agas Aryeh. I couldn’t become the Sha’agas Aryeh, but because I tried, at least I became Rav Boruch Ber.” He dreamed big. And so can we.


Rabbi Aryeh Kerzner is the rav of Agudas Yisrael of Montreal and a noted posek and popular speaker. Many of his shiurim and speeches are available online. He is the author of the sefer Halachah at Home, published by ArtScroll/Mesorah.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1005)

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