Man’s quest for excellence and achievement is ubiquitous, famously manifested by the manifold forums to celebrate success such as the Forbes 100, Academy Awards, Olympic Games, Nobel Prizes, the Guinness Book of World Records, etc. Students compete for academic accomplishment on the quest for professional stardom to build a resume buttressed by cum, magna and summa cum laudes. Even in arenas that one might think are opportunities for mere recreation are not immune from competition: one world-class surfer built an inland park in California to create the “perfect surfing wave,” while rock-climbers risk their very lives to scale El Capitan without protection.
What is Judaism’s approach to striving for greatness?
The concept of a Chosen One is one of the recurrent motifs in all of literature. From Arthur to Luke Skywalker we read again and again of someone who seems to be nothing special who is revealed to be the Chosen One. This theme has not ceased to resonate. Is anyone not stirred when Arthur pulls the sword out of the anvil and, revealed to be the true king, goes on to lead Britain to a golden age? Does anyone not rejoice when Luke Skywalker turns out to be “the Last of the Jedi” and frees his galaxy from the evil empire? The biggest cultural phenomenon in the last decade has no doubt been the story of Harry Potter. Millions rejoiced when poor Harry, cruelly oppressed by his aunt and uncle, and his true nature kept from him, found out that he was connected to a higher dimension of reality, that he was a wizard. Millions followed intently as Harry slowly discovered that even within that “wizarding world” he was the Chosen One with the unique ability to defeat the murderous Lord Voldemort. And millions rejoiced when Harry fulfilled his destiny and defeated that evil.
Why do such stories have such a universal appeal? By the time this class is over the answer will be obvious. The power of these tales comes because each of us identifies with these figures. In the depths of our soul we recognize that, in God’s profound plan, each and every one of us really is completely necessary. Not that we are striving for externally acclaimed stardom. Rather, each and every one of us is a Chosen One who has a unique mission that only we can fulfill in the full revelation of God’s glory. (Rabbi Matisyahu Rosenblum, Yeshiva Machon Yaakov, Olami Morasha Syllabus.)
Judaism’s framework for achieving greatness is harnessing one’s attributes and striving for personal character perfection. The Torah views each individual as vitally important and understands that each person’s role in life is completely unique and distinct. The Olami Morasha Syllabus shiur, Defining One’s Role in Life Achieving Greatness points the way to making this idea real by helping us discover what one’s unique role actually is.
In addition, Rabbi Moshe Goldberger has written a kuntres of ten strategies to strive for greatness based on the Ten Commandments. Click here to download his free Ebooklet.