Rabbi Eliezar was a very, very poor man. He subsisted on a meager diet of bread and garlic. One day, the rabbi was so hungry that he fainted. While unconscious, he had a dialogue with G-d. When revived by his students, he announced, "G-d spoke to me."
"What did He say?"
"I asked G-d, 'Why couldn't You create me as a rich man? Why do I have to suffer like this?' And G-d answered, 'Rabbi Eliezar, my dear son, would you prefer me to destroy the entire world, and re-create it, and maybe you'll be born with a different destiny?' I said, 'G-d, destroy the entire world? And it's only going to be a maybe? I mean it's not even for sure that I'll get a different part in this next script you write?' G-d replied, 'That's right.'"
Let's fathom the profundity of what this conversation is revealing. Each and every one of us is playing just the right part. And the entire world would have to be destroyed and re-created, all of history would have to be ripped up and rewritten, to attempt to give you a different part. And even after all that, there is no promise you will get a better part in the play. This is because the whole fabric of history is totally interconnected. G-d takes into consideration everyone's role when he writes your part. G-d can't just pull you out of history and write a different scene for you.
We're all part of the story. Each and every one of us with our problems, our challenges, our joys, our pain, are all written into the script, according to a vast, eternal plan.
Rabbi Eliezar ben Pedat (like many others before him and since) had asked, "Couldn't I play the rich man? Couldn't I get a different part in the script?" G-d's answer was that the script is so interconnected, every character is so interfaced with every other character, that to pull him out and give him a different part would mean having to rewrite the entire script.
So how did Rabbi Eliezar ben Pedat respond to this revelation? He said, "Master of the Universe, have I passed the halfway mark of my life?" G-d answered, "Yes, you have." Rabbi Eliezar said, "Well, then, I'll keep my part." That's the cryptic end of the story.
What was really bothering Rabbi Eliezar ben Pedat? He was afraid that, because the part he was playing was so difficult, he wouldn't be able to play it with holiness. He was afraid that maybe he'd do something wrong. Because his poverty was so grueling, he worried that he would become bitter and take out his frustration on another person, or transgress in some other way. That's the only thing that concerned him. He didn't mind being poor. He just wanted to be good. But when G-d said he was past the halfway point of his life, Rabbi Eliezar saw that he was not doing so badly. He was playing his part adequately. That's all he cared about.
It's unfortunate when people are jealous because they think that somebody has a better part then they do. Every single one of us is serving G-d in his or her unique way. The real questions are: Do we choose to serve the Author of History and be a living channel bringing G-d into the world, or do we pretend there is no author? Do we pretend that we are the only writers of the show? Do we reject our character and try to pretend that we're someone we're not?
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In the Ethics of the Fathers section of the Talmud, it is stated: "Beloved is the man who was created in the image of G-d. Even more beloved is the man who knows it."
Every single character in the story is really created in the image of G-d, the Author, except the villain, whose job is to get all the others to express their divine image. Everyone is created in the image of G-d, but not everyone knows it. The joy of living is to know it, to know that it's not just my little show playing itself out in my home, with my kids and my job, but a cosmic grand epic.
You are great because you are part of the great drama for which G-d created this world. And your part, and even the particulars of your part, cannot be changed without destroying the whole world and creating it anew. And maybe not even then.
G-d has written the play, designed the scenes and the scenery, and determined which other people will enact the scene with you. Now, you can run away from it, or you can play your part consciously, understanding that every scene is all about the choices you make, the attitudes you adopt, the awareness you achieve, and the meaning you give to every situation.
Your real accomplishments do not happen on the stage of the outside world for all to see and admire. Your real accomplishments happen inside of you. Your real assets in life, which are truly and forever yours, are your choices to do good and see goodness. And they are deposited within your self. They create your inner world. In the end it won't matter how much money, property, or fame you amassed for yourself in this world. What matters is not what you have but who you are. This is the only real and lasting accomplishment that is truly yours. It will go with you from this world till the next because it is you.
When you internalize these truths and live your life accordingly, you realize that in every scene of your life, G-d is with you. And what's important to you is not the final scene, because G-d already knows the final scene. What's important to you are the choices you make that determine how you will play the current scene whether you will play it with holiness, honesty, and integrity. You want to play your role in the image of G-d, choosing goodness and growth.
Now we can understand why the Torah prohibits all psychic and astrological means of telling the future. Our job isn't to figure out the future. The future, the development of the plot, is none of our business. To know the future would impair our ability to perfectly play the present scene. I was told that in Hollywood if a film has a death scene, they shoot the death scene first, so that the actors can relax and do the rest of the movie. Otherwise, the impending death scene would hamper them in the happy scenes. Can you imagine how hard it would be for actors to play a carefree love scene when they know that in the next scene they will be run over by a bus?
Because you do not know what will happen in the next scene, you must play the current scene as best you can. The recognition of destiny cannot paralyze us from making the right choices in the present. Since the future is a secret known only to G-d, and the outcome of every scene is in His hands, then you write the inside story, choose the good, and transform yourself.
The Talmud teaches that King Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes after he saw prophetically that his kingdom and the Temple that he worked so hard to build would be destroyed. Imagine what a devastating realization that must have been, to know that what you invested your entire life in would be destroyed. We can understand why he bemoaned, "Futility of futilities … What real value is there for a person in all his work under the sun?"
However, his ultimate resolution was "Revere G-d, live by His commandments for this is the all of man."
King Solomon realized that our real accomplishment in life is not building the kingdom or the Temple on earth, but what we make of ourselves the kingdom and temple we build in our inner world.
This does not mean you should not build in this world, rather that you should recognize that what you build on the outside is not the goal but the means to what you build on the inside.
The early pioneers who courageously resettled the land of Israel would often sing, "We have come to build this land and to be built by it." What is real and lasting about what you build on the outside is how it builds you and others on the inside.
When you live with this understanding, you will not be devastated when your kingdom or your temple is destroyed. You will realize that you did the will of G-d to build the kingdom and the temple, and even though they are destroyed, what you built inside yourself can never be destroyed. It is not as if the past was all for naught and you will have to start all over again. Rather, you now have new opportunities to continue to build yourself through the challenges and choices the destruction creates. We were not put on earth to build this world but to build ourselves in a way that expresses ourselves as the living image of G-d.
We can always be growing, even and sometimes especially when the world around us is falling apart.
Sometimes the winner is truly the loser and the loser the winner. If the winner learns nothing from his victory and doesn't grow into a better person, if he simply becomes haughty and obnoxious, then although he holds the trophy in his hands, he is actually the loser. However, if the loser accepts his loss with humbleness, overcomes feelings of anger and self-pity, and chooses to be happy with his lot, then he actually walks off with the greatest victory an evolved self. He is the trophy.
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For more on this topic, please see the rabbi's new book: Inviting God In: Celebrating the Soul-Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron