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Transcending Limits

Transcending Limits

Time-traveling with an army general and a CNN correspondent back to the Jewish revolt against the Greeks.

by

The Greek forces are the superpower of their day: well trained, equipped with the latest weaponry, and a battle-tested, first-class fighting force. Facing them are the Maccabees: ill equipped, untrained and vastly outnumbered.

The army general has just completed a briefing on the Middle East situation. "Excuse me, general,” says the CNN correspondent. “Could you please share your assessment of the situation?"

"Honestly, the Jews don't stand a chance. If you ask me, I'd tell them to go along with the Greeks. They can keep their religion and adopt the Greek way of life, too. Look, what's so terrible about participating in some athletic competition with the Greeks? It will probably do them some good – toughen 'em up a little.

"As far as Greek practices that the Jews find objectionable – infanticide, pederasty – well, they'll just have to get used to them. I mean it's better than committing suicide, isn't it? Because that's exactly what they're going to do if they go ahead with this revolt. It's either bend a little, or die. Those are the only choices the Jews have."

"So there you have it. The Jews will have to concede this page of history! And now, back to CNN headquarters…"

Personal Transformation

The general was right. The Jews didn't have a chance. But what he didn't realize was that they also didn't have a choice. And sometimes when you know you don't have a choice, you create the possibility of a chance.

When the Maccabees realized that they had no choice other than to confront the Greeks, precisely at that pivotal moment of decision they were able to link up with a force beyond themselves and achieve the impossible.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes: Going for “the impossible” is a key to realizing spiritual heights and achieving what a person truly wants in life. The Jewish people reached beyond their grasp, and were thus privileged to initiate events that transcended nature: the victory over the Greeks and the flask of oil that burned for eight days.

These Jews were ordinary people who were able to achieve something truly extraordinary. In Jewish life this is known as “mesirat nefesh” – the willingness to offer everything you hold dear, even your very life, in the service of a greater good. Often, the only thing that separates ordinary people from extraordinary accomplishments is the realization that there is simply no other choice.

In the Jewish way of thinking, every human being possesses the pilot light of mesirat nefesh. In one way or another we are all capable of linking up with a goal whose value transcends ourselves.

Menorah Meditation

Gaze at the flames.
Tiny, silent flames.
Glowing, sometimes dancing.
Vulnerable, yet always reaching upward.
You, too, possess an inner flame.
Tiny, silent flame.
Lost in a sea of deadlines and commitments.
Flame that wants to dance.
To reach upward.
To touch something higher, richer, deeper.
That flame is your flame.
It can never be extinguished.

 

Published: October 29, 2002


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