I once asked Rabbi Noah Weinberg for his favorite joke. He gave a little laugh and then proceeded to tell me, "There was once a man who worked the late shift. When his shift was over, he would take a shortcut home through a graveyard. One dark, moonless night he was following the path when he fell into an open grave. Unbeknownst to him, someone had dug it during the day. For an hour he tried to find a foothold or handhold to get out of the grave. Finally, he gave up, sat in the corner, and decided to wait until someone came in the morning.
"A short while later another man -- taking the same shortcut -- plops into the grave. From his seat in the corner, the first man watches as the second man searches for a foothold or handhold to get out. Figuring he'll save the guy some time -- and maybe they can get out if they work together -- he gets up, walks up behind the second man. He then taps him on the shoulder from behind. Zip! Zap! The second man jumps straight out of the grave!"
After sitting there for a few moments pondering probably one of the unfunniest jokes I have ever heard, I asked Reb Noah, "Rebbe, what's so funny about that joke?"
"Imagine what we could accomplish if we actually used our potential! Isn't that funny?"
Reb Noah smiled his warm smile, his eyes twinkled, and he replied, "Kalman, don't you understand? We are using so little of our potential. Imagine what we could accomplish if we actually used our potential! Isn't that funny? The Almighty gives us virtually unlimited potential and we don't use it."
Reb Noah was the ever-loving father, always trying to find a way to help his students break through the self-imposed barriers that stop us from being all that we can be and accomplishing all that we can accomplish.
"Do you think the Almighty wants you to know all of the Torah? Do you think the Almighty wants you to reach out to every Jew?" he'd ask. Of course, the answer is "Yes!"
"Then," he'd ask the zinger, "do you think if the Almighty would help you, that you could do it?"
There are only three replies. The first is "Yes" -- and in truth, it is the correct answer and we all know it. The second possibility is, "But I don't feel like it." Reb Noah would then gently remind you, "Doesn't the Almighty tell us in the Torah, 'Don't follow after the desires of your heart and your eyes?'" And if one would reply, "I can't do it," Reb Noah would ask, "Do you think that if you tried, the Almighty would help you?" And if that wasn't sufficient, he'd remind, "You know, the definition of idol worship is believing that anything other than the Almighty has the power. If you really think you can't, you're saying that the Almighty doesn't have the power to help you."
Tools to Accomplish
Reb Noah shared with his students the secret to greatness. Cheshbon HaNefesh -- do a daily spiritual accounting. Each night before you go to bed, take five minutes and ask yourself these questions:
- What am I living for?
- What did I do today towards my goal?
- What more could I do tomorrow?
- What is more meaningful to live for?
"Even if your goal is to get a fancy car or to be rich, eventually you will come to the conclusion that your greatest pleasure is perfecting yourself and coming close to the Almighty."
In addition to the secret to greatness, Reb Noah taught the practical tools to achieve whatever you wanted to accomplish in life. Based on the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avos, Ethics of our Fathers, Reb Noah created his flagship course "The 48 Ways to Wisdom" (online text and audio). Reb Noah taught, "In order to attain pleasure, to accomplish your purpose, you have to use the tools the Almighty gave you. If you want to be happy with your spouse, use the 48 Ways; if you want to be successful in business, use the 48 Ways; if you want to be a good student, use the 48 Ways.
"For whatever you want out of life, if you're smart, you'll focus your goal and know what you're after. Keep your eye on the ball, and make sure it is the ultimate in living. Otherwise, you can be a multi-millionaire and be miserable. The 48 Ways will get you there. You want to win gold in the Olympics? The 48 Ways will get you there. The 48 Ways will get you wherever you want to go."
Ultimate in Pleasure
If one didn't know what the ultimate in living was, Reb Noah was ready to share with him "The 5 Levels of Pleasure" -- a foundation class (available in text, audio and book formats). Rabbi Weinberg taught that the Almighty created us for pleasure, but that there are distinct levels of pleasure.
Each pleasure has its own "currency" with which it is acquired, and its own counterfeit pleasure. Reb Noah taught, "Why settle for plain vanilla when you can have a banana split!" Pleasure energizes us to accomplish -- from the lowest level of physical pleasure, to the pleasure of love, doing the right thing, power and creativity, to the ultimate sublime pleasure of oneness with the Almighty.
In my final meeting with Reb Noah, he gave me a bracha (blessing) with the key to success, "Feel how much the Almighty loves you... and you will be filled with all the power to accomplish anything in this world!" No joke.