Selected Sermon/Article
2008-01-05 Vaera 2008/5768 by Rav Zeev Smason
Slow Growth
January first has come and gone. The ball has dropped, the confetti has been cleared, and numerous New Year's resolutions have been made.

When New Year's Day comes around, I think of the story of George who told his friend,

"Bob, there's nothing like getting up at six in the morning, going for a run around the park, and taking a brisk shower before breakfast"

Bob said, 'That's fantastic, George! How long have you been keeping that routine."

George said, 'I start tomorrow.'

Making a resolution is the easy part. Keeping resolutions, and setting out a plan that promises at least a reasonable chance of success, is the hard part.

Making resolutions we can stick to is a topic we find presented in this week's Sedra, Parshas Vaera.

Back in Parashas Shemos before any of the plagues Hashem tells Moshe to release Bnai Yisrael for only three days.

5:3 (Moshe and Aharon went and said to Paro) ....let us go for 3 days into the desert, and we will bring offerings to Hashem our G-d..."

8:23 (Before 5th plague, in Parshas Vaera) "Let us go for 3 days into the desert and we'll offer sacrifices to Hashem our G-d, as He has told us."

Have you ever noticed or thought about this before -- the request to let Bnai YIsrael go for 3 days? Did Hashem really mean 3 days, or was He just pulling Paro's leg, so to speak?

It's clear that Paro understood the request to be literally 3 days, because his response to Moshe was:

8:24 "Paro said, I'll send you and you can bring offerings to Hashem your G-d, but don't go too far..."

Even though Paro later went back on his word, it's clear that he understood that 3 days meant 3 days.

So the question is: Was Hashem playing straight with Paro? We know that Hashem doesn't lie. The Talmud says, in fact, 'The signature of Hashem is truth.' But it's difficult to understand that Hashem would ask Paro for 3 days of freedom for Bnai Yisrael, when we know what His goal was. What was His goal? To take Bnai Yisrael out of Egypt forever! So..what can we do to resolve this troublesome issue?

There was a young man who, despite his weight problem, became a successful actor. Do you remember the old Fruit of the Loom underwear commercials, where various actors dressed up as pieces of fruit? This person who I'm speaking about was the grape.

But even though he was successful, he didn't feel good about himself because of his weight. One day he found a note on his car that said, ' Fat people die young. Please don't die -- An Admirer.'

The young man went on a crash diet and lost nearly 110 pounds within three months. Losing that amount of weight was terrific. The problem was, he lost it too quickly. The dramatic weight loss wrecked his body and resulted in him being hospitalized.

After this devastating experience, the young man decided to start all over in a more reasonable and patient way to lose weight. He focused on good nutrition and proper exercise. He was so successful by taking things slowly and deliberately, that he wanted to share his knowledge with others like himself who were troubled by obesity.

Have you guessed by now who I'm speaking about?

Today, Richard Simmons is recognized all over America for his weight loss crusade and has become a wealthy and famous man. But he couldn't have done it without his commitment to slow, gradual change, rather than the quick fix rapid weight loss program he had once tried. return to our question. Why was it that Hashem offered Paro that Bnai Yisrael would leave for only three days, when the Divine intent clearly was complete freedom from the hands of the Egyptians?

The answer teaches us something extremely important for spiritual living.

If I asked each of you today to change your lifestyle overnight so that by tomorrow you'd be a fully observant and pious Jew, you couldn't do it. That's not because we're not good people and don't have a desire to become great Jew.. But the reason why we couldn't do it is that quick changes for the better are virtually impossible. In a few years, maybe. But people change and grow gradually. If we take on too much too fast, the growth won't have any lasting effect.

Hashem knew Paro was very attached to his possessions -- including his Jewish slaves. Asking Paro to let go of the entire Jewish nation forever would be a demand that Paro would find impossible to agree to. So...let the Jews go for 3 days, have the Jews worship Hashem, and then Paro will begin to get the idea that in the future Bnai Yisrael will serve Hashem and not Paro.

This '3 Day Idea', if Paro would have agreed to it, would have also been beneficial for Bnai Yisrael. We had been in Egypt for 210 years. A number of Jews became culturally assimilated and didn't want to leave when the first Pesach came. You probably know that 4/5ths of Bnai Yisrael never made it out of Egypt, because they weren't emotionally and intellectually prepared to go. They were too comfortable.

We're all good people. We all want to reach our maximum spiritual potential. And yet sometimes we move too fast for growth to last. Rabbi A. Twerski once said that in observing an AA meeting, he saw a sign on the wall that said "The elevator is broken: please use the 12 Steps". How many of us left last Yom Kippur thinking that you'd never gossip again? And then, we make that first mistake when we aren't thinking, and give up.

While Judaism doesn't acknowledge the secular New Year, there's certainly something to be learned from failed and successful New Year's resolutions. Any time is a good time to make a resolution -- even in the middle of the winter.

Lists of top New Year's resolutions include spending more time with family and friends (and less time watching TV and surfing the Internet), learning something new, and performing an act of kindness and chesed for someone else.

Whatever you might decide to take upon yourself, move slowly, though. And remember that it doesn't matter how high up on the spiritual ladder you are -- as long as you're moving in the right direction.

adapted in part from Rabbi Boruch Leff