[Enjoyed this post today: Video Roundup at the Muqata]
Having high-achieving ancestors is good for us; as the midrash (Tana dvei Eliyahu Rabbah 23) tells us, we are obligated to challenge ourselves and ask, “מתי יגיעו מעשי למעשי אבותי, When will my deeds match those of my ancestors?” But there’s a flip side, too: The more we beatify our ancestors, the more out of reach their deeds become - and the less hope we have for ourselves and our own accomplishments.
We praise Reb Zushe when he says his goal is not to be Avraham Avinu or Moshe Rabbeinu but only to be Zushe, but I wonder whether we should not also mourn the loss of ambition that comes with deciding we cannot be Moshe Rabbeinu.
That lofty thought comes to mind because of an experiment I embarked upon last Sunday: I went ice skating for the first time in some 25 years.
I was never a real skater, despite being a serious hockey fan in a family of serious hockey fans. (Trivia: I was interviewed on MSG before the Rangers’ Game 5 against the Canucks in the 1993-1994 Stanley Cup Finals.) I don’t think I was on blades more than a dozen times, if that many. I stopped playing hockey when everyone else switched to roller and then ice; I couldn’t hack it. I had a poor sense of balance, and a strong sense of self-preservation. I took up cross-country and weight-lifting instead.
Why, then, did I return to the ice this past week? For my children, actually, to help them avoid Reb Zushe’s pitfall.
Most young children rarely see their parents struggle with anything. They don’t know the kid who swung his bat any number of times in the backyard in order to teach himself to hit. They don’t know the kid who was so shy in elementary school, who walked into high school on his first day incredibly intimidated, and so on. They don’t know the kid who wore glasses from kindergarten through sixth grade, and had braces twice. They don’t know the kid who entered shiur in the 9th grade and heard the Rebbe assign the Rif and Nimukei Yosef for homework and had no idea what the Rebbe was talking about.
My kids don’t really know of my more modern struggles, either. They were too young in my shul rabbinate days for me to share with them my emotional challenges over hospital visits, nursing home visits, and funerals. They don’t understand how hard it was for me to write derashos week after week, and they don’t get the stress and pressure of meeting my shiur schedule or running our kollel. I describe to them my anxiety about public speaking, but they don’t really believe me.
Many children think things come easy for their parents, and I want my kids to see me struggle, so that they will view my accomplishments, whatever they are, as within their grasp. And so that they will be inspired to struggle as well, with their own challenges.
And so I went out on the ice, poor sense of balance and high sense of self-preservation and all, along with my children who have now been taking lessons for over a year. I was kind of hoping to fall, just to make the point and be done with it.
Surprise! I actually enjoyed it, when I wasn’t being terrified. It was fun. It was great having my kids coach me.
And, in fact, I didn’t fall (thank Gd!).
But, then again, there’s always next Sunday…