This week in His World” – by Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon1
Greatness comes from making responsible decisions not from making excuses
Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Election post mortem memoirs titled “What Happened?” was officially released on Tuesday, September 12th. In the 500 page book reflecting on the 2016 campaign, Clinton blames numerous outside factors for her stunning defeat and invites readers to look at a number of reasons for her defeat. The one place she apparently omitted to look was is in the mirror!
The antithesis of making excuses – i.e. – pointing fingers at other people for the circumstances of one’s life, is to take responsibility for one’s life – i.e. – to point a finger at oneself. This theme underscores the song which is sung by Moshe Rabbeinu immediately preceding his death in this week’s parsha, Parshas Ha’azinu. Comparing the Almighty to a Rock, Moshe reminds Klal Yisrael that Hashem is perfect and that all His ways are just. As Moshe passionately explains, since Hashem is a G-d of truth and justice, it is clearly inappropriate to blame G-d when things seem to go wrong. More specifically, Hashem is not there to relieve us of responsibility but is rather calling us to responsibility.
In his farewell song, Moshe reminds the future generations of the Jewish People that with the precious gift of freedom that Hashem has given to us, comes responsibility rather than being victims of circumstances. According to this world view, as Viktor Frankl notes in Man’s Search for Meaning, we are not defined by what happens to us but rather by how we respond to what happens to us. We can use the freedom of choice bestowed upon us to have self-pity and call ‘foul’ or we can dig deep and change the way we look at things. For those who choose to change the way they look at things, not surprisingly, the things they choose to look at seem to change.
With the biggest upset in American political history – Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Donald Trump – a once in a lifetime ‘teachable moment’ presented itself – i.e. – the opportunity to own the loss of the election due to a poorly run campaign; the lack of a positive message that would resonate with the electorate, and an arrogant sense of entitlement. Instead, the release of “What Happened?” bears testimony to a missed opportunity to show character, integrity and intellectual honestly. Unfortunately, apparently ego and partisan perception resulted in Mrs. Clinton taking the easier route by embracing an iteration of the Yetzer Hara that I often refer to as “Auntie B.E.V” where ‘B’ stands for Blame, ‘E’ for Excuses and ‘V’ for positioning oneself as a Victim.
There is no more auspicious time of the year to internalize the importance of saying goodbye to our proverbial “Auntie B.E.V ” than the month of Elul as we prepare to request from the Almighty to extend our “Life Contract” for another year. Teshuva, the process of returning our moral, ethical and integrity compass to the direction where we can achieve the highest level of closeness to the Almighty, by definition, cannot occur while one is blaming, making excuses and living with self-pity of being a victim of circumstances.
On the contrary, it is only by conducting sincere introspection to identify our unique ‘blind spots,’ and by taking specific actions towards recalibrating how we spend our time and reevaluate the goals that we hope to achieve in the year ahead, that we can truly stand before the Almighty on Rosh Hashanah without a feeling of bitterness and false entitlement.
In the zechus of opening our hearts and souls with humility and deference, may we be zoche to be inscribed in a year of only brocha, simcha and besoros toyvos.
1Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon is a Sir Abe Bailey Fellow, Fulbright Scholar and graduate of the Harvard Law School. Chanan has spent most of his career in the high end of the financial service industry.
Chanan can best be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.