Change our World, Change God

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; Genius will not; Education will not; Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” -Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States

Our persistence, in Hebrew “Histadlut” (השתדלות ) changes the world; it even changes the Holy Blessed One, who is sometimes referred to as Tzur Israel, the Rock of Israel.  Just as a rock is slowly shaped by the drips of water, so our persistent effort helps to shape our world, even the Divine. Consider Akiba’sobservation before he became a rabbi very late in life:

Akiba was tending his flock in the hills of Judah. He became thirsty and went to his favorite brook in the hills, to take a drink. As he was drawing the crystal clear water in his palm and putting it to his mouth, something caught his eye.

He saw drops of water falling on a huge stone – drip, drop – and directly where the drops were falling, there was a deep hole in the stone. Akiba was fascinated. He gazed at the drops, and at the stone.

“What mighty power there is in a drop of water,” the shepherd thought. “Could my stony heart ever be softened up that way?”

“Hello, Akiba! What are you gazing at?” It was Rachel, his master’s daughter. She was wise and kind and fair.

“Look what the little drops of water did to the rock!” Akiba exclaimed. “Do you think there is hope for me? Suppose I began to study the Torah, little by little, drop by drop. Do you think my stony heart would soften up?”

“Yes, Akiba. If you persevere, if you keep it up, just as these drops of water.” – from Avot D’Rabbi Natan, retold by Nissan Mindel

The character trait of persistence is defined as “Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks.” (viacharater.org)

Dr. F. Flach (2003)  has spent years studying how people cope with major catastrophes and terrible hardships, as well as potentially dangerous, major turning points in their lives. He has discovered that three the most common traits of resilient people are (a) creativity, (b) the ability to tolerate emotional or physical pain, and (c) the ability to discover new ways to approach life. Persistence is closely related to flexibility.

Imagine yourself in the last stretch of a marathon. Your entire body is aching and crying out desperately for oxygen. Your legs become rubbery. The end is within sight, but your spirit is wavering. No, you can’t do it, you will never make it – this negative voice gets louder and louder. You are on the verge of total collapse. At this crucial moment, what keeps you going? What sustains you when all the opposing forces seem overwhelming?

Once you dig deeper into your inner reserve and change gears, somehow you manage to find the second wind. By sheer determination or some magic power, you are able to muster just enough strength to reach the finish line .

Two suggestions for increasing your personal persistence this week:

Notice that the hole in the stone did not come from a strong gush of water but a steady, constant drop.

– Practice bringing your attention to the present moment. Notice when you are distracted and bring yourself back to your task, the person speaking to you, or the situation going on. We all get distracted, often, but bit by bit, we can become stronger in mental and emotional presence. This attention to paying attention helps us stay on task. In turn, we are more likely to stick with our intentions when we are less distracted by all the places our mind can wander.

– Complete a project this week that has felt overwhelming, but can be finished by doing a bit of work everyday this week. Persist each day, and watch it come to fruition.

What our collective persistence means to God:

In simple terms, God’s constantly attracts each of us to our best possible choice. Regardless of the actual choices we make, God constantly offers us a new best choice. Our relationship with the divine is dynamic and constantly changing as our condition and that of all of the universe changes. If we persistently pursuit what is right and what is good, even if we make mistakes along the way, something extraordinary can happen. There is a multiplier effect of our collective. Our good choices amplify. “One good act will lead to another”. God’s aim for us will, by function of our collective action, shift from good enough, to great.

As enough of us get stronger and stronger this divine process will continue call us to our best possible selves.   We will be drawn into even deeper experience of humanity and divinity, more heartfelt compassion for all of existence, more meaningful relationship, and an abiding justice. Drop by drop, we change the world, and even God.

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"The Strength to Persevere" is a month-long exploration of our most human frailties and triumphs, a journey that culminates with the High Holidays of 5779 (2018/19). To learn how you can participate, take a look now.