When Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory was here in New Zealand, we had the tremendous opportunity to host him at the WJCC.
He was a man of deep moral principles and integrity. I love when he said during his Drasha on Shabbat here, that Moshiach better not come to New Zealand first, because it is so beautiful here, he would never leave!
I wrote this article 2 days before Harav of blessed memory passed away. May his soul have an Aliyah. The nation of Israel and the world have lost a true Torah giant.
“The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”
This is my word of the month. Yes, just like sesame street! The word on the street, as they say! Well, for this month, maybe even for this year, what has been on top for me is integrity.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (may his memory be for blessing and peace) asks in his study of leadership: Do the challenges that are overcome make the leader? Or is the person already a leader, and the challenges just accentuate that? The believes that the integrity of the leader is one of the most important aspects of being a true leader. And that the best way to teach is to lead by example. We see this in parenting. What one wants their child to be, one must practice also.
Some challenges come to us in order to make us find the true values we hold and ask ourselves if we really believe in them.
I had such a challenge recently. It consumed me for an entire year and was arguably the most astounding, excruciating, and yet fascinating challenge I have had in years. I was forced to really examine the values that I held dear, and actually decide to consciously choose them. In re-choosing my values, I felt a deeper connection and relationship to G-D.
One of the many chidushim (insights) brought down about Adam in the Garden of Eden is that he ate from the tree because of his love of GD.
To say that this sat well with me would be a lie; I struggled with this interpretation. Here is the idea. In the Garden of Eden, service and devotion to G-D was simple, easy. Adam understood this and ate from the tree, thereby plunging the world into the state it is now. He did so out of love of Hashem, because Adam understood about human nature that we need to work for our ideals and values. We need the opportunity and challenge to work through our relationship with Hashem, to overcome ones’ inclinations and connect to our Creator.
We don't wish for challenges, as they say; but once a challenge is here, make the best of it.
We read this past week about the 10 challenges Avraham had to face. Passing all 10 tests made Avraham one of the greatest human beings in all history.
I can’t compare my trials to those of our forefathers and mothers; but if I look at one of my most recent tests, it is all about integrity. I was forced to ask myself: Do I truly believe the morals and values I subscribe to, or are they just empty words? I was forced to work hard for them, very hard.
It got me thinking about this word, integrity. How does one go about having integrity? Is it ingrained? Or do the tests and trials of life bring it out?
I once made a list of all the great people I admire, and I noticed that they all acted consistently and with tremendous integrity. When faced with challenge and temptation, there is a pattern that emerged for the responses of all these Tzadikim. They seemed to be keeping to an unspoken protocol.
If you want to follow their example, here is a partial list of their approach to challenges. I hope to follow and add to this list for the rest of my life. I call it a checklist for a mindset of integrity.
1. Ein od Milvado
Always be aware that there is literally nothing outside of G-D.
2. Keep the question in mind, what is my goal? Am I behaving in a way that brings me closer to this goal?
3. Consistency. This is a tough one. Ask constantly, am I consistent in my behavior? Are there places that I behave one way and areas where I am totally different?
4. Dress the part. Yes! Clothes matter! A person dressed for business is way more professional than someone in sweats. When one is wearing a uniform, one behaves more carefully. Our life is our work, we represent the Creator of the world. As Jews we are G-D'S PR team. We need to look fantastic!
5. Be able to look at oneself in the mirror and in others’ faces. Do I literally practice what I preach? Do I act in a way my children can look up to a be proud of?
6. Constantly review: Am I reaching my goals, upholding my values?
7. Have a mentor; someone to keep your head on straight. We can talk ourselves into almost anything, but a true mentor will call us on it and remind us to keep on track.
8. Surrender oneself to prayer. I had years where I didn't consistently pray every day (small children have a lot to do with that, but also just not making it a priority). During Shemoneh esrei there is a part about asking for forgiveness. This is such a great moment to reflect...how did I blow it in the past 24 hours since I prayed this last? How could I do better? Why did I compromise those values?
As a result of my recent challenges, I had to reexamine my values and really truly own them as a choice, an active choice. This process cemented them for me in a way that merely thinking about them in the abstract never could.
Again, we don't wish for nisayanot (challenges or trials). But, if they come, we must remind ourselves, G-D never sends a test we can't pass.
I bless us all to be able to truly live our values, not just have them collecting dust! May we really know and feel in our hearts what we believe, and walk the path of consistent integrity.