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Parsha Vayechi: “Why Trying Isn’t Good Enough”

RABBI DONIEL FRANK | Director, M.A.P. Seminars, Inc., Marriage and Family Therapist

Click here to download PDF transcript for Vayechi

Rav Baruch Ber Liebowitz, a pre-war European Rosh Yeshiva who spoke no English, used to visit the United States to raise funds. Once, when he came back from one of his visits, he told his students that he had learned his first English words: I’ll try. It’s a phrase he had heard often from potential donors, and when they asked him what it meant, he said, “nothing.”

What’s wrong with trying? Why does it mean nothing?

Yaakov asks Yosef to swepodcast3ar that he’ll bury him in Eretz Yisroel. Why does he make him swear? Doesn’t he trust him? Why isn’t it enough for Yosef just to say that he will try?

Ramban explains that Yaakov made Yosef swear because he knew that he was likely to face major obstacles towards fulfilling his request. Pharaoh might hold Yosef back and just send his brothers, or he might demand that Yaakov “the prophet” be buried in Egypt.

Therefore, Ramban says that Yaakov made Yosef swear in the hope that Pharaoh would respect the oath and not force Yosef to transgress it.

That’s his first answer. But it’s Ramban’s second answer that shows us the flaw with trying.

Ramban says that he was actually making sure that Yosef would exert himself to do whatever he could to fulfill the oath.

What does that mean? After all, wouldn’t Yosef exert himself anyway, with or without an oath? Wasn’t that the original question?

The answer is that when we limit our commitment, like when we say we’ll try, we allow the possibility of not succeeding as well as not being accountable for it. That’s because we can always say we tried and walk away without any guilt. This safety net keeps well meaning and otherwise trusted people from going all out, taking chances, and making things happen.

On the other hand, once we make a firm commitment, we leave no room for failure. Our word and our reputation are on the line which forces us to be relentless and resourceful till we get the job done.

Yaakov wanted Yosef to abandon the safety net and make the commitment. He wanted him to eliminate all excuses. So, he asked for an oath.

Successful goal-setters are very particular about the language they use. Only the word will, not try, is ever found in their commitments. They live with the awareness that obstacles only show up when we take our eyes off of our commitments which allows excuses to dampen our determination.

Certainly we understand that Hashem determines our ultimate success. And there will be times that, with all of our commitments, we just cannot come through. But we have to do our part, and that means moving far from the language of trying and towards the language of commitment so that we force ourselves to bring all that we can to make success happen.


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