Words to live By


By Rabbi Chay Amar

The sages in the commentaries on King Solomon’s proverbs teach that, “There’s no greater joy in the world than having certitude,” meaning that when you are sure of your path you can be happy. Conversely, when you live with doubt and confusion, happiness is bound to elude you. The sages also teach that “A man would rather have one portion which belongs to him than nine portions which belong to somebody else.” And this also relates to finding a path that is uniquely your own, not someone else’s.   

Words to live ByThe Kotzker Rebbe1  famously put it this way: “If I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you, but if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you!” In other words, if my existence is a reflection of who is looking at me, then I’m not really me, because my self-definition changes day-to-day depending on who it is that is interacting with me. But if I’m I, independent, because I am walking my own unique path in life, then I am true to myself and I am happy as a result. I know where I’m going, and I’m doing it with certainty.

Happiness is not an absence of challenges. Imagine having a Lamborghini and only using it to drive around in mundane city traffic. You don’t even begin to experience its awesome power on hairpin turns. Our body—certainly the greatest machine ever engineered—is exactly the same; it is at its best when responding to the twists and turns that life’s challenges bring. With every challenge comes the potential to climb higher, to scale more dizzying spiritual heights and access greater inner powers. And happiness comes from knowing that. Happiness is not a lack of challenges but the knowledge and certitude that we can overcome them and grow precisely because of them.

Effective Action Brings Results

Have you ever put a new log on the fire and watched it go up in flames? While the fire is attacking the log, it is exciting to watch; it leaps and crackles and sizzles. At this early point, when the bond between the log and the fire is still fragile, any strong wind can quell the flames. If not prematurely extinguished by this challenge, then the fire will continue to strengthen and grow. Then at some point the fire grows quiet as the log has absorbed the external heat and now burns softly from within. This is the phase when the log gives off the most heat. You see the embers glow, but now the process is hidden. It is happening quietly, inside. The exterior coarseness of the log has been consumed and the wood, refined into raw heat energy. This state remains constant until a wind comes along again. Yet, this time instead of extinguishing the fire, the wind will revive the flames, leaping and dancing, celebrating the even stronger fusion between the log and the fire.

Words to live ByEffective Action Begins with Genuine Intent

The fire represents passion. The winds represent challenges.

We see this pattern in marriage quite often. In the beginning things are exciting, as the flames of passion heat up the relationship. Then, arise the winds, the challenges to the fire, which is especially fragile at the beginning of the union, and will seem to douse the fire. If either or both of the partner’s intents are superficial, the challenges will become their focus. They may erroneously think the fire is dead and stop nurturing the marriage. If both partners have a genuine intent to kindle the relationship, then challenges will be seen as opportunities to burn away the coarseness between them, exposing a deeper passion and establishing true love with a solid foundation.

So, too, in every process towards realizing an objective, the power of the action—the determination—is in direct proportion to the depth of the original intent. It is therefore not by accident that the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery began with Moses’ act of deep contemplation.