What Is the Most Powerful Word in the English Language?

Chinuch and the Parsha by Rabbi Shmuel Wagner: A single word in this weeks Parsha, and a halacha about Tefilas Haderech teaches us a profound lesson on how to view challenges.

By Rabbi Shmuel Wagner – teacher at ULY Ocean Parkway

Consider this:

Scenario #1: “I do not understand this piece of Gemara.” “I am not good at this new job.” “I do not want to do this Mitzvah.”

Scenario #2: “I do not yet understand this piece of Gemara.” “I am not yet good at this new job.” “I do not yet want to do this Mitzvah.”

Feel the difference?

The most powerful word, in my opinion, is “Yet.” It has the power to transform any negative sentence into a potentially positive one.

In scenario #1, each sentence ends with a resounding period. Firm and rigid. Nothing to talk about.

In scenario #2, each sentence ends with an imaginary ellipsis (dot-dot-dot)… It is an unfinished sentence; the end is yet to be written. This is the current situation, yes, but it will not remain this way; there is yet hope.

Psychologist Carol Dwek calls it “Fixed Mindset” vs. “Growth Mindset”, and many parents and teachers have adopted her method, placing much emphasis on educating their children and students to always view every challenge in life as but an opportunity for growth.

Well, our Parsha’s theme is no less than growth mindset.

“Eileh Mas’ei B’nei Yisrael”, “These are the journeys of the Yidden”. The Torah lists the 42 places in the desert where the Yidden camped during their 40-year journey from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael.

Stop. (No pun intended.) “These are the journeys”?! There was only one journey – from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael. The 42 places in the desert were not 42 “journeys”, they were 42 stops throughout the journey! Why does the Torah pluralize the word “Mas’ei”?

But, the Rebbe answers (in Likkutei Sichos Chelek 2), the answer is exactly that – growth mindset. The Torah is teaching us that the Yidden never truly stopped in the desert. They were constantly journeying, and each time they encamped somewhere in the desert, their mindset was that this was just a form of traveling. Even the 19 years spent in Kadeish (see Rashi to Devarim 1:46) was viewed, not as a stop, but as a journey.

This was significant. Because the Yidden were traveling through a desert; a place described by Yirmiya as “Lo yashav odom shom”, “Man did not settle there”. As the Alter Rebbe explains in Chassidus, “Odom” refers to “Odom Ho’elyon”, Hashem. A “desert” therefore, symbolizes a habitat, a situation, where Hashem is not comfortable, and it was in such an environment that the Yidden were destined to be for 40 years. But it was not at all their goal – Eretz Yisrael was. It was therefore crucial that the Yidden should at no point get stuck in the desert. Not physically, and not mentally or spiritually.

[This is also, perhaps, the deeper reason for the custom the Rebbe brings in the Hayom-Yom of 23 Tammuz, that we read the Pesukim of all 42 journeys in one Aliyah – we cannot stop in the middle!]

This is the message of “Mas’ei”: The Yidden did not reach Eretz Yisrael – yet. Every over-night (or even over-year) in the desert, was not a destination, it was a part of the journey. Every hurdle in life, is not an obstruction, it is a springboard.

Inspired yet? (This time – pun intended.)

Well, can we speak real for a second?

Right now, I have a problem. A legitimate problem. Preach “Growth mindset” to me until you are blue in the face, but what does that mean to me right now – that I should ignore my problem? That I should be delusional and bury my head in the sand, pretending that everything is simply fine?! That cannot be.

That is not what it means.

Let us back up a step and analyze a “journey”. Every journey can be separated into two segments: The initial act of leaving the current place, and then the continued trek until you reach your destination.

These two segments are separate in this that in any trip, the second segment will always differ in length of time, while the first segment will always be a single moment.

In Lashon Kodesh, the second segment is called “Halicha”, while the first is called “Masa”. The root word “Masa” connotes uprooting, leaving the current position.

Lest you think this is but a technical Dikduk class, here is a fascinating Halacha where this comes into play:

It is summertime. Many of you are traveling. You said Tefilas Haderech on your trip? Well, when did you say it? When is it considered to be that you are “traveling”?

Did you know that according to the Taz (Rabbi Dovid Halevi Segal, one of the most prominent Poskim of the 17th­ century), one can say Tefilas Haderech while still in the city? Yup! Once you have in mind to travel, the Taz says, you are considered to be on the road! And although the Alter Rebbe (in Orach Chaim 110:6) paskens that it is best to only say it once actually outside the city limits, the Alter Rebbe relies on this opinion of the Taz bedi’eved; that if one has said Tefilas Haderech while still in the city, he has fulfilled his obligation and need not recite it again.

How does this make sense? You are still on Flatbush Avenue (stuck in traffic), and you can already say “The Traveler’s Prayer”?!

The answer is, this is the essence of “Masa”, of traveling – uprooting, changing your current status of “I am home and settled” to, “I am out of here!” It does not matter how far you got in the second segment of your trip; you completed the first part just by taking that initial step of getting out, in fact just by having in mind to travel!

That is growth mindset.

Notice, the two lifestyles presented by Carol Dwek boil down, not to actions, but to a mindset [making that the name of her book].

Living with growth mindset does not mean solving all the problems. It does not (yet!) mean that there are no challenges. What it does mean, is that I never get stuck in my problem. I never let my problem define me.

Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, (להבחל”ח) Yudi Dukes, or any other person whose Emunah and Simcha inspires you. Think about how they lived through their ordeal. Did their problem not exist?! Were they not acutely aware of their hardship?! I guarantee you that they were. But Yudi would never think of identifying as “an ill person”, and Sholom Mordechai would never even consider the remote possibility of calling himself “a prisoner”. A Jew in a (place called) prison? Unfortunately, yes. A Shliach in a hospital bed? Sadly, yes. But nothing more than that. Those were their current locations, not their current statuses.

That is not a play on words. That is a difference of mindset, of lifestyle.

I have a problem, and either I can fix it, or not, but either way: I have this problem; I am not this problem. I will not become fixed, or fixated, on my weakness, and I will not let it lead the way I live. To paraphrase Benny Friedman’s song, “A Yid never gets stuck in the night”!

“Eileh Mas’ei B’nei Yisrael”. This is the Torah’s call to growth mindset, to view every obstacle in life, not as a stop – but as a step. Lechayim!

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