Our culture lauds the crazy ones, the misfits, those who stare down social norms and rise above their limitations. Nowadays, you don’t have to be born into a certain kind of family or social class to rise to the top. This is a revolutionary and freeing facet of our reality. A revolutionary and freeing facet of our reality is, if each you can prove your brains, bronze, talent, and tenacity then there’s nothing and no one that can hold you back.
But like all innovation, there are good parts and ugly parts, and if there is any Parsha that demonstrates the ugly side of the proactive destiny-shaper, it’s Parshat Korach.
Korach wasn’t underprivileged, but he believed he could be so much more than society let him be. He felt if he and his followers would just prove themselves, it would even out a nepotistic playing field. Yet his attempt ends in tragedy, fear, and despair.
When you read his words, he’s not saying something that we don’t all believe:
All of the community, all of them are holy (Bamidbar 16:2).
In the 21st Century, it’s hard to wrap our heads around how someone who seemed to champion ambition and upward mobility could be the wrong one. Where is the balance? Where is the line between striving to give our best and going too far?
I found an excellent model for this in the movie, Rudy.
Rudy is based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruetigger, who makes his way from a blue collar Illinois family to Indiana’s University of Notre Dame football team. He isn’t athletically or academically gifted. By all measurements, he’s very ordinary, aside from his extraordinary will and desire to make his dream come true.
And he does. Step by step, he makes it to Indiana, then to Notre Dame, then to the football team’s practice team, then to the team itself. Nothing breaks his stride. He gets close to being played during a game, but when it looks like that will never be a reality, Rudy is ready to quit…and that’s when his mentor steps in and gives him another perspective:
Spoiler – Rudy doesn’t quit. He makes the dress list and gets to run out on the field once. He gets as far as a “five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing” college kid is going to get…and he’s happy with that. He caps his need to prove his worth to others, and instead, starts focusing on proving his worth to himself.
And that’s something I think that we – as we’re bombarded with messages that push to be “greater” – can really use. Tune in to your ambition and pay attention to what is driving it. Are you trying to prove someone or something wrong? What unique talents and dispositions do you have, what do you bring to the table in the here and now, with who you are right now? Instead of trying to build ourselves into what the world deems as valuable, let’s focus on being valuable with what we inherently have, let it take us to places we may never have even dreamed of, and let that bring us joy.