When We Have the Potential, We Have the Responsibility

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When We Have the Potential, We Have the Responsibility

Michael Berg
July 30, 2023
Like 35 Comments 16 Share

There is a story in the Midrash about a man who lived in the time of Rav Pinchas ben Yair, the father-in-law of Rav Shimon bar Yochai. It says this man was a kind person whose life’s work was digging wells for people. He had a lot of wisdom and understanding about where to dig for and find water; therefore, if there was a city or village that didn’t have water, he would go there, and through his wisdom, create wells which allowed countless people to drink.

One day, while his daughter was walking, she came across a raging river, which she was thrown into, and drowned. Many people went to Rav Pinchas ben Yair to tell him what had happened to the daughter of the well digger. Rav Pinchas ben Yair responded by saying these words, ”ee efshar,” which mean, “Can’t be, impossible;” it can’t be that the daughter of this man whose entire life’s work is to create water for other people is going to die in water. As he said these words, suddenly people in the town were yelling that the daughter of the well digger had appeared. Why? The Midrash tells us that when Rav Pinchas ben Yair said the words “ee efshar,” an angel came down and revived the well digger’s daughter.

"It is a miracle, and an amazing story."

It is a miracle, and an amazing story; a story in which the kabbalists are explaining to us what happens if we let go of our actions, or our Light. By letting go of our Light, we allow It to grow exponentially, and then, we have created this great store of Light, of protection, and more importantly, of miracles.

The reason this miracle occurred through the words of Rav Pinchas ben Yair is because the man who was digging the wells for the people never held onto his actions, and that storage of Light he had created is where Rav Pinchas ben Yair went to create the miracle of resurrecting the man’s daughter.

Many of us do actions of sharing, but that’s not enough to create a storage of miracles. We have to, like the well digger, let go of the actions. If we want to create the storage of Light that Rav Pinchas ben Yair used, that the well digger had created, we have to be letting go of all of our actions, letting go of all of the good that we do. And then we have the power to create unbelievable miracles.

Further, this story refers to the kabbalists’ explanation that if Rav Pinchas ben Yair had not said the words “cannot be,” which enabled the resurrection of the man’s daughter, there would have been a huge lack created within him for not creating that miracle. But how does that make sense? If it’s the man’s daughter who died, why is it Rav Pinchas ben Yair’s responsibility to create the miracle? Here, we learn a very important lesson: we are responsible for what we can do in our potential. Rav Pinchas ben Yair had the ability to create this miracle. In his potential, he knew how to go into that storage of Light that this man created and then make the miracle of reviving that man’s daughter.

"We have much greater power to bring Light and create miracles for others than we give ourselves credit for and act upon."

Whatever we have in our potential to do, we are responsible for. And every single one of us has, in one degree or another, the potential – and thus, responsibility - to be able to create these miracles for ourselves and others.

In the portion Ekev, Moses tells the Israelites who are standing east of the Jordan River that they are going to cross it, but he isn’t. The kabbalists say that the reason Moses uses such interesting terminology, saying, “You are going to cross, I’m not going to cross,” is because he wanted to awaken within them a desire to ask and pray that he actually be allowed to cross. He wanted to awaken that desire within them so that when they heard it, they would say, “No. Let’s tell the Creator, ee efshar, it can’t be. Moses has to cross, too.” And the kabbalists teach that if the Israelites had asked in that moment, Moses would have crossed. In the previous portion Va’etchanan, Moses prayed 515 times to create this miracle, but even he couldn’t create it for himself. However, the Israelites could have done it for him. And because they had the ability to do that, and it was hinted at to them to do it, but they didn’t, they caused lack for themselves.

We have much greater power to bring Light and create miracles for others than we give ourselves credit for and act upon. One of the things we learn from the story of Rav Pinchas ben Yair is that once we have the potential, we have the responsibility, and one of the great gifts that Moses gives us on Shabbat Ekev is the ability to create these miracles with our words. On Shabbat Ekev, we receive the power to be able to, with our words, create miracles for others. And once we begin to understand that we have the potential to do that, we begin to understand that we also have a tremendous responsibility.

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