The old graffiti was barely visible on the gray walls of the long abandoned service station: "I Can Eat An Elephant - If I Take Small Bites." The scene of a dead village on the old country road was depressing despite the beauty of the rolling hills, green pastures, and the shining sun. My mind's image of a teenager sitting down to eat an elephant, with a knife and fork, napkin tucked under his chin, determined to finish the meal no matter how long it took, lifted my spirits. I want to believe that the graffiti writer survived the decline of his village, that he took his spirit of determination with him wherever he went, and succeeded in devouring the elephants in his life.
We all confront elephants of one type or another, some larger than others, but elephants nonetheless; huge problems that can crush us with their sheer size and formidable weight. We have to be prepared to take small bites, fighting our way, step by step, to overcome our adversaries.
When my grandfather zt"l challenged me to complete the entire Talmud, I felt as if I was tackling an elephant. I took small bites, working my way page by page through one Tractate and then another. I developed sufficient skills to enlarge my bites. I picked up speed, and the elephant shrank in size.
Here I am again facing another elephant. We are approaching Rosh Hashanah and thinking of the coming year. What new challenges will appear? How many elephants will I face? I reflect on the elephants defeated over the past year and wonder whether my life skills have developed enough to take larger bites this year.
Most of the elephants were of my choosing. There were projects assumed, goals defined, resolutions made, all huge, reflecting my determination to grow by leaps and bounds. I created the largest elephants of the past year. I knew that countless bites would be necessary to consume them, and I had to measure how large each bite would be. I wanted each bite to be large enough to extend my reach, and yet not be so large that it could choke me.
I chose the elephants. I measured the size of the bites. And now, as we approach the final week before the New Year, I again must choose the elephants and measure my bites.
I cannot choose all the elephants. Life has a way of placing the few unexpected beasts in my way. Those elephants will not be of my choosing, but the bites will be mine. The elephants that reflect my goals are designed by me.
I hope that they will be larger than those of the past and that God will grant me the wisdom to correctly measure my bites.
I have the fork, knife, plate and napkin ready. Let's get started. I'm hungry!
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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