On Sunday evening, June 21, Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro, rav of Congregation Shaaray Tefilah in North Miami Beach and well-known speaker, shared an inspiring virtual shiur on behalf of Chazaq and Emet.

Rabbi Shapiro began with a question on the incident of the spies in Parshas Sh’lach. It says in the pasuk that the spies reported: “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes.”

Shouldn’t it be the opposite, that they viewed us as grasshoppers so we felt like grasshoppers? He explained that the reason they perceived us as grasshoppers was because we perceived ourselves as grasshoppers. If a person doesn’t have healthy self-esteem, this is what happens. Others will perceive us as we perceive ourselves. In addition to the lashon ha’ra they spoke against the land, they also sinned in their self-perception, because this caused others to see them that way.

He then enumerated steps to achieving greatness. First, we need healthy self-esteem. “Believe in yourself that you can accomplish things.” He pointed out how COVID-19 all came from one person. So, if one person can accomplish so much in the negative realm, then imagine how much one person can accomplish in the positive realm. “We must believe in the inherent greatness in klal Yisrael.”

The next step to achieving greatness is demonstrated by the actions of Kalev and Yehoshua. Kalev went to Chevron to daven at the kivrei Avos. After davening there, he had such strength that he could face the negative report of giants fearlessly. Also, according to Rashi, Moshe davened for Yehoshua to be strong and to withstand the pressure of the spies. We see from both of these examples how davening gives us incredible strength to face the vicissitudes of life. He shared a teaching of the previous Novominsker Rebbe. When Kalev davened at Avraham’s grave, he said to himself: I am at the kever of a giant of spirituality. Look where we came from. I stem from his lineage, so part of that greatness is inside of me. Therefore, I don’t need to be afraid of physical giants. He noted that the last few months, our rebbeim and teachers have done a spectacular job. “We all come from giants: the Avos and Imahos. We must understand where we come from. It’s in our DNA.”

The third step to achieving greatness is not to stagnate with no growth at all. If we stagnate, which is how he interprets Va’yeishev (stays in the land), then that same land will consume us. Va’yeishev is an expression of woe. It is the language of tzaar. Va’yeishev – to dwell – means a person stays in the same place figuratively. He doesn’t take steps to grow. It’s a painful expression when a person remains the same. Eisav represents a life of complacency, of not growing. Yosef’s name, on the other hand, means to add on, to grow to be better. Eisav says: I’m fine as I am. Yosef wants to add and achieve greatness. So, we have to ask ourselves: Is it going to be a life of Eisav or Yosef? “Klal Yisrael has people who have always been the trailblazers.”

Rabbi Shapiro went on to share true recent stories of regular people who achieved greatness.

In 2008, in a yeshivah in the tri-state area, a child was sent home because tuition had not been paid. The mother was a widow and she sent something in a brown bag back to school with her child. Inside were her diamond engagement bracelet and her wedding band and a note to the menahel. “Keep the jewelry but don’t stop my Eli from learning.” “This woman understood achieving greatness.”

Klal Yisrael has giants. We have the ability to achieve greatness step by step.

There was a man named Izzy Gibbur who at age 80 began learning Daf Yomi. He spent many hours learning from his ArtScroll Gemara. At age 88, he made his first siyum.

Rabbi Shapiro stressed that everyone can go up and ascend his own personal mizbei’ach. This has to be done in small steps. “Taking small incremental steps is the way to achieve greatness.”

The shiur can be viewed on www.TorahAnytime.com

By Susie Garber