HASHEM spoke to Moshe saying: Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them… (Bamidbar 8:5-6)
Take the Levites: Take them with words: You are fortunate in that you have merited to become attendants of the Omnipresent – L’MAKOM). — Rashi
So, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, at the end of ten years of Avram’s dwelling in the land of Canaan, and she gave her to Avram her husband for a wife. (Breishis 16:3)
So, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took: She took her with words, “You are fortunate that you have merited to cleave to a holy body such as this one.”
How can someone take another person? Is that possible? A person has a mind and a will of their own. They are not an object. Obviously, one must appeal to their deepest desire and noblest sense of self to gain their willing cooperation. This is the essence of leadership. Here we have two primary examples of how to “take a person”. What is the nature of the appeal?
How often must one “take another person”? Is this a common request? It may be more common than we think. I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me to make this person become more or less of this or that. “Rabbi, change my husband. Make him a nicer person.” When I meet the husband, he doesn’t believe he needs to change or he is not a willing participant. What can I do!?
I have come to the grand conclusion, after all these years that nobody can change another person. It’s just like the old bad joke; How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has got to want to change! That says it all.
If a person doesn’t want to change then no one can make him change. The person has to be convinced that it is truly in his best interest that making some adjustment is necessary. One needs clarity. Healthy and long- lasting change does not come from coercion or pressure, from within or from without.
The Navi says, “Lo b’Koach v Lo b’Chayal, Ki Im B’R’Ruchi Neum HASHEM” – “Not with power and not with might, but rather with My spirit says HASHEM”. Exerting will power and an athletic attitude succeeds temporarily like most diets but then the person tires and yields. It was not a real change.
Clarity of purpose and method pave the way for healthy and lasting improvements. Rashi explains in both the case of the recruiting the Leviim for their chosen task and Hagar for her role in history that an appeal was made to their noblest sense of self. You are being invited to do something Holy and historic. Who can resist? This is a game changer for you, the world, and the greatest opportunity for your ideal self. When grooming a new preferred behavior, it is enormously helpful to not only develop a new routine and habit but also a new identity that supports it and sustains it as an incorporated self-image.
I had been involved for many years in the Daf HaYomi program even then. I was in the habit of learning steadily for a couple of days, then missing a day or two and then catching up again. That’s how it went for too long. I don’t think I ever went a few weeks without missing and having to make up a Daf. Then, 13 years ago my wife and I went for Shabbos to friends of ours in Boston. On Sunday morning, my friend invited me to attend his daily Daf Shiur. I enjoyed the Shiur very much.
My friend asked me rhetorically, “You know what’s great about the Daf!?” I wasn’t sure where he was going. He sensed I was open to hear his take. I was listening carefully. Then he said enthusiastically, “It’s Yomi!!! It’s Every Day! YOMI!!!” He looked to me for my approval and I nodded with renewed enthusiasm and echoed his profound point, “It’s YOMI!!” I was too embarrassed to disagree so I swallowed it wholesale and declared aloud. I was suddenly on board. Because of that brief exchange, I have not missed a day in the last 13 years. He was right. I recognized it. I agreed to it and the rest is history, a new history. In one swift moment, I was taken, by a word, and with a new identity, I became a YOMI guy.