Fortunately, two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a shiur by Rav Avi Weiss, and have been thinking about it ever since. His topic was, "Fate and Destiny: Coping with Adversity." I almost blogged about it right away, but instead chose to hold onto it until closer to my birthday, when I felt I would most need its message of empowerment--and would be most excited to share it.
Rav Avi Weiss packed so much meaning packed into that shiur, but what resonated with me most was when he made the following point: when a person struggles, it is normal for that person to ask, "Why?" But perhaps that is not the most effective question. Maybe instead of asking, "Why?" one should ask, "What now?"
To flesh out this idea, Rav Weiss brought a quote from Rav Soloveitchik's work, Fate and Destiny. Rav Soloveitchik views the human being as having two "I"s: the "I" of fate, and the "I" of destiny. Here is how he explains his concept of an "Existence of Destiny":
In short, the "I" of fate asks a speculative metaphysical question with regard to evil, and this question is not susceptible to solution and has no answer.
In the second dimension of man's existence, destiny, the question of suffering takes on new form. What is an, "Existence of Destiny?"
This is an active existence in which man confronts the environment into which he was cast with an understanding of his uniqueness, value, freedom and capacity without compromising his integrity and independence in his struggle with the outside. The slogan of the "I" of destiny is, "Against your will you are born, and against your will you die [but with your free will do you live]." Man is born as an object, dies as an object, but it is within his capacity to live as a "subject" -- as a creator who impresses on his life his individual imprimatur and who lives autonomously. According to Judaism, man's mission in his world is to turn fate into destiny--an existence that is passive and influenced, to an existence that is active and influential; an existence of compulsion, perplexity, and speechlessness, to an existence full of will and initiative.
There is just so much I love about this, relating to both the specific challenge of struggling against adversity, and to the more general concepts of self-determination and empowerment. I feel that so much of recovery connects strongly to Rav Soloveitchik's idea of turning "an existence that is passive and influenced, to an existence that is active and influential; an existence of compulsion, perplexity, and speechlessness, to an existence full of will and initiative." And, what better time to reflect on my own commitment to this endeavor, than my birthday?
In what ways am I actively shaping my own destiny?
In what ways am I still being too passive?
In the coming year, how can I live more authentically as the "subject" of my own life?
We can all benefit from asking ourselves these questions--it's the ongoing work of recovery. So, even if it isn't anywhere near your birthday, I (gently) challenge you to think about how Rav Soloveitchik's ideas apply to your own journey through life. How can you wake up your "I" of destiny?