The haftarah discusses the story of Shimshon, the nazarite.
There are some who were born to be the holiest of the holy, like Shimshon. But G-d did not have this role in mind for everyone.
One year, after the Yomim Noraim season had ended, the Radomsker Rebbe, the Tiferes Shlomo, told his chassidim that he could tell them whether or not the primary goal of their tefilos on Yomim Noraim had been accepted in Shamayim. The Rebbe did this in order to help them know whether or not they were “on the right track.”
The Rebbe told one chassid, Yankel, the following: “Yankel, I know that you are a very hard worker. You are a water-carrier and provide water for the entire city. This is such an obviously vital need. I know that lately you have been feeling like you’ve had enough. You’ve been longing to somehow make enough money to stop your hard work and go sit and learn in the beis midrash all day. You asked the Ribbono Shel Olam for wealth, to win the lottery or find a great treasure. But I want you to know, dear Yankel, that your tefillos in this inyan have not been accepted. In fact, you will have to accept that it is will be your job to provide water for the entire town for the rest of your life.”
Yankel was beside himself with sadness and disappointment.
“But Rebbe,” he said, “I want to learn Torah well and I have the ability and brains to do so. Why would Hashem say no to my deepest desire to learn his Torah full time?”
The Rebbe comforted Yankel saying, “I know you can learn. I know you are smart. I don’t know the ways of the Ribbono Shel Olam but I see that the pleasure and nachas ruach that Hashem is getting from your honest and important work of providing water. I also see how much He enjoys your setting aside some time every day to learn, and from your regular davening and in your acts of chesed. That is the kind of avodas Hashem He wants and needs from you. He wants kabalas ol Malchus Shamayim in all that you do and you are giving it to Him!”
Of course, we are not like the Tiferes Shlomo or his chassid. We are not prophets and we don’t know exactly what our tafkid, our specific purpose, in the world is. But we must never forget that each person has his specific purpose, and that there are many types of ovdei Hashem.
One type of person has goals and aspirations to become a major talmid chacham and his focus in life is all about learning and mastering Hashem’s Torah to his greatest ability. Of course, each of us should be actualizing our personal potential in limud Torah. But let’s face it, not everyone was given the ability to become a talmid chacham.
Then there are those whose tafkid is to work and labor in the world, but to be mekabel ol Malchus Shamayim while doing so. They are to do their best to perform mitzvos properly and accept the will of Hashem.
At the same time, the talmid chacham cannot ignore his mitzvah obligations and must live his life respecting others and the world around him. And a simple Jew cannot let a day and night go by without dedicating time for learning Torah.
Sometimes we get mixed up and try to become what we can’t be – and that leads to frustration. If a person is trying to become a talmid chacham but does not see the success and accomplishments he expects to see, he can become depressed and feel as if he is letting Hashem Yisborach down. If he were able to accept that Hashem doesn’t expect from him what he expects from one who was given the capabilities to become a talmid chacham, then he would be happy with himself.
While it is a nice that some rebbeim hang a mirror in their classrooms next to pictures of gedolim with a caption which says, “Why not you?” unrealistic expectations for oneself can lead to self-doubt and misery.
A person can maximize his abilities, energies, and focus toward his learning, and yet still not become wildly successful in it. We are not, chas v’shalom, encouraging laziness, just a healthy dose of self-understanding and reality.
As the Mesilas Yesharim writes in the very beginning of the sefer, a person has to know “mah chovaso b’olamo – what is his obligation in the world.” What does Hashem want from me in particular? I need to do whatever I can to be an oveid Hashem in the way that He wants me to be. I don’t dictate the terms. He does. Becoming a lamdan may be my desire, but it may not be my purpose in the world.
The Mesilas Yesharim concludes his sefer with these words: “The way of devotion appropriate for one whose occupation is Torah study is not the way of devotion for one who needs to hire himself out to work for his fellow or in business… Each person according to who he is, will be the ways of piety suitable for him… piety is nothing more than doing what is pleasing to one’s Maker. But since the subjects vary, the means which bring to this goal vary accordingly with each individual. Thus, one can be a complete chassid if he is a man whose mouth does not interrupt from Torah study, just like one who, due to necessity, is a lowly laborer.”
This is an important message to internalize all year round, but specifically at Shavous time. Shavuos is when we recommit ourselves to the entirety of Torah and its laws and to finding our individual role and purpose in G-d’s plan. This is why many people recite a list of the 613 mitzvos on Shavuos night (this is part of the Tikun Layl Shavuos but can be recited separately). In doing so, they have in mind to grow closer and passionately re-accept the entirety of taryag mitzvos, and in discovering their unique selves.
Some people are meant to be nazirites, while others live lives seemingly mundane – both have equal value in Hashem’s eyes.
(Much of the above is based on thoughts from Rav Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh.)