Photo Credit: courtesy

{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

My father zt”l was teaching me how to wrap Tefillin. I playfully made a he-man muscle provoking my sister to offer to find a microscope to find my bicep. “What the two of you don’t yet know is that if you wear your Tefillin properly, you will become much stronger,” my father assured me. My “Tefillin Muscle” has grown and given me the answer to, “What to do with it.”

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Stavrogin, protagonist of Dostoevski’s “The Devils,” writes to Daria Pavlovna: “I have set trials, everywhere, for my strength. During these trials, before myself or before the others, that strength has always proven limitless. But, what to do with it? This is what I never knew and still don’t know.” Poor Stavrogin; he didn’t know what to do with all his strength.

Pharaoh too, possessed great power. God repeatedly strengthened Pharaoh’s heart. He used his power to enslave a nation, and ultimately, unable to answer “what to do with it,” allowed the destruction of his country. Helpless and frustrated, he repeatedly blusters: “And he drove them out of Pharaoh’s presence.” (Exodus 10:11) “Go from me! Beware! Do not see my face any more, for on the day you see my face you shall die!” (Verse 28) He is left only with the power to “hasten the people out of the land.” Power is meaningless when possessed by one who is haunted by, “What to do with it?”

We often speak of God’s strength: “For with a mighty hand God took you out of Egypt.” ((13:9) Yet we only speak of that strength when describing its impact on us; never as a description of God: “It happened on that very day: God took the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;” (12:51) no mention of a ‘mighty hand.’ The Torah describes God’s strength only as it affects people. God’s power is exclusively used for empowerment. “And the Children of Israel were going out with an upraised arm.” (14:8) “What to do with it?” Empower.

The first commandment given to Israel, the sanctification of time, is empowering: We, not heaven, determine the calendar. We were instructed to display our Pesach offering as a conspicuous expression of our new confidence before our Egyptian masters who worshipped the animals as deities: empowerment. We ate the offering, “loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand,” (12:11) certain we were leaving Egypt, before our former masters released us: empowerment.

We praise God’s strength only as it is used to empower. From the beginning we were taught that the purpose of serving God is to empower us. We study Torah to be empowered. We pray to be empowered and as empowered beings. We observe Mitzvot as means of empowerment.

Forty years after that first lesson, I continue to make a muscle when wrapping my Tefillin. I look to God and the Mitzvot for empowerment. I pray for the wisdom to use that power to empower others.

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Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg, is founder and President of the leading Torah website, The Foundation Stone. Rav Simcha is an internationally known teacher of Torah and has etablished yeshivot on several continents.