The Bow and Arrow
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
This coming Sunday is a special day in the Jewish calendar. It is known as Lag Baomer, the day that marks the passing of the great Talmudic sage and mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. This second century Rabbi and Kabbalist requested that the day of his passing should be marked with happiness and celebration.
One of the many Lag Baomer traditions is for children to go on outings and play with bows and arrows. Among the many reasons for this custom is one that has an important life lesson.
To use a bow and arrow effectively, the shooter must first pull the bow towards himself. Once the bow is pulled as far back as possible, the arrow can be released with significant force and hopefully meets its target quickly and accurately.
The lesson here is simple but powerful. Affecting the world around us is more successful when we first move inwards. When we look deeply into our own soul, realizing the amazing potential that we possess, only then can we influence others.
The Rebbe of Kotzk once said: "When I was younger I thought I would change the world. I then decided that I would work on my city, and later concentrated just on my family. But now I have decided just to try and change myself." I do not believe the Kotzker Rebbe meant that he would work only on himself and ignore others. After all, he led a big community and was responsible for thousands of followers. What he was saying is that the only effective way to change other people is to begin with ourselves.
Improving our own character and personality is within our control. We choose to progress or stagnate, to become angry or stay calm, to give or to hold back. We cannot control other people, but we can influence them by moving inwards. Changing ourselves will change others.