What Really Counts

A person should get his happiness from eternal things, from
leading a good life, from having a good relationship with G-d, not from
transient things, that today you have them and tomorrow they’re gone. Real
goodness in life comes from a sense of the eternal. Only the experience of
living with the eternal can make a person happy in this world.

The Rambam says that the source of the prohibition of taking
revenge is that the injuries for which a person might take revenge should not be
important enough to a person to keep on his mind. A person who lives with a
sense of the eternal won’t hold on to it. According to this, not only are we
forbidden to take revenge, but it is even forbidden to hold on to the thought of
the injury!

The classical case of revenge is that Shalom asks Dan to
borrow his lawnmower and Dan refuses. Shalom is very upset, and he goes out and
buys a lawnmower. Sometime later, Dan’s lawnmower breaks down and he goes to
Shalom and asks Shalom if he can borrow his lawnmower, which, of course, Shalom
just bought because Dan wouldn’t lend Shalom his lawnmower. If Shalom doesn’t
lend his lawnmower out to anyone because he is afraid that they will break it,
he is allowed to say no. But if Shalom would be willing to lend his lawnmower to
anyone but Dan because he remembers that Dan refused to lend him his lawnmower,
and that it was only because Dan refused to lend him his lawnmower that he
bought one for himself, then if Shalom refuses to lend his lawnmower to Dan, he
violates the prohibition of taking revenge. Not only that, he can’t even say
to Dan, “I’d be glad to lend you my lawnmower. Do you think I’m like you!”
If he says that, he violates the prohibition of holding a grudge.

According to the Rambam you shouldn’t even entertain that
thought. You shouldn’t even say to yourself, “See, I’m not like him.”
You should forget it completely. The whole thing should be so unimportant to you
that you simply let it go. Of course, this isn’t an easy thing to do, and it
may be hard to understand how we could fulfill this high standard of the Torah.
But if a person realized what was really important in life, it would be easy. It
would seem so trivial, so unworthy of his attention, that he wouldn’t want to
waste his time or his energy on it and it would simply disappear from his
thoughts. That takes a clear awareness of what really counts in life, and to
develop that, a person has to work on himself. If he doesn’t, he can’t
expect himself to meet this sort of challenge. No matter how often he tells
himself, it really doesn’t matter, he won’t be able to wipe out the feeling
of having suffered an injury.

A person has to condition himself to distinguish between what’s
important and what’s not important, and to let what’s not important roll off
his shoulder. There are some people who take every little thing to heart. They
remember injuries and insults from years before—little things that we would
say, looking on from outside, “forget it. It’s not worth getting upset
about.” They allow that bad feeling to poison their perceptions and their
relationships, and sometimes, even, their whole sense of life. Nothing is good
because of that little thing that once happened. A trivial annoyance that should
have been forgotten becomes the foundation of a skyscraper, a foundation of sand
that can hold up a skyscraper of resentment only because they’ve forgotten
what really counts in life and lost all perspective.

A person has to condition himself to respond to his
experiences out of a true sense of what is important. Self-control that is not
based on this won’t work. It won’t free a person from bad feelings that are
way out of proportion to the significance of the injury he has (or imagines he
has) suffered. When we know what’s important in life, life is much easier. We
don’t have to work so hard to control ourselves. We don’t feel a great deal
of the pain we might otherwise feel. We don’t waste precious time on anger,
resentments, grudges and gossip that just make things worse. Our minds are free,
our hearts are open. Will is not enough. A person has to know: he has to know
what counts in life, go for that and let go of the rest. And what really counts
in life is the only source of real joy, real happiness, and real peace. 

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