In a Perfect World
I was driving in my neighborhood one night when I passed a driveway full of cars. As I wondered aloud what was going on, my companion told me that the woman of the house was preparing for an upcoming simcha and that the cars belonged to all the friends she’d summoned to help her.
I pondered the scenario. On the eve of this milestone event, the woman in question had looked around to see who was available to help her carry the day. We could compare her attitude to that of a general on the brink of a major military campaign: before stepping onto the battlefield, there is a mustering of the troops.
While part of me admired her ability to mobilize so much support staff, another part shook its head in wonder that she even wanted them all. Some of us like to work more independently, throwing ourselves into projects with a single-minded vision that neither wants nor relies on others to help carry it out. Rather than looking around for an army of helpers, we just want to be left alone to get the job done.
This is not to say that an extra pair of helping hands does not come in handy before a Yom Tov or a simcha. Nor does it preclude the real joys of teamwork. I’m talking about seeking help on a regular basis and on a grand scale, a mustering of the troops that leaves you busy directing and guiding others to get the job done rather than enjoying the satisfaction of pulling it off on your own. Neither mode is superior to the other; they simply reflect dissimilar personal styles. Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes.
Dovid Hamelech, in Tehillim 18, showers Hashem with thanks for helping him achieve military success. For with You I smash a troop, and with my G-d I leap over a wall. The commentaries say that the “wall” here refers to enemy fortifications. With Hashem’s help, Dovid was able to figuratively “leap” over sturdy walls to engage with and conquer his foes. In waging war against his enemies, he praises Hashem for giving him both the brute strength to “smash” the opposing forces as well as the grace and nimbleness to “jump” over their fortifications.
Seeing this, it occurred to me that these words could be said to reflect two different approaches to dealing with the problems that we encounter in life. Approaches that we witness in ourselves or in those around us all the time, as illustrated above.
Some people attack a problem the way a general attacks his enemies: a mobilizing of forces, followed by a head-on confrontation. Faced with a project that requires taking action or finding a solution, they leap into action. They collect their facts. They call around, seeking both sympathy and advice. They summon their helpers and hash out every detail of the coming campaign with them. Having identified the enemy and mustered the troops, they throw all their resources at the problem and work to push their way through to victory.
These kinds of “generals” are team players and sharers. They much prefer mounting a huge, sociable campaign to acting alone. Moreover, they take their campaigns very personally. To “smash a troop,” you have to be fully engaged. You have to see the enemy up close and personal. This kind of operator gathers his resources, both information-based and human, rolls up his sleeves and leads the charge. In the best-case scenario, he will crush the enemy and celebrate gregariously afterward with his troops on the battlefield of his triumph.
Then there is the other kind of operator: the one who approaches a problem or campaign not as an enemy to be attacked, but as a wall to be leaped.
The first difference that jumps out at you (pun unintended!) is the level of teamwork involved. For the wall-jumper, there is very little. I remember playing “Belts” in the school yard as a girl. Two ropes or belts are laid down on the ground at a certain distance from one another, and the players take turns running and jumping over them. As the game proceeds, the belts are pushed further and further apart, calling on the jumpers to back up and take a good run before hurling themselves hopefully in the air. Her friends may cheer her on, but the jumper jumps alone.
There is nothing personal about jumping over belts—or, for that matter, over a wall. Rather than gearing up to confront and smash the enemy, you draw on your inner strength to rise above yourself so that you can gracefully bypass his fortifications. You are an army of one, running at a problem at your own best speed. Hoping that your inner resources will carry you over the wall to the victory that lies on the other side.
If you’re a jumper rather than a smasher, you don’t get to see the whites of the enemy’s eyes or the expression of surrender on his face when he succumbs to your attack. Leaping walls is more like an exercise in solving a conundrum. How far and how fast must I run in order to attain the necessary height to scale this wall?
Smashing an enemy troop, to use Dovid Hamelech’s terminology, would be the work of a Type A personality; leaping a wall would fall more into Type B’s purview.
A last but crucial difference between these two kinds of “fighters” is what happens when they lose.
The Type A person would probably fume and fret for a while, volubly and to all his friends, about why his campaign had failed. Then he would summon the energy to attack again. Failure is unacceptable to this kind of fighter. He typically wears a form of blinders that keep him from giving any real credence to the shoals and pitfalls that lie in wait to trip him up. Focused on victory, with his troops standing by to lend support and encouragement, he sails right back into the fray, determined to win.
The Type B personality, however, has a very different reaction. After trying, and failing, to run at a wall and hurdle its heights, he is less likely to rush that wall again. He will probably just sit down and ponder his failure for a while.
Either the wall was higher than he’d thought, or the effort required to surmount it is simply beyond his present capabilities. Philosophically, he will brush himself off and wander away, ready to console himself for his failure and eventually find a different, more promising, wall to conquer.
What kind of fighter are you?
Whether you are the troop-smashing type or the wall-leaping one; whether you muster your resources and helpers or prefer to act alone; whether you make the battle personal or see it more in light of a riddle in need of a solution, all of us can take a tip from Dovid Hamelech, who was both a warrior and a visionary… and who knew that success comes only from aligning ourselves with the One above, exclusively and with all our hearts.