I have a hard time saying no. If someone needs my assistance, I can’t turn them down. My DNA just won’t let. I also enjoy it. I’m happy to give of myself to help another. As life got busier and I assumed more responsibility in both my personal and work life, I still struggled with saying no. And then I began having a hard time saying yes. Not because I didn’t want to say yes, but because sometimes I was so busy and so overwhelmed that it seemed impossible to say yes. But saying no was harder.
So I continued to say yes.
While my eyelids were drooping and my alarm was set for 6:30 am the next morning, a family member rang with a “desperate” call for help. It was hard to say yes, but I couldn’t say no, so yes it was. When a friend had a simchah and someone in the group had to arrange a gift, I really didn’t have the time at the moment . . . Well, apparently I did, because I said yes. Then, those “yeses” started accumulating.
Humans have an overcompensating complex. We surpass our quota to establish our invincibility. Yes, the world needs us, but not always in the way we think. Hashem determines what we’re needed for. Our talents and G-d-gifted abilities are bestowed upon us so we can help others. While we may possess infinite ambition, we are finite beings.
What I did not realize at the time was that Hashem, Who has commanded that I give and has gifted me with this seemingly endless ability to fulfill this commandment, has also directed me to be happy and healthy.
Those “yeses” amounted to a festering resentment which was slowly imploding, because better be annoyed inside than exploding and saying no. I’d think of the climactic moment in the Purim story where Mordechai tells Esther, “Who knows if it is for this time that you have attained royalty? Perhaps this is your moment of purpose . . . If you don’t act, someone else will.” With this mantra, I heroically forged on.
Until I realized I was no hero. Yes, my talents and abilities should be maximized and shared, as a relative of mine remarked, “People always need your help because of what you have to offer.” For that I’m very fortunate. But instead of feeling frustrated by the good I do, I have to remind myself that sometimes it isn’t my moment of purpose. Sometimes I have to create space for someone else to have a chance to act. It isn’t always easy, but chances are, if you’re always active, you can decipher which moments were made for you.
Sometimes, like Moshe at the burning bush, we are ready to surrender our talents so we can take a break. Moshe begs Hashem to send his brother Aharon, whom He usually does. But, ultimately, it is Hashem Who steers us. Hashem rebukes Moshe for such thinking and encourages him to go to Pharaoh.
Every response is a double-sided coin. Saying yes to a friend or someone else in need can be saying no to me and my health, a mitzvah in its own right. Saying no to a neighbor can be saying yes to some self-care. There’s a time and place and a fine line in between that determines this intricate balance. In moderation, it's not selfish. It’s necessary and healthy.
But as I struggle with saying yes, and with saying no as well, I remind myself that I’m always getting two for the price of one. Every yes has an element of no, and each no a yes.
What matters at the moment is to think of Esther and ask myself: What is my purpose at this given moment? What does Hashem want of me right now?
And then I’ll say yes, to you or to me.