The modest levayah was a respectable farewell to a simple man. Those who eulogized spoke of his middot, his chessed and his sacrifices for family and friends. Although every speaker praised the departed, none of the adjectives were superlatives. He was a good man, but in the eyes of most he was just average.
That’s probably why Mr. Eastman was slightly taken aback when Mr. Cohen said, “It’s a great loss for our community. He was a person of the highest caliber. There aren’t many who achieved what he did. We must all learn from him.”
“I learned that it’s not recommended that one exaggerate the praises of a departed soul. Honesty is important at this time,” Mr. Eastman said.
“I meant every word,” Mr. Cohen persisted. “He wasn’t the smartest or the most talented. He didn’t earn the most money. In fact, he had difficulty learning and so he never really outdid anyone in that area, either.”
“I’ll bite,” Mr. Eastman said. “What made him one of the greatest achievers?”
“He worked hard to fulfill his potential,” Mr. Cohen said. “That’s the best thing anyone can do!”
There are two ways to measure an individual’s performance. Absolute judgment is a measure of actual achievements. Subjective evaluations take into consideration potential against results. Some who have great talent outperform the average person but fall short of their own potential. Their score should be reduced commensurately with the waste of potential. Others who cannot achieve as much because of inherent weaknesses and handicaps may be more successful if they use all of what they have been given. Success means doing your personal best.
One More Second: Another Thought for the Day
Thus a person who wants to fight effectively against the yetzer hara needs to be armed with both mussar and halachah. When a person learns halachos, he gains a degree of yiras Shamayim. But if he does not study mussar as well, he will not have enough yiras Shamayim. Such a person is like an armed weakling who falls down under the weight of his own armor. The only solution is to learn Torah together with mussar sefarim and the Aggadic teachings of our Sages. (Rabbi Moshe Aharon Stern, From a Pure Fire, p. 73)