Willpower is what separates us from the animals. It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation – do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now. It’s central, in fact, to civilisation.
The disciplined and dutiful Victorians, all stiff upper lip and lashings of moral fibre, had willpower in spades; as, sadly, did the Nazis, who referred to their evil adventure as the “triumph of will”. In the 60s the world thought otherwise: let it all hang out; if it feels good, do it; I’m OK, you’re OK.
But without willpower, it seems, we’re actually rarely OK. In the 60s a sociologist called Walter Mischel was interested in how young children resist instant gratification; he offered them the choice of a marshmallow now, or two if they could wait 15 minutes. Years later, he tracked some of the kids down, and made a startling discovery.
Mischel’s findings have recently been confirmed by a remarkable long-term study in New Zealand, concluded in 2010. For 32 years, starting at birth, a team of international researchers tracked 1,000 people, rating their observed and reported self-control and willpower in a different ways.
What they found was that, even taking into account differences of intelligence, race and social class, those with high self-control – those who, in Mischel’s experiment, held out for two marshmallows later – grew into healthier, happier and wealthier adults.
Those with low willpower, the study discovered, fared less well academically. They were more likely to be in low-paying jobs with few savings, to be overweight, to have drug or alcohol problems, and to have difficulty maintaining stable relationships (many were single parents). They were also nearly four times more likely to have a criminal conviction. “Willpower,” is one of the most important predictors of success in life.”
We find this important tool of life well versed in our Torah.
The Gemara Megila 13b states, “Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish said: it was obvious and clearly known to the Creator of the Universe that Haman would weigh coins to kill the Jews. Therefore, he had their (the Jews) coins proceed his coins, and that is what the Mishna says “on the first day of Adar we make announcements about the giving of the yearly Shekalim/coins to pay for the communal sacrifices in the Bet Hamikdash.”
Tosfot explains that the 10,000 Kikar of silver offered by Haman was the same amount of silver the Jews donated for the Adanim (sockets at the base of each of the Mishkan’s beams).
Why was Hashem worried about how much money Haman would donate? Why was it so necessary to have a counterbalance in effect?
Rabbi Shalom Schwadron answers, in the name of his Rebbe, that the Midrash in Parshat Teruma, tells us Haman’s entire fortune consisted of 10,000 Kikar of silver. Haman was so willing to annihilate the Jewish people, that he was willing to give up all his wealth in pursuit of his desires.
Hashem created the world in such a way that when one shows Mesirat Nefesh (willingness to give up everything for his desires), then he will be helped from heaven. Even if it were Chas Ve Shalom for the bad.
Thus even though Haman’s intention were bad nevertheless because of his full conviction, he was doomed to help from heaven. It is for this reason that the Jewish people needed to have a counterbalance to Haman’s wickedness. This counterbalance came in the form of donations of 10,000 Kikar for the Adanim.
Similarly we find that Bilam was determined to curse the Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar. He awoke early in the morning, saddled his own donkey and went on his way. Our Sages teach us that this dedicated action of Bilam had already been counterbalanced by Avraham’s action of waking early, saddling his own donkey in pursuit of fulfilling G-d’s command to sacrifice his son Yitschak.
What was so special about the half a Shekel donation? Why wasn’t it the other donations that were brought to the Mishkan such as the gold, copper or other precious materials that counterbalanced Haman’s 10,000 Kikar?
The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) says that “Gadol hametzuvah ve’oseh mimi she’eino metzuvah ve’oseh” — “The one who is commanded and fulfils is greater than the one who fulfils without a command.” Tosfot explain the reason is that the one who is not commanded has the option of not performing the precept at all, while the one who is commanded is worried and anxious due to his obligation and feels a natural tendency to rebel and be left alone. He needs to fight of the Yetzer Hara (bad inclination) pushing him to desist from the Mitsvah.
Thus the fight to perform the Mitsvah will be harder, when someone is commanded, and therefore he will receive a greater reward.
Hashem therefore commanded the Bnei Yisrael to give half a Shekel. The fact they were commanded to give half a shekel, no more, no less, opened the way for their Yetzer Hara come out and try to dissuade them from only giving half a shekel.
It was more difficult for the Bnei Yisrael to overcome their natural inclination to give more than half a shekel then it was for Haman to give all his wealth.
Thus in anticipation of Haman’s dedication to the cause of annihilating the Jews, Hashem in his mercy gave us (many years earlier) the Mitsvah of Machatsit Hashekel. This allowed the Jews to demonstrate their dedication to Hashem by overcoming their natural instincts, and accepting Hashem as supreme King.
Sometimes we feel that the Mitzvah at hand is difficult. We should know that according to the pain is the gain! We have been blessed with immense will power; it is just a matter of starting it off and nurturing it.
It’s certainly true “Willpower,” is one of the most important predictors of success in life.”