It isn’t “it is what it is.”
There’s a big difference between asking if you’ll succeed instead of how you’ll succeed. In a parallel universe, one who’s outlook drives the if question instead of the how question will inevitably become a totally different person over time no matter how similar their life circumstance may have once been. Of course, some outcomes are simply out of our control. However, choosing which question to ask can often be the difference between actively creating your own destiny or living a passive and submissive existence. For example, is Jewish illiteracy a Jewish American tragedy (a.k.a. it is what it is) or is it a challenge that we can overcome together? The “if mentality” begins the discussion at are we able to meet the challenge? The “how mentality” already assumes that we are able to succeed and the only question that remains is how overcome the great challenge ahead?
Moses sent 12 people of stature to check out the land and the result of this reconnaissance mission caused nearly all of the men of an entire generation to die in the wilderness (the righteous women were not directly impacted by the mistake). Decades later, Joshua sent two such people on a similar type of reconnaissance mission and they succeeded. We see from this that the action itself of sending the spies was not the determinant of the evil that befell the generation in Moses’ time since we saw a positive outcome from similar action. What was it that caused the calamity of the spies? Where was the flaw? One sage, the Ohr Hachaim, offers an in depth answer to this question and in the processes explains that the spies during Moses time were primarily interested in uncovering if we were strong enough to conquer the inhabitants of the land. They did not adequately trust in Hashem who had already promised them success and delivered countless miracles throughout their travels in the desert. It was this lack of trust in Hashem that ironically resulted in inaction when the spies reported that we didn’t stand a chance. However, the spies in Joshua’s time went out to map how they will succeed..
Not much has changed since then. Our internal world view continuously dictates our actions far more than we are aware of. One helpful step is to disrupt the passive acceptance of a daunting challenge by interrupting the habitual if we will succeed and begin asking the more difficult question of how we will succeed.
Rabbi Katz would love to hear your comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.