The Shmuz on Life: Actors on the Stage


judgeBy Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier

Imagine that a famous actor gets a call from his agent.

“Listen, Jack, we just got a great offer. Tons of money, an all cash deal. You get the starring role, playing next to the greatest co-stars in the industry. But the best part of it is the plot; it’s great. The story line really clicks. It’s a guaranteed Tony. I’m sending the script over this morning. I want you to just sign off on the deal.”

After reading the script, the actor calls back his agent.

“Bob, forget it. No deal.”

“What do mean?”

“I mean it’s no way. I won’t do it.”

“Jack, what is it? Is it the story line?”

“No, the story is fine.”

“Is it the other actors?”

“No, they’re fine too.”

“So, Jack, what is it?”

“What is it? Don’t you get it? The guy you want me to play is penniless and not too bright either. More than that, he’s a jerk! I can’t stand anyone seeing me that way.”

“But, Jack, that’s only the part you’d be playing. It’s not you.”

“Bob, forget it. Playing this part means everyone – the whole world – is going to see me as a down and out loser. I can’t stand the embarrassment. Don’t even ask me again, I’m not doing it.”

And the actor hangs up the phone.

Judging an Actor

Obviously, this conversation never took place. Because any actor, as well as any person going to the theater, understands that those people up there on the stage are playing their parts. They aren’t judged by how wealthy or poor they are in the production. They aren’t rated by whether their role portrays a life of success or failure.

There is one criterion for judging an actor: how well he played his part. If his role is to play the part of an idiot savant and he does it convincingly, he will win accolades and praise. If his role is to be the most successful man in the world and he isn’t real, the critics will rip him to shreds. He is there for one purpose – to play his role. He is given a certain backdrop and a certain set of circumstances. The character was born in this time period, has this type of personality, and has this amount of intelligence and charisma. Now go out there and play the part!

We, Too, Will Be Judged

This is an apt parable to life. Each person was given a specific set of circumstances and a particular set of abilities. The backdrop is set and we are given a role to play. Born into a particular time period, to a particular family, given a very exact set of parameters. You will be so tall, so intelligent, have so much of this talent and so much of that one. Now, go out there and do it! Live your life, ford those streams, cross those rivers, and sail those seas!

At the end of your days, you will be judged. But you won’t be compared to me or to anyone else. You will be measured against the most demanding yardstick imaginable – you. Based on your potential, based on your God given abilities, how much did you achieve?
Whether you are smarter or richer or more talented than the next person is irrelevant. The only issue is: how much did you accomplish compared to what you were capable of?

All of the things that we put such emphasis on – money, honor, and talent – are all stage settings. They are props to be used; they allow us to play our part. But in the end we aren’t judged by the part we played. When we leave this earth, they don’t ask us, “How much money did Hashem give you? How smart did Hashem make you?” The questions are far more penetrating and demanding.

“How far did you go with what you were given?”

There is no objective standard or single yardstick that everyone is measured against, and the measure of man’s success isn’t in absolute terms. The system is far more exacting. It is based on your talents and strengths, your abilities and capacities. The only question they ask is how much of your potential did you reach? Eighty percent? Forty percent? Twenty percent? How much of you did you become?

This is an excerpt from the new Shmuz on Life book: Stop Surviving and Start Living. The book will be in seforim stores beginning April 2011. Pre releases copies are available now at

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  1. This was the first “Shmuz” I ever heard from R Schafer SHLITA and it blew me away! You can download all the “Shmuzim” free of charge at