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    With seven gold
    medals, including three at the
    recent Tokyo
    O l y m p i c s ,
    swimmer Penny
    Oleksiak is Canada’s most decorated Olympian.
    But not everyone always believed in
    her. Following her recent success,
    she tweeted, “I want to thank that
    teacher in high school who told me
    to stop swimming to focus on school
    (because) swimming wouldn’t get
    me anywhere. This is what dreams
    are made of.” She followed it up by
    sharing, “Also in reference to my
    last tweet – no shade at all towards
    teachers in general, my sister is a
    teacher and I see her inspiring kids
    every day. Most of my teachers saw
    the vision and pushed me towards it.
    That one who constantly dragged
    me down though, WOAT (Worst of
    A friend of mine recently shared
    with me that in high school, he had
    an administrator who didn’t believe
    in him and regularly made that
    known. When he told the administrator that he was going to study
    hospitality, he asked, “Do you plan
    on being a bartender for the rest of
    your life?” Today, my friend doesn’t
    tend bar, he tends to the Jewish people and is a successful Jewish communal professional making a difference every day. I shudder to think
    of what he and we would be missing
    out on had he listened to this educator instead of those who encouraged
    Many of us have a WOAT influence
    in our lives. If it’s not a teacher, a
    family member or a colleague, it is a
    voice of negativity and doubt in our
    own head. It tells us, “You are imperfect, you have shortcomings and
    deficiencies, you aren’t the smartest,
    you are not the best looking, the
    most creative, and will never be the
    most successful. You have made
    mistakes, underachieved, set goals
    that you failed to realize, and you
    will never amount to anything.”
    That voice can weigh us down, hold
    us back, or cause us to give up on
    our dreams and aspirations. But here
    is the catch. That person or that
    voice only holds us back if we listen
    to it, give it attention or consideration. Like Penny Oleksiak or my
    hospitable friend, we can replace the
    WOAT with a GOAT (Greatest of
    all Time) person or inner voice to
    listen to instead, one who believes
    in us, propels, and pushes us and
    lifts us to aspire to become the best
    version of ourselves.
    In our Parsha, just moments before
    Sedom is destroyed, the angel says
    to Lot, “Run for your life. Do not
    look behind you, nor stop anywhere
    in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you
    be swept away.” Despite the warning of the angel, Lot’s wife couldn’t
    help herself. She looked and became a pillar of salt. In fact, the
    Jewish historian Josephus claimed
    to have seen the pillar of salt which
    was Lot’s wife.
    Why were they warned not to look
    back? The classic answer is that Lot
    and his family weren’t righteous and
    in truth deserved to suffer the same
    punishment as Sedom. They
    weren’t worthy of witnessing the
    downfall and were therefore told not
    to look.
    The Divrei Shmuel, Rav Shmuel
    Weinberg of Slonim, gives a different perspective. In telling Lot
    and his family, “Don’t look
    back,” the angel was teaching a
    fundamental lesson in life. When
    you have made mistakes, when
    you underachieved or came up
    short, don’t look back, always
    look forward. Don’t focus on
    your past and beat yourself up,
    doesn’t listen to voices of negativity and defeatism, look to the
    future and the opportunities it
    presents. Obviously, we need to
    understand what drove the mistakes we made and feel remorseful for them, but we cannot and
    must not ruminate on them.
    Lot’s wife turned around. Whether she was nostalgic for her sinful past or simply felt guilty
    about it, either way she turned
    into salt. Salt was not a random
    vehicle for this punishment. Salt,
    by its very nature, preserves and
    keeps what it is spread on intact.
    It inhibits the ability to grow, to
    change, or to move forward.
    Lot’s wife literally got stuck in
    her past. She couldn’t move past
    it, couldn’t look forward, and
    didn’t let herself start again.
    This is the classic methodology
    of our yetzer harah, the self-destructive voice we all confront.
    We tend to harp on our mess-ups
    and mistakes, and we tell ourselves we are incapable, unworthy. We therefore experience yeiush, we give up on becoming better
    at whatever we want to improve.
    Indeed, we spend a lot of time
    dwelling on the failures from our
    past. Research shows that at least
    70% of the time we think about the
    past, we only relive the negative aspects of our lives.
    But according to psychologists at
    Yale and the University of California, obsessing over a mistake not
    only won’t change the past but it
    will make it worse. Their study
    shows that living a mistake over and
    over impairs our problem-solving
    abilities. It leads to increased negative thoughts and depression. It even
    erodes our support network because
    no one wants to hear from the person who can’t let things go. Essentially, dwelling on past mistakes
    puts us in, and keeps us in, a bad
    state, which is of course the very
    thing we’re trying to get out of.
    But moving on and silencing the
    WOAT in us sounds easier than
    done. Many who would never bully
    someone else still bully themselves
    with negative thoughts. We tend to
    beat ourselves up and harp on things
    we could have or should have done
    differently. But that thinking sabotages our very future and forfeits our
    This is what we daven for every
    evening when we ask Hashem in
    Maariv, haseir Satan milfaneinu
    u’mei’achareinu, remove the Satan
    from before us and from after us.
    Why would we confront a Satan
    from behind us? It is critical to pray
    that we not only find the strength
    and will to overcome our urges and
    temptations when we confront them,
    but that if we do fail, we can put it
    behind us and move on, not harp or
    get stuck. Each night, as we reflect
    on the day that was, including bad
    choices or uncomfortable mistakes,
    we pray to have the strength and
    conviction to hear the GOAT in us,
    not the WOAT in us.