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A life without limbs, a life without limits: Special Report from the World Economic Forum

by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

January 27, 2011 | 3:54 pm

In this exciting conversation in the snowy Alps, where does a humble man with no arms or legs fit into this conversation about speed, power, innovation, wealth, and the global future?

Today, I had the great privilege of introducing Nick Vujicic, the founder of Life Without Limbs, at the World Economic Forum here at Davos and frame and moderate a conversation about human perseverance and possibility. Born limbless, this Evangelical minister challenges all human limitations and preaches the courage to seek actualization. Nick taught that when we are distraught, beset with challenges, we must recall three vital realities: “our value, purpose, and destiny.”

The Rabbis’ paradigmatic mighty and courageous individual is not the one with the most physical strength, wealth, or beauty; rather, it is one with complete self-control (Avot 4:1). Nick, more than any other global leader I met today, became my teacher of courage.

One major CEO explained to me after the presentation that he could not return to the normal sessions about the state of economy after his heart had been so touched and transformed by Nick’s story of survival and persistence. I personally left amazed and awed at Nick’s achievements to inspire millions around the world through his motivational speaking and even saving lives by motivating communities not to kill infants born with deformations or disabilities.

Access to technology can provide us with a façade of power and perfection, but the Torah teaches that man was intentionally made imperfect, incomplete. Moses struggled with a significant speech impediment, but he became the Rabbis’ model of courage and the greatest Jewish prophet of all. We are all limbless in one way or another, yet we are all also invited through teshuva to be partners in a constant process of spiritual renewal and re-creation of self, community, and world.

In the interconnected information age, what are the new limits to human potential? Further, in our chaotic, complex, and competitive times, how can we develop an authentic psychology of self-worth and dignity to fit with our new understanding of the human condition?

In search of an appropriate balance, when answering these difficult questions, between faith and reason, independence and reliance, and embrace of the physical and the spiritual, each faith will arrive at different solutions. Constructing theologies of interfaith cooperation will enable us to learn from, and work with, each other in the holy pursuit to preserve the dignity of every individual with globalization’s continuous march.

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel, Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek, and a fifth-year doctoral candidate in moral psychology and epistemology at Columbia University.

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