Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rushing to Get to Infinity: An Open Letter to Myself

Note to Reader: I wrote this piece in the format of a letter to myself because I do not yet profess to have attained to ability to look at life with this perception.  I need to continually strengthen myself to attempt to live in accordance the teaching upon which this letter was gleaned; Likutey Moharan I:65.

Rushing to Get to Infinity: An Open Letter to Myself
by Dov ben Avraham

Let me begin by saying I don’t have any answers for you. With each passing day I realize that I know very little, so I can only give you questions to ponder. Hopefully, if you stop and think about these questions they will begin to help you as they have begun to help me.

Have you ever considered that one of the greatest obstacles to living your life in accordance with your true tachlis is rushing to complete something according to your personal definition of “completion”, and trying to accomplish what you imagine Hashem expects specifically from you?

Waking up each morning, you may envision just how you would like your day to proceed and what the ideal day would look like if you were fully plugged into your true tachlis. You envision spending time in hisbodedus, davening with kavanah, saying brochos with kavanah, and completing your daily learning seder.

Yet, the world seems to be designed to thwart your every effort in this regard:
  • You have a difficult time finding a quiet place or time for hisbodedus;
  • Your son or daughter wants your attention when you are only up to kapitel 77 in Tikkun HaKlali.
  • A pressing family matter prevents you from going to minyan.
  • The door to the mikvah is locked and the sign on the door says that it will be undergoing repairs for the next few days;
  • Someone tries to talk to you in the midst of the Amidah;
  • A co-worker comes over to chat in the midst of your “HaMotzi” or “Asher Yatzar” after you have only said the words, “Baruch Atah Hashem…”;
  • Urgent taskings in the office prevent you from taking an extra few seconds to say a brocha with kavanah before you drink a cup of coffee at your desk;
  • You have to wake up early to travel somewhere (or are away from home) and have only a limited time for learning; certainly not enough to complete an amount that you would consider “acceptable”;
  • Your cannot focus and concentrate on learning the sefer in front of you; it feels like you are doing nothing more than mindlessly reading an instruction manual in Japanese; or
  • Citing the lack of frum relatives on both sides of the family, your wife does not give you permission to go to Uman for Rosh Hashanah because she doesn’t want to be alone with the kids over yom tov.
I am certain that one or all of these things has happened to you at one time or another, just as they have all happened to me. However, I would also imagine that you would like to view these as “exceptions” and not the rule to how the average day should proceed. Each of these occurrences causes you to make a mental detraction in the significance of the day in which you are now living. Each occurrence “proves” to you that you did not meet your mark today and forces you to come up with complicated new strategies to ensure they don’t ever occur again. Yet, it is possible that you failed to ask yourself the simple question,

“Who caused these things to happen?”

There cannot be another force in the universe independent of Hashem controlling only those occurrences which prevent you from serving Him. You may quickly dismiss this as obvious, however if you are honest with yourself, you will acknowledge that this knowledge still remains theoretical to you and has not yet penetrated your heart. You honestly still cannot truly fathom how it can be His will to prevent you from serving Him; you cannot fathom how an obstacle you encounter in your avodas Hashem is ultimately for your good and is in reality a display of His supreme kindness. In order to slowly begin to do so, you must devote a significant amount of time to hisbodedus each day.

In regards to the examples listed above, you may also may have noticed that experiencing them begins to force you to rush through performing mitzvos. They may have caused you to conclude that an interruption invalidates whatever you are occupied with; turning it into a “blemished offering”. So, you begin to speed read through the siddur or Tehillim and perhaps even start skimming through your learning. You may become more concerned with the fact that you have learned your pre-determined quota that day and less concerned that you have actually understood the material, retained it, and attempted to internalize it.

Unfortunately, this may have even caused you to start serving your own service of Hashem instead of Hashem Himself! This means that you can become preoccupied with serving Him in precisely the manner that you want to serve Him, and perhaps not according to how He wants to be served in those “less than ideal” circumstances.

It is never too late to reverse your course if you have already proceeded down this route. One technique to reverse this trend involves doing something very easy, which turns out not to be so easy in practice; taking a few seconds before doing a mitzvah and asking yourself, “Why I am I doing this?”

Before picking up a sefer, a piece of food to eat, or your tallis and tefillin, ask yourself this question. Force yourself to take a few seconds to honestly answer this question; over and over again throughout the day. Address your answer directly to Hashem. Don’t just speak about Him.

At first you may only remember to do this a handful of times during the day. Don’t let this discourage you; continue baby step after baby step. Over time, taking these few seconds will begin to help you from mindlessly going through your day and help you reestablish your connection to the One who gave you another day of life to live.   

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