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Self-improvement and apathy towards Judaism life

Question:

I really want to grow in ruchniyus and improve in my middos.
However, I’m finding it very hard to actually do so because I find that I have SO many areas that I need to work on, that I have no idea where I should start. Especially because I heard conflicting opinions, one stating that a person should see which area they struggle most with and that’s the area they should pick to work on, and then another esteemed opinion says that a person should focus for the start on correcting the middos or areas that s/he has almost gotten ‘right’, because then they can fix it much quicker, since they are already almost there anyway.
I’m not sure then what I should actually do.
Also, I don’t feel happy to take only small steps towards improving, because it’s going to take way too long until I fix up the midda (especially since I have so many areas that I need to improve on and I want to really strive high, so I think it would take way too long) and it doesn’t make me feel satisfied with myself (that I’m improving, if I’m just taking such small steps). And if I set myself big goals then often I don’t manage to keep it up and I don’t know how much it would help in the long run.

In addition, I often think to myself that anyways what difference does it make how I do things (or for e.g. if there’s water in the kiddush cup or if I wash netilat yadayim with warm water) What difference does it actually make to Hashem? (and people would say that it makes a difference to us-but It doesn’t for me, except by giving me the extra chore to make sure I follow the halacha properly.) I don’t feel like keeping to the different laws sometimes and often do things by rote or just because I know that somewhere down the line, I would be happy if I did it in such a way. But I don’t derive proper happiness or desire to keep to the halachik requirements and I don’t really have a passion for it all.

In a way, I really do want to grow and improve and I am aware of the different middos that I need to improve on, but on the other hand, I also struggle with the above mentioned. So for a long time, I haven’t really been moving forward in any way and I feel that I’m wasting precious time that I really should put to better use (in terms of self-improvement and hashkafa wise etc.)

Please advise of how I should take care of this, in regards to the situation I’m in. Thank you very much.

 

Answer:

It is wonderful that you really want to grow in ruchnius, if only we were all that way.

You are confused because you hear people saying that a person should work on the midda that needs most work and on the other hand a person should work with their strong points. Let me relate to you some things that I personally heard from Horav S. Wolbe zt”l, from his shmussen in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, in the name of R’ Y. Levovitz zt”l. He said that everyone has their own nisyonos, and things that they have to work on. The way to know which issues are most important to work on, it is those issues that you notice are most prominent to you, and the one’s that you feel you need to work on most. Then the question is how exactly do we go about working on them? To that he said that we have to fight our enemy from our place of strength, and we have to harness our strong points in our fighting our yetzer hora. For example, let take a person who is lazy, and it is hard get up and do things, but on the other hand this person has a very strong sense of emes, and a sense of right and wrong. This person should think about how incorrect it is to be lazy, and how Hashem created us in order for to produce. How this world is the place to work and the next world is for enjoying and relaxing, etc. In other words use you good middos to help yourself improve you bad ones.

The truth is, that all of our middos are connected to each other, and when we improve one midda it will have ripple effect on the other middos. Let’s take the above example, when a person improves their middas ha’emes, it will help them work on laziness because, being lazy is not emes. This really takes us to the next issue that you brought up. You feel that you have s-o-o many things to work on and you don’t know where to start. The truth is that wherever you start it will have an effect on everything! Once you are moving forward, the positive energy will affect all your middos, although in a small way, but they will be effected.

The only thing you have to be careful about is that you have to make sure that your yetzer hora doesn’t become “too frum on you” and try convincing you that you have to shteig more and more, and work on too many things or at too high of a level. It seems like this is a very good ruchnius thing, but it is really a trick! In maariv (in Hashkiveinu) we daven to Hashem that he should remove the yetzer hora from in front and in back of us. It is understandable that the yetzer hora stand in front of us and gets in our way to prevent us from doing mitzvos, but what is the problem with the yetzer hora in back of us? R’ Y. Kanarek zt”l once told me, that he yetzer hora sometimes pushes us from behind and tells us “do more and more and more…” until he gets us running so fast that it cause us to trip and fall. And this is how he “trips us up”.  Therefore the way to shtieg is to take on to improve yourself in a certain area, but specifically in small steps. Take on one or two small improvements but not more than that. On the surface it looks small but it isn’t. First of all it got you moving forward. Secondly, when a person is working on something and that area is now on the person’s mind the person most probably will continue and end up doing much more that what they were mekabel. For example when a person is mekabvel to concentrate on the first few words of Shemona Esrei, although it is something small, but once you are concentrating it will usually continue further than that. The third point is because by trying to do too much you will cause animosity toward what you are doing.

Regarding your other point, the reason why you are saying “what difference does it make to Hashem?”, it depends on we what the issue is. Very often the reason why we say this, is because we don’t understand what is really going on. Imagine that you are making a cake and a child comes along, wanting to help, and pours a bottle of water into your cake batter. When you get upset, he says “I’m also helping to put things in to the cake, what difference does it make”? From his viewpoint it is all the same, but to you it makes a big difference. Now the cake is going to be waterlogged and will be ruined, (thanks for the help…). When we do mitzvos, very often there is a certain recipe to it, it needs a certain amount of this and that. Then there are specific things have to be done to it, and then something else. All these things are needed to get the cake to come out delicious, and someone who doesn’t understand baking has to just follow the recipe, because they don’t understand what effect certain changes will have to the end product. Therefore when doing a mitzva we have to keep in mind to keep to the recipe, which is the Shulchan Aruch, and then we will know that our mitzva came out alright

If you would like, you can ask us whatever questions you have and we will try to answer you, to the best of our knowledge.

I hope this gives you more clarity.

Best wishes

 

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