Sunday, September 29, 2013

How to be a tzaddik in 2 weeks

By: Shayna Chana Hulkower

The chaggim are over. Ben Gurion airport will resemble the exodus from Egypt for the next few days as chutznikim are going back to their world. There will be a little less English on the streets of Jerusalem, and this signs advertising 'second day minayn!' are being taken down. There is one lesson I learned from my American friends that I don't want to leave me so quickly.

From the end of Elul, when people started arriving for the 'Holiday Season', I was being overwhelmed with invitations to do every fun thing Israel has to offer. I demured on most of them, reminding my friends that while they are here on vacation, I am still in regular-life mode with work and other obligations. Over the next few weeks I was so impressed with how much ground they were covering during their stay. One friend living in Baka was going to the Kotel mamash every day. She told me she realized her trip would last 40 days, a number some have said to be a segula for visiting the Kotel, and so she saw it as an opportunity to have a little extra koach in her tefillot. Meanwhile, I live a 30 min walk away and don't get there more than once a week or so. Their schedules were making me tired just listening to them.

I was impressed with their stamina, but realized that they were just trying to make the most of their time in Eretz Yisrael. It's a special place, and as someone who used to visit here, I appreciate the desire to feel like you lived every moment here. The worst feeling is getting back to the US and thinking to yourself, "I had such an opportunity and squandered it."

If we are honest with ourselves, this is really what being in Olam HaZeh is about - we're figuratively traveling to this place and are expected to make the most of the time and opportunities we are given. When it's time to return from whence we came, we don't want to be left feeling like we could have done more. There is the most obvious push to stock up on mitzvot, since that is the main determining factor in where you sit in Olam HaBah - whether you are down on the 50 yard line or up in the bleacher seats. But there's more to it than that - it's how we made the most of the opportunities we're given to grow.

We just finished a season of deep introspection, finding within ourselves a profound desire to do better for ourselves this year (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), followed by recognition that G-d is the source of everything and faith that all His actions are good and good for us (Sukkot), ending with great joy and love for G-d and His Torah (Shimini Atzeret/Simchat Torah). Now we return to our every day life full of this growth and potential for the year. We don't have to fall back into our old habits. We can stick with the person we've become, and want to continue to grow into, and use that as the foundation to be even greater.

But it's not going to be easy, but I think I have an idea how to get us there.

No change in a purposeful new direction is ever easy. What's really hard is not changing. Allow me to explain with an example: having been in Israel for three months as an olah chadasha, I've been struggling to speak Hebrew. Part of the struggle comes from the fact that the community I've developed is predominantly English speaking. I've met people who have been here 1, 3, 5, 20 years even, and can't have a conversation in Hebrew. Yes, they can make it, but their lives are very difficult - not being able to give directions when a stranger asks on the street or figuring out what your electric bill means. These are the things that really make life here challenging - they close doors on job opportunities and friendships that make life here so gratifying. Trying to live a life not really part of the country you live in is much harder than spending 6 months breaking your teeth to have a conversation.

Currently, we are filled with a spiritual high from the chaggim, which we can use to power us for the entire year, or at the very least until Chanukah, when we get our next big spiritual infusion (not to discount Shabbat!). The question is, how to we maintain the level we are on, once we go back to our routine? The trick is to have a manageable goal in mind. When you are goal oriented you have a much better capacity to stay focused on what you need to do, and it's easier to get back on track when you most likely will fall off the wagon. Shlomo HaMelech wrote in Proverbs (Mishlei 24:16): A tzaddik falls seven times. If super righteous people can miss the mark and still be considered tzaddikim, it can only be because they still remember their goal and are able to get back on the horse, without throwing themselves a pity party in the interim.

Here is my suggestion: pick one thing that you felt very strongly during the Aseret Yamei Teshuva you wanted to change about yourself, and commit to working on that thing for the next two weeks. Why two weeks? A number of years ago, a couple from Aish HaTorah were moving to LA to do kiruv there. They went to Rabbi Berkovitz, who was the posek of the yeshiva at the time, and asked him for advice on moving their family to a place of a different spiritual caliber than Jerusalem. He told them to make all the decisions on how they will live their life in the first two weeks (where they want to send their kids to school, what level of kashrut they will keep, etc.). This was a period where their head and heart would still be immersed in life in Israel, and they would still have access to the clarity that life presents us with here, which is not unlike us coming down from the chaggim to regular life - no matter where we are in the world.

If we can think of the next two weeks as a limited period of time where we work towards maintaining the growth that we accomplished over the past month or so, then a couple things will happen: we'll be much more likely to stay on track because we have a goal that is completely attainable, and when the two weeks are up we're much more likely to have developed the habits that are necessary to continue with this new, improved way of life.

I'm looking forward to checking back in with you on October 15th to let you know how I did, as well as hear from you. And if you fall - just know that you are a tzaddik and can get right back up. We have a special power with us right now, just waiting to lend a helping hand to get you back on your feet, and back on your path to success.