| Step It Up |

Cheshvan: To Achieve Serenity

Putting issues on hold can allow them the time to develop on their own — and even to surprise me at how they disappear

 

 

TISHREI IN REVIEW: Save it for Later

Telling my intrusive thoughts, “Not now, later” proved to be even more effective than I could have imagined. A recent incident illustrated what it’s like:

My six year old is in her bedroom and I’m in the kitchen, vigorously washing dishes. “Mooooommmy!!!!”

“Whaaaaat?”

“I need you to help me get my socks on.”

“I can’t come now. I’ll be done in a minute — just wait!”

Two minutes later she skips out of her room: “Guess what, Mommy? I got my socks on all by myself.”

As I described last month, our nagging thoughts can be like a child who really needs to hear “Not now, later.” I learned that in some cases, when later comes, the problem resolved itself without my intervention. Putting issues on hold can allow them the time to develop on their own — and even to surprise me at how they disappear.

Cheshvan Goal: Become a Menuchas Hanefesh Expert

When I was about ten years old, I heard a story from Rabbi Mordechai Becher that I’ll never forget.

He was staying at the Holiday Inn in Hong Kong for Shabbos, and to his dismay, he was put in a room on the ninth floor. Hiking up the endless stairs on Shabbos afternoon, he encountered a hotel employee who asked, “Sir, why don’t you take the elevator?”

Huffing and puffing, he managed to choke out the answer: “It’s my day of rest.” With that, Rabbi Becher explained that we clearly have to rethink the Torah’s definition of menuchah.

In starting to work on menuchas hanefesh, I wondered: Do I know what it looks like to be in a state of menuchah? What do the mefarshim and mussar seforim say about it? If I don’t have a picture of where I want to go, then it will be pretty hard to get there.

I have lots of ideas of how to work on menuchas hanefesh — accepting difficult situations, expressing gratitude, strengthening my bitachon — because somewhere in my education and life experience, I’ve learned that these things make me calmer.

But in order to truly develop menuchas hanefesh in a focused way, I need a definition, a clear understanding of what I’m striving for.

This month, my goal is to learn about menuchas hanefesh — to become a menuchah expert. It’s said that learning the halachos of a particular subject is a segulah for keeping them right.

I used to wonder about this. A segulah? Isn’t it straightforward? If you learn about it, you’ll do it better? That may be true. But did you ever start going to a hilchos Shabbos shiur, and even though you were learning about borer, somehow you became more meticulous about melaben and hachanah too? And for some reason, you were also making kavod shabbos a greater priority? Or maybe you read a book on sleep-training your baby and suddenly, you became a more patient parent?

When you learn a subject, it’s at the forefront of your mind. So, being the growing person that you are, you’ll naturally put it into practice. And yes, that can even make your learning into a segulah — in showing Hashem how important it is to you, you’ll be granted siyata d’Shmaya to do it better.

This month, I’m going to learn more about menuchas hanefesh, and in addition to it being a goal in and of itself, this will keep it constantly on my mind.

I’ve already gotten started by looking it up in a favorite sefer: Madreigas Ha’adam, the compiled teachings of the Alter of Novardok. The Alter says that there is a difference between “shalvah” and “menuchah.”

A state of shalvah is one in which a person simply doesn’t have any problems (do you know anyone like that?). His life is smooth sailing. Menuchah is the state of calm one has in the face of challenge. Challenge can be anything from a medical crisis to a stubbed toe, but whatever the wave — he rides it. He’s not upset by anything. He can be running a marathon and yet he is “at rest.”

This month, I want to spend time getting to know people who display menuchas hanefesh. I’ll talk to my friends about it to understand what they think of the subject. I also want to see where in my own life I find it hard to be calm, and where it’s not such a challenge, so that in the coming months, I can utilize my strengths and improve my weaknesses.

MANTRAS OF THE MONTH
  • Ein habayshan lomed, the reticent person doesn’t learn.
  • Ride the waves.
  • Learn to Live. Live to Learn.
This month I will:
  • Read a book about menuchas hanefesh
  • Interview someone who displays this middah
  • Keep a running list of areas where I find it hard (or easy) to be calm
  • Discuss menuchas hanefesh with others

In Step

Q:

 

I thought the new column, Step It Up, presented a unique, insightful idea. I’m excited to try having a growth topic for the year, although in another area.

I had a few questions.

Does the “kabbalah of the month” have to be something that can be implemented on a daily basis? Do you plan out all the goals in advance? Do you get very specific before the month starts, as in, when you decide it’s “be silly” month, do you also plan practical applications of that, or just take it as it comes to you instinctively? Do you try to take each action into the next month, or leave it alone and move on?

Do you also choose one small (related or unrelated) kabbalah that’s supposed to stick through the year?

I’m really excited to observe and be included in your journey in menuchas hanefesh. Thanks for sharing your tips so we can gain new ideas and be inspired!

—Leba Friedman

A:

 

Hi, Leba,
I’m so happy to hear that this idea resonated with you. And doing it in another area is great — teshuvah is so personal.

These kabbalos (I prefer to call them goals, because they’re not necessarily full commitments like other kabbalos I make) can be things you do daily, or more sporadic things you do as they come up. I like a variety, as you can see from the list of goals I chose. The idea is to have it on your mind on a regular basis.

If you pick things that don’t come up often, you may find it hard to remember you’re doing them. But if they’re things you’ll find too hard or stressful to do regularly, then this can be more of a burden than something you’re motivated to do. In short: There’s no rule. Do what works for you.

I plan the goals in advance, somewhat. The yearly topics are those that strike me as having lots of ideas and ways to implement them from the outset. But I usually find that I notice new ways to work on topics as the months progress.

As far as continuing the goals on to the next month, some things stick, others don’t, but I don’t push it. Either way, I know that for a month I stretched my muscles in that area, which can sometimes help me, even years later.

In terms of a small kabbalah: I usually leave that to a different area entirely, unrelated to my nosei hashanah (yearly theme). For example, something very specific in halachah or a one-time change (like getting rid of an inappropriate article of clothing or stopping to say a certain phrase).  This is based on the advice and shiurim of Dina Schoonmaker, who discusses three ways to do teshuvah:

  1. Specific kabbalah: You take on something tiny for life, to be makayem “teshuvah gemurah.”
  2. A mehalach: A kabbalah you generally try to do but may not be able to keep all the time.
  3. Nosei Hashanah: A general theme for the year which you approach from different angles.

My articles explore how to do the third category in a more practical and systematic way, so that each month gives you a new avenue to develop the year’s theme.

Thanks for your questions. I hope my answers help you make great goals for yourself.

—Mindel

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 713)

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