They tend to advise smaller steps to advance in ruchaniut and middot.
Yes, sometimes, grand gestures are needed—like the fashion-addicted woman who saved her own life by plucking out all her immodest clothing and making a happy bonfire in her yard.
She’d been diagnosed with something like a fatal brain tumor.
Yet after meeting with Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky a”h, the young woman made this grand gesture of commitment to tsniut and the tumor (or whatever it was; can’t remember exactly) disappeared.
And sometimes, a massive gesture IS called for, like a prayer gathering or saying the entire Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms in one go (which takes some of us 5-6 hours).
How to Transform Your Life with Rebbetzin Kanievsky's Advice
- Learn 2 halachot of lashon hara a day.
- Take in Shabbat 10 minutes earlier. (Easier said than done, for some of us—Friday morning, ask Hashem for help achieving this! But she promised miracles for those who manage to achieve this.)
- Add 1 passage from the siddur to your morning davening. (For example, if you don’t say Aleinu L’shabeyach at the end of Shacharit, then start saying it.)
- Bake your own challot and add your prayers to the powerful mitzvah of hafrashat challah. (Full disclosure: Personally, I do not always manage to make challahs every week, but she said it, so I’m putting it here.)
- Say "Ein od milvado!" ("There is absolutely nothing else except Him!") with as much conviction and kavanah as you possibly can.
Again, please note the small numbers:
- ONE extra thing from the siddur
- TWO halachot
- ten MINUTES
- hafrashat challah ONCE a week
- ONE phrase consisting of THREE words that takes mere SECONDS to say
Climbing Mountains One Step at a Time
Malky Feig’s Mountain Climbers 2 tells of a family that saved the life of a young boy in their family by being ready for Shabbat by the halachic noon of Erev Shabbat.
He was diagnosed with a fatal illness, yet this family, who usually came crashing into Shabbat by the skin of their teeth, got their act together for an early Shabbat and the boy remained alive and healthy.
(Their source was the Chafetz Chaim’s advice to another couple generations earlier, based on the fact that Shabbat is mekor habracha—the source of blessing; so adding more Shabbat into one’s life increases one’s blessing.)
But Malky Feig also brings examples of people who reaped blessing from very small gestures—acts that regular people might scoff at if you told them.
For example, a young frum woman overcame a bleak diagnosis by resolving to stop using a soft-bristled hairbrush on Shabbat (because it unintentionally pulls out hairs, which is forbidden on Shabbat, even though she’d bought the soft bristles to avoid such a thing—but it pulled out some hair anyway).
Rav Avigdor Miller's 10 Steps to Greatness
- Spend 30 seconds thinking of Olam Haba and how we are in This World ONLY as a preparation for the World to Come.
- Say at least once (in private) "I love You, Hashem."
- Do one hidden act of chesed that no one (other than Hashem) knows about.
- Be like Hashem, Who lifts the humble; say something to encourage someone.
- Spend 1 minute thinking about what happened yesterday (cheshbon hanefesh).
- Your actions should be l'Shem Shamayim/for the sake of Heaven (say that once during meals).
- Look into someone's face and think: "I'm seeing a tzelem Elokim ('Image' of Hashem)."
- Just like Hashem's Face shines on us, give someone a big smile.
- When saying "malbish arumim" in the morning blessings, think about the great gift of garments, i.e. pockets, buttons, shoelaces, etc.
- In private, sit on the floor for 1 second each day & think about the loss of Yerushalayim.
After recommending carrying out these steps out for 30 days, Rabbi Miller advised, "If you feel exhausted, take a break and come back slowly. To become great, you have to be extreme."
For a more detailed version of Rav Miller's ten steps, please see: 10 steps to Greatness by Rav Avigdor Miller z''l (tape #706)
Stream-Lined Advice from the Kaliver Rebbe
- Solid emunah in Hashem (“knowing that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is running the world”)
- Loving our fellow Jews
- Serving Hashem with joy
- Keeping Shabbat scrupulously (“by studying the laws of Shabbos”)
- Saying "Shema Yisrael"
- Say Aleinu L’shabeyach
Granted several of the above are hard to achieve.
Regardless, even the tiniest progress in these particular areas is very, very powerful.
And out of 613 mitzvot (and any feel-good derech-hateva efforts, like politicking), the Rebbe pared it down for us to focus on the above 6 ideals.
In other words, he didn’t insist on us being perfect in every way and taking on massive chumras or grand gestures.
Instead, a stream-lined focus on solidifying our emuna, loving our fellow Jews, Shabbat observance, saying Shema Yisrael and Aleinu L’Shabayach, and doing it all with joy were his recommendations.
“When we say Shema Yisrael and we are unified,
For more, please see this article: Kaliver Rebbe: “Each day is its own Yom HaShoah.”
(His emphasis on saying Aleinu L’Shabayach was in another article, but he did emphasize its importance, so it’s included here in the above list.)
The 4 Guidelines of a Hidden Tzaddik
1. Help Others
2. Be Merciful
3. Give In & Let It Go
4. And the main point: Not to Yell
(For a more detailed elucidation of these guidelines, please see Remembering Rabbi Yehuda Zev)
Chabad Path to Salvation
While he of course personally upheld and encouraged solid adherence to halacha down to the last detail, he had Jews shine extra focus on mitzvot like:
- Hadlikat Nerot shel Shabbat (lighting candles on time in honor of Shabbat)
- Torah Study
- Tzedakah (donating your money to worthy Jewish causes)
- Furnishing Your Home with Sifrei Kodesh (and even then, he focused on the minimum of a Chumash/5 books of Moses, Tehillim/Psalms, and a siddur/a solidly Orthodox prayer book)
- Keeping Kosher
- V’ahavta L’re’echa Kamocha—Loving to Your Fellow Jew like Yourself
- Children’s education
- Taharat Hamishpacha (the Laws of Family Purity)
And it imbues a really strong focus you can still see today.
For example, I personally know guys who are either secular or somewhat off the derech, but are makpid to at least put on tefillin—even during the most pressured morning—simply because of this emphasis of Chabad.
Yes, they should be upholding all the mitzvot, but this one adherence means they still bring Hashem into their lives on a daily basis and it can be the springboard for them to return to full mitzvah observance.
These 10 biggies weren’t the Rebbe's only mivtzo’im.
As is commonly seen, he made a big deal about having lots of children, Chanukah lighting, and a Lag B’Omer Parade.
On an individual level, Lubavitcher Chassidim need to learn a portion each day of:
This is excellent because it means that a Jew connects with the parsha on a daily basis, makes a personal davening that sweetens din, and gets a daily dose of mussar and other deep stuff.
But even what’s mentioned here weren’t the only mivtzoim. For more, please see Chabad Mitzvah Campaigns.
It sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but they weren't introduced all at the same time, and there are 613 mitzvot to perfect. So these were a way to focus (which leads to upholding the rest).
Breslover Baby Steps
Of course he himself was dedicated to every mitzvah and encouraged full mitzvah observance for every Jew, but again, the big Sages understood that people need focus.
You can’t swallow everything in one gulp.
One of the Brelovers from generations past, Rav Yankel Zhitomer (spelled "Zatamer" in the English translation of Words of Faith), spring-boarded the complete teshuvah of a hitman-for-hire (!) by suggesting that he start putting on tefillin.
Rav Yankel Zhitomer didn't even request that the lapsed Jew stop killing people or stop stealing! Like, "Hey, Moshe, why don't you start with the 10 Commandments?"
Baby steps: First, tefillin.
And this led to a complete turnaround in which this former hitman ended up regularly risking his life for Torah and mitzvot, and to help other Jews, including bringing life into the world and preserving life (he gave lots of tzedakah).
The Breslovers stated that his repentance was like coming back from the dead.
(Just to give you an idea of how low he'd fallen, the band Moshe joined was so fearsome that when the evil Communists took over, people were relieved that this band had less power — life actually improved! That's how bad this particular gang was — and Moshe was a part of them.)
And his complete teshuvah all started with tefillin.
(Actually, it really started with him coming to shul ONLY for kaddish for his father; he didn't even stay for the whole davening. Then Rav Yankel Zhitomer approached him as he tried to make his dash out.)
For more on this story, please see:
The True Story of How a Murderer did Teshuvah
For a woman very discouraged by years of infertility, Rav Shalom Arush recommended that she write down a gratitude list of 20 things—included the nisayon of infertility—with the intention that this would enable her to have children.
I was shocked that he didn’t recommend at least 5 minutes of hitbodedut.
But I guess he knew whom he was dealing with.
For some people trapped in a certain mindset, even the minute it takes to list 20 things can seem overwhelming.
Are You Crushed Under a Load of Rocks or Dancing with a Sack of Diamonds?
People get discouraged by too heavy a burden.
"Mentors" who insist that you jump very high through very convoluted hoops while juggling bowling balls—and to do this consistently—are probably not Gadolim.
They might be very well-intended and they might perform a lot of great acts themselves.
But the question is whether you should listen to them.
If their advice and proclamations contradict the above recommendations of real Gadolim (or if their advice goes far out beyond what the above focused on), then you should find out what the real Gadolim advise and emphasize.
Because Judaism is a sack of diamonds, not a sack of stones.
And a sack of diamonds is much easier to carry with a happy heart than a sack of stones.
Focus and take baby steps.
That’s the way to save both yourself and the world.
May we all succeed in completing our tikkun in this gilgul in a sweet way without nisayon or bizayon.
Judaism's Secret: Achieve the Glorious Maximum by Doing the Bare Minimum