What's the Underlying Message of Shoshanat Yaakov regarding Zeresh? A Quote from Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender (Free Downloadable Graphic)
Please see here for a bit more on the topic:
In Rav Avigdor Miller's dvar Torah for Parshas Shemos 5 - Career of Encouragement, we discover one of the greatest traits of Moshe Rabbeinu to emulate: noticing & encouraging others.
Encouragement (chizuk) is one of the aspects Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender stated as the obligation of a friend (Words of Faith):
This is the authentic Torah approach for dealing with people.
(For more, please see here: www.myrtlerising.com/blog/how-to-really-love-another-person.)
And Moshe Rabbeinu was outstanding in this area.
And we should definitely follow our leader by doing this too.
As Rav Miller states on page 8-9:
Now I want people to listen to that – married couples, families, boys and girls — everybody should listen to this prayerfully because in many homes people are spending their lives doing the opposite.
And Rav Miller provides us with engaging, practical examples for a variety of situations.
Encouraging a Wife
Every man who marries must keep in mind that it's not enough that he doesn't transgress this in the negative.
Encouraging a Husband
And a woman too, no less, must make it her business always to look for opportunities to drop a word of encouragement to her husband.
Encouragement for Children
It’s a tremendous mitzvah, a tremendous step to greatness, if you’ll encourage your children.
Encouragement for Students
There are a lot of boys in the yeshivah that would benefit from kind words. So many bochurim could use it.
Encouragement for All Kinds of People
Encourage your chaveirim in the yeshiva.
The Power of a Friendly Smile
It could be somebody was passing by dejected.
Why Smile at Office People & Grouchy People?
Don't you know how many times – if you lived a long time, you look back how many times in your career a smile was the turning point.
Now, don’t tell me people are too grouchy.
When You're Smiling, The Borei Olam Smiles at You
Page 15 (boldface mine):
And so, if you'll cause your face to shine upon other people, Hashem will smile on you too.
Credit for all material, quotes, and any resulting smiles goes to Toras Avigdor.
Part III: A Personal Story of How to Use the Undesirable Behavior of Others as a Message, How & Why It Works, Plus What to Do & What to Avoid
Let's continue with an illustrative story about the idea from the previous posts:
An Imbalance in the Ratio of Positive to Negative
So here's something that happened a while ago:
In general, I'd been working on speaking more positively to my husband & children.
I mean, I always strove to behave with good middot at home, but decided to up my game.
Dealing with young children presents a greater challenge because their not-yet-matured brain demands a certain amount of curbing so they learn to be civilized & also not harm themselves.
So they need to learn tact, manners, plus tons of safety rules.
This makes it hard to be just positive. Also, some children will not listen when you caution them too nicely (like about not darting into the street, or climbing up to play with the saw you put on the shelf all the way up near the ceiling because you thought he wouldn't reach it there, etc.).
Anyway, I made some major adjustments to deal with one child's very complex personality, and enjoyed the positive results.
I felt good about my self-improvement program & kept going with it.
Around that time, my schedule led me to frequent meetings with an old acquaintance as we passed each other out and about.
She always greeted me warmly & often had a good word to say.
Yet sometimes, she called out some helpful advice or constructive criticism about something.
Many times, her advice or criticism was correct.
But after a while, it got tiring.
I didn't always feel like explaining why I was doing something a certain way — even when her way really was better.
Sometimes, I just couldn't manage to do things "right" at that moment (or even that week).
Also, she assumed reasons that weren't always true.
For example, if you pass by someone who looks tired, it could be she needs more sleep.
Or vitamins. Or maybe she just received troubling news or feels depressed.
Maybe it takes her a long time to wake up fully & she's out and about before she's completely awake after a night's sleep or a daytime nap.
So cheerfully calling out to such a person, supportively encouraging her to go to bed earlier could be a good solution for her, but if she's still looking tired for OTHER reasons...then it's not helpful.
Or you tell the well-meaning advice-giver, "Thank you for your concern. I went to bed as early as I could, but the baby was particularly wakeful that night."
And like I said, she's genuinely nice & often responded sympathetically with, "Awww...yeah, that happens sometimes — but you're doing a great job!"
So that's what I mean.
She was very positive & went out of her way to give chizuk to others. She also was very generous with whatever chessed she could do, like giving people really good recommendations or money, and so on.
But at one point, I just felt like I'd rather not see her at all, even though her positive comments really give me a lift.
If I had to have the helpful hints & constructive criticism with all the praise & encouragement, I started feeling like I'd rather have neither.
Here's How to NOT Shoot the Messenger
So this went on for a while despite having already habituated myself to use unpleasant interactions as messages from Hashem.
I procrastinated because of emotional laziness.
But finally, I sat down with Hashem & combed through the pattern.
Basically, the bare-bones description of the interaction came out like this:
Here's a genuinely good & sincerely well-meaning person giving lots of positive feedback — but with constructively intended negative feedback that (though often correct) was really getting to be too much, and NOT outweighed by the positive (even though it was often correct!).
But it was simply too much.
Am I also doing that in some way?
The answer, of course, was...yes!
I realized 2 things:
(Meaning, even if you need a child to be ready on time in the morning or go to bed on time at night — with all the instructions & warnings that entails, depending — it's good to note how stressed you are when doing it. Maybe the emotional intensity needs to be toned down.)
So I thanked Hashem for this message & asked Him to help me carry it out effectively.
And I got to work on myself.
The very next day, I did not see her where I usually passed her.
In fact, several days went by without seeing her.
(I felt both relieved & disappointed — relieved because I was happy not to hear the less positive comments, but disappointed by the sudden absence of the very positive comments.)
After a few days, I saw her from afar, from where she gave me a friendly wave & a big smile.
From then on, we only ran into each other sporadically — and she was almost always positive when we did run into each other.
Isn't that interesting?
It all changed overnight.
At that point, all I'd done was identify the flaw Hashem highlighted & taken upon myself to correct it, and just barely started — and the messenger already changed.
Now, it doesn't always work that fast. But a lot of times it does.
(At the same time, please know that some "messengers" barely improve at all, despite doing your best to glean the message. There are other spiritual reasons for unpleasant interactions & relationships.)
As so often emphasized in Judaism, Hashem does not expect us to be perfect.
He DOES expect us to TRY.
Often, just starting down the right path sweetens things.
Once you've shown you've gotten the message, then you no longer need the messenger.
Either the messenger disappears or changes.
(Again, that's IF the reason for the other's unpleasant behavior was SOLELY to give you a message about your own behavior.)
We All Have Our Blind Spots
Another reason sold me on this method and that's this:
How else could I possibly have realized the change I still needed to make?
After all, many people commented throughout the years that I tend to speak to my children with warmth & positivity.
And I'd just embarked on a new self-improvement program & had already improved in that same area.
My young child responded well to the improvements I'd already made, and his behavior gave no indication of a lack on my part.
Furthermore, I wouldn't have felt any need to consult with anyone because my child's behavior was fine.
Had I been in a chinuch class, I would've felt like I was following the positivity-negativity ratio proscribed by the chinuch pro.
So for all the above reasons, what could possibly indicate I still needed to stretch myself further in this area?
Yet I DID need to step up my game a bit more.
And how else could I possibly come to this conclusion on my own?
But Hashem saw I could be doing better, so He sent me an encouraging message via this particular messenger.
There was no other way for me to know.
And THAT right there says why this method is vital for any program of self-improvement:
Sometimes, there is no other way to know.
Why Standard Techniques for Dealing with Difficult People Cannot Always Work & This Method Will
Just a short note regarding another point of this method's importance...
Had I used any therapeutic tips for dealing with difficult interactions, it wouldn't have solved the main issue.
For example, had I exhibited the socially encouraged self-esteem & healthy assertiveness and "I" statements by telling her something like, "I appreciate so much your encouragement & concern. But I'm not finding the helpful advice as beneficial as intended. The positive encouragement helps me the most."
Or if I avoided her by taking a different route or just blankly saying "Thank you!" as a brush-off to anything she said...then how would that help when the real issue was something lacking in ME?
The whole reason she behaved this way was because of me — not because of her.
Her behavior was a message from Hashem.
So how would being assertive or avoiding her remedy the situation?
Even if it remedied her behavior, Hashem would just send the same message from somewhere else (and possibly even stronger & more unpleasant).
(Anyway, we saw in Part II how the avoidance technique did not help the woman who needed to stop her hurtful sniping.)
At the same time, sometimes assertiveness or avoidance ARE what Hashem wants you to do!
I don't mean to completely negate those options.
I just believe that looking for Hashem's message should either come first or be part of the response.
Also, if you have a mentor or a therapist, you could do this with them IF they're open to this method.
Sometimes another person can help so much in getting to the bottom of it.
Other times, it's too personal & you need to do it yourself.
So whichever way works for your needs.
Cultivating Yourself Positively & According to Your Real Capabilities
Another point is this:
Hashem knows your ACTUAL capabilities.
He knows where you REALLY could be holding at your present level.
Other people (including experts, professionals, consultants, etc.) can mess you up by pushing you beyond your capabilities OR in a direction all wrong for you (but maybe appropriate for someone else).
They don't mean to; they genuinely want to help. And many of them do genuinely help & aim for sensitivity toward their subject's real level & real needs.
But they aren't perfect, some have burnt out but don't realize it, and some either aren't capable of complex thinking or haven't done enough inner work of their own to help others beyond a certain point.
Sometimes, they can make you feel so bad & hopeless, either because they think that's what you need or they didn't realize their approach would make you feel that way.
And by the way, even if someone really is a bad parent or spouse, it's rarely effective to make them feel bad or hopeless about themselves.
Most dysfunctional people got that way from being toxically shamed, so shaming them further shoves them further into their dysfunction.
(This also includes good people who suffer from some dysfunctional aspect. Their dysfunctional aspect developed from an overdose of shame, so shaming them further either makes that aspect worse or brings only a temporary improvement before they fall back even more deeply into the dysfunctional aspect.)
There is a place for using intense shame, but rarely. It almost always makes things worse, so better safe than sorry.
Anyway, if someone is basically good & well-intended, but really messing up in one aspect — why make them feel like they're awful overall?
So that approach generally proves either untrue or ineffective or destructive — or all three.
And just to be clear: I'm not saying you shouldn't turn to another person for help.
If the person is genuinely helpful, then you SHOULD turn to that person!
If you found a mentor, rabbi, rebbetzin, therapist, friend, or consultant who genuinely helps, then that's a gift from Hashem and He definitely wants you to use it!
So go for it.
But this method (using other's behavior as a message from Hashem) provides an extra angle, plus it's a message from Hashem Himself Who loves you more than anyone else could, and also knows what your true capabilities are...so He will not push you past your level or push you in a direction wrong for you.
The Main Points for Using Other's Undesirable Behavior as a Message to for Your Own Self-Improvement
Just to review:
Again, it's important to stay away from the whole "What negative does this say about me in general?"
If you conclude you are a narcissist, an abuser, a psychopath, Erev Rav, or any other wholly negative & hopeless label...then how does that possibly help you?
Even if you ARE any of the above, it doesn't help to see yourself that way overall.
I emphasize this because so many people think seeing themselves positively is apologist psychobabble and dishonest.
By condemning themselves as a whole, they think they're being honest.
You comprise a tzelem Elokim, Hashem breathed His qualities into you (Genesis ), and you possess a uniquely human soul unlike any other living thing in the world.
If you're Jewish, you possess a Jewish soul too, which is a pristine & lofty entity.
Just work things one step at time without the wholesale negative labeling.
A Self-Image based on Authentic Torah Hashkafah
Let's leave off with a quote from the Breslov tzaddik Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, who was certainly no apologist or a superficial psychobabbler (emphasis mine):
Even in oneself, see only good points and do not consider yourself wicked — despite the fact that you well know the low place you are in.
A Bizarre & Disturbing Story that Demonstrates the Path to Success & Provides Inspiration to Rescue Us from Despair
In Words of Faith, Volume I, pages 309-310, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender describes a young man from Poland (identified only by the initials "S.H.") who had everything going for him.
S.H. came from a wealthy family of lineage distinguished by great tzaddikim.
His wedding took place in Russia.
But then something happened.
As Rav Bender described it:
...he was not successful in the match and it did not end up well.
Because Rav Bender maintains such discretion & refined language, it's not clear exactly what happened back then.
Yes, the destructive nets of the Haskalah & Reform movements reached everyone, including the Jews in Uman—and yes, they sometimes reached an innocent Jew via a secretly corrupted spouse.
Furthermore, some opposition to Breslov specifically also chafed in Uman at that time.
But it's not clear what exactly went wrong with this shidduch or what specifically the girl did that ruined this boy so badly—especially without any Internet—only that it clearly ended in an early divorce.
Rav Bender continued:
It is impossible to describe the change that occurred in that young man.
And Rav Bender knew him very well.
In addition to all the good Rav Bender did, he & his family also hosted around 20 guests for Rosh Hashanah in Uman each year.
The guests came from all over & comprised tzaddikim along with other good Jews devoted to Hashem.
(After Rav Bender came to Eretz Yisrael in 1949, he recalled those Rosh Hashanah meals with great fondness, struggling to describe the inspiration & sweetness of the intense spiritual pleasure experienced by everyone there.)
This ruined young man also joined Rav Bender & the special guests.
There, Rav Bender remembers the young man participating in their holy discussions with "words that fired up hearts for Hashem Yisbarach" and "Passionate words that shook all hearts"—everything accompanied by a "fervor and inspiration that is hard to describe."
Immediately upon parting from this lofty group & unparalleled spiritual experience, the young man turned into a completely different person the moment he stepped out the back door of Rav Bender's home, leaving Rav Bender musing:
But the great wonder is how one person was composed of two opposite people.
Rav Bender explained that the young man's soul, pure at its root & preserved among a good family for his whole life, simply could not acclimate to "the dirt that became attached to him."
Nor did the young man ever figure out how to get rid of this "dirt."
So the young man, due to his high level of self-awareness, remained trapped in this terrible conflict raging within.
(And yeah, I still don't understand what his kallah did that caused all this, but the aftershocks clearly had a lot to do with the innate sensitivity of the young man; it seems that, paradoxically, a less sensitive young man could have recovered himself more easily.)
Rav Bender recalled how this young man prostrated himself over the Tsiyun (grave site) of Rebbe Nachman, screaming to Hashem to "take him out of the depths of the klippos that he had fallen into.":
"I'm burning alive!" he cried from the roar of his heart.
Rav Bender described the young man's intense screams as if hearing someone ready die "just to get out of this harsh battle."
And Rav Bender always believed in the young man's sincerity.
He confirmed how everyone knew how much this young man's heart "burned for his Father in Heaven"—from the side of his yetzer tov.
As Rav Bender stated:
But it was also known how he was in a state of constant dreadful battle.
That's a surprisingly astute & sympathetic view on the inner battle very self-aware & highly sensitive people endure.
Rav Bender further described what they witnessed of the young man:
He would prostrate himself on the Tsiyun with such screams and roars:
And Rav Bender summed it up with:
So that was S.H., whose source was holy and pure from elite lineage, great righteous Rabbis.
And what an end—Gevald!
The whole saga sounds bizarre to us today.
Actually, I think it was also out of the ordinary for back then too, and probably part of the reason why others sometimes viewed Breslov with wariness—because the Breslover tzaddikim were willing to accept people on any level, and especially if people sincerely struggled to work on themselves, regardless of how often failure occurred.
The Breslovers also displayed a certain acceptance of extreme emotion—as long as it was used in service of Hashem.
For example, if screaming like a raging warrior in the throes of death on the battlefield was what the person needed to do as part of his spiritual inner work, then the Breslov tzaddikim were like, "Well, if that's what it takes...then that's what it takes. To each his own."
What's interesting about all this is how although Rav Bender himself did not relate personally to this level of struggle, he was nonetheless able to accept this young man's level of struggle.
Yes, Rav Bender was certainly familiar with spiritual struggles & the challenge of undesirable middot, but not to the extreme of this young man's struggle.
He described the response of himself & the others who witnessed this young man's raging inner conflict:
Nevertheless, despite the tremendous fall that he went through, they did not look at him with eyes of judgment.
I think the last statement means, despite whatever severe transgressions the young man kept committing, he did not go completely off the derech.
He could easily have severed all connection to Torah—as many did in those days—but instead maintained a connection to Torah & mitzvot by virtue of his connection to the Breslov community & his attempts to do teshuvah.
And the community's ability to give him the benefit of the doubt & refrain from mocking or deriding him allowed him that connection.
When Things aren't What They Seem
There's a few lessons to be gleaned from this anecdote, from the most obvious to the more subtle.
Let's start with a more subtle insight.
Without knowing what exactly transpired to corrupt the young man, a major reason why his fall proved so severe & ultimately irreparable (the young man apparently never managed to rectify himself before the Nazis came) was because of his innate sensitivity & purity.
A less sensitive person may not have fallen so far or so irreparably.
While modern psychology acknowledges the existence of the Highly Sensitive Personality, this label exists without the awareness of sin vs. mitzvah, and morality vs. immorality.
(Furthermore, even within the Highly Sensitive Personality, gradations exist—with some people being highly sensitive and others highly-highly-highly sensitive.)
Modern people probably look at the story above and label the young man as "neurotic" or "OCD" or a whole host of other labels—possibly accompanied by recriminations against the Breslov rabbis for not reassuring the young man or getting him psychological help.
Yet they did not intervene because Rav Bender makes it clear (without going into details) the young man was indeed sinning terribly AND knew it.
The young man came from a strong & knowledgeable Torah background that did not allow him the luxury of deceiving himself.
So from the outside, the young man looks like he's an innately a lowly person—possibly even Erev Rav—and it looks like his fall merely reveals the innate badness that lay hidden within him all along.
But really, his extreme "hypocrisy" & contradiction developed davka BECAUSE of his innate sensitivity & original purity of soul.
This lies in direct contrast to how he appeared on the outside.
Certainly, some people who act out such extreme contradictions reveal a very real & hidden facet of their personality all along.
But not always.
Sometimes, it's the sensitive personality that exhibits the most extreme behavior.
It's the soul whose pristineness suffers severe stains & cannot deal with the stains & filth, agitating against the tumah as one agitates against thorny burrs or a swarm of inescapable hornets.
Even today, experts (both rabbis & mental health workers) understandably struggle to differentiate between an actual mental health issue and the inner struggle of a particularly sensitive person whose level of sensitivity & self-awareness do not allow them the level of complacency found by others.
So that's one lesson.
(It also seems to me the extremity of the young man's fall should be emphasized by who surrounded him. He dwelt among people on the stature of Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, Rav Eliyahu Chaim Rosen, and Rav Avraham Chazan—among other great Jews—plus his own Torah knowledge & strong connection to teshuvah & prayer...yet despite all this support & effort, he never managed to extract himself from his fallen state.)
The Secret to Success is in the Struggle, Not the Outcome
The obvious major lesson here—and apparently Rav Bender's purpose in telling this story—is the value of sincere struggle.
And to emphasize: SINCERE struggle.
The paradoxical idea that you can achieve success without ever experiencing success?
I think this idea only exists in Judaism.
Without having carried out a survey of all other belief systems on this particular issue, I can't say for sure...but I think so.
For example, the awareness of the wrongness of stealing or murder exists in other belief systems.
All cultures institute laws against such transgressions (how ever they define stealing or murder).
But the idea that you actually succeed as long as you sincerely try—that you can earn a place in Heaven simply by sincere effort without any actual visible accomplishment?
I think that's only found in Judaism.
Just as a non-Chassidish example, we have a Q&A with Rav Itamar Schwartz regarding a sin Judaism counts as one of the most severe for men:
So this idea is a quintessentially Jewish attitude toward struggle & success.
Internalizing this belief can save a person from falling into despair & giving up completely.
At the same time, the attempt to wrap one's mind around this idea slams into a formidable wall for nearly everyone because it goes against the entire attitude of our surrounding cultures.
Yet the belief that struggle IS success is paradoxically the secret to success—and to meriting Redemption & a good place in the World to Come.
We can leave off with the words of Rav Akiva Rabinovitz as quoted by Rav Ofer Erez in Ahavat Kedumim, page 170:
Hakadosh Baruch Hu holds absolutely no hakpadah [strict condemnation] against a Jewish person who possess evil traits and lusts.
And that's the Truth.
*Note: I made minor adjustments to some of the punctuation & capitalization in quoting the original text of the book, which is anyway an English translation of Rav Bender's original Yiddish lectures. Yet in doing so, I omitted the usual square brackets  and "sic" and other editorial signs because of a preference for clearer text and to not make the reader cross-eyed with square brackets crammed into all sorts of unexpected & distracting places.
Motivational Quote from Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender about the Sparkling Significance of Even Just ONE MOMENT of Regret & Longing to Be Better
"The moment such a pure thought sparkles in the mind,
one moment of regret and longing for good…
Immediately — in a moment,
one is already separated from evil.
Already a good precious moment is counted to your merit.
Even a single instant is not insignificant --
it is even very important."
— Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, Words of Faith, Volume I, page 280
Why was Ruth's Conversion to Judaism So Monumental? What Does Conversion Actually Accomplish? And Why is It So Vitally Necessary for a Conversion to be Absolutely Kosher & Sincere?
If you're interested in why Ruth's conversion was so monumental & what conversion to Judaism should actually accomplish, then please see the following posts:
(some fundamentals of releasing & elevating hidden & trapped sparks)
Judaism strongly discourages converts.
This stance helps filter out the souls lacking an authentic Yisrael spark.
Every convert who means to fully accept the yoke of Torah & all applicable mitzvot receives a new soul.
However, different levels of soul come according to the convert's level of intention.
For example, Ruth's conversion reached one of the highest levels, which merited her an extraordinarily special Yisrael soul.
At the same time, all sincere converts receive a special status with a direct lineage to Avraham Avinu & Sara Imeinu!
Furthermore, Hashem bequeaths converts with special protection, as commanded directly from the Torah and described in Tehillim 146:9 — Hashem guards & protects specifically the ger (even as He is, of course, the All-Powerful Shomer Yisrael).
We see that the great David HaMelech is the great-grandson of a convert (Ruth), which means Melech HaMashiach is also descended from a convert.
Rebbi Akiva was the son/grandson of converts & a direct descendent of the abominable General Sisera — yet Rebbi Akiva became one of Am Yisrael's greatest Sages.
So we see how wholly sincere conversion produces very special results.
The information in the above links, mostly gleaned from the great tzaddik Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, explains why a truly kosher & sincere conversion is so powerful & so important for Am Yisrael.
After learning about the sparks & what conversion really does, both for the convert & for Am Yisrael, it's easy to deduce why invalid or questionable conversions are so damaging, not only practically, but also on a spiritual level.
Often, a potential convert contains a Jewish spark, which leads the soul toward conversion.
Hashem planted that spark within because, for whatever reason, this person needed the process of conversion to carry out his or her soul rectification.
For example, some converts left Judaism in their former gilgul (lifetime).
To repair that terrible heresy, Hashem causes them to be born as non-Jews in a new gilgul — non-Jews who actively need to pursue Judaism & proactively adopt the full yoke of Torah & mitzvot to atone for the rejection they performed in their previous gilgul.
And that's just one interesting & newer reason. There are other better-known, all-encompassing reasons, such deriving from the sparks of souls nursed by Sara Imeinu, or who wanted to accept the Torah when their nation did not, and more.
Regardless, it's vital that a conversion be carried out properly.
The rabbis involved must be Orthodox—but being Orthodox isn't enough.
And good intentions are not enough either.
In fact, good intentions often go hand-in-hand with insincere conversions carried out by otherwise Orthodox rabbis.
The rabbi much check his personal motivations and not slide down the slippery slope of "feel-good" impulses.
These rabbis must deal with conversion responsibly & take it very seriously.
It's not enough for them to THINK they're being responsible and taking it seriously. They must actual BE responsible and take it very seriously with all the halachah that entails.
If they don't, they risk contributing to an insincere conversion (as has happened numerous times & continues to happen).
The following short video contains a directive from the Lubavitcher Rebbe about how to conduct a kosher conversion & how to determine the sincerity of the potential convert.
It contains wonderful direction & I wish every Orthodox rabbi would use this method when dealing with potential converts:
For this post, it's best to have familiarity with these past 3 posts:
Let's start with Rav Avigdor Miller's allegory of the historic movie of humanity & applying it to other guidance he gave, such as thinking about Hashem while walking from one utility pole to the next as you hurry down the street or while you hang on to a subway strap.
We know this matters because Rav Dessler wrote in Strive for Truth that any teshuvah you initiate in this world provides you with eternal progression in the World to Come.
Any teshuvah you do here starts off a marvelous chain reaction that continues with you for eternity.
And this is a big reason why people like Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, Rav Itamar Schwartz, and Rav Avigdor Miller encourage people with baby-steps.
Lo alecha hamalacha ligmor—You are not obligated to finish the work.
But you must still work it!
Even 10 seconds of it—the time it takes to walk from one utility pole to the next.
You as the Star of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie
So based on these ideas, this means that when all of humanity watches the movie of the history of humanity, we're going to see thousands of years of billions of people going about their lives like zombies and thinking vanities.
Thoughts of avodah zarah, like other religions or meditations.
Evil thoughts, scheming plans to destroy other people.
It's like those awful horror movies in which everyone is walking around crazed or zombified.
And then the scene switches...to you.
You in a Tear-Jerking Scene of the Historic Movie
There you are, walking down any old street, and as you pass one utility pole, you say to yourself, "Now I want to maintain an awareness of Hashem."
And you think about Hashem for the time it takes you to walk to the next utility pole.
And tears stream down the faces of everyone in the audience.
"That was such a beautiful scene!" they sob.
Likewise, when you say, "Now I am upholding the mitzvah of loving Hashem—I love You, Hashem."
Everyone's in floods as they watch your heart-stirring scene.
A hero against a billion mindless yet destructive zombies!
We don't feel it now.
But we will.
You as a Thrilling Climax of the Historic Movie
Then there's another scene: It's you again!
But this time, you're holding your tongue.
Maybe you wanted to reveal a particularly juicy bit of lashon hara. Maybe you wanted to indulge in some particularly gratifying ona'at devarim.
Maybe you were just insulted and you want desperately to snarl back, but you remember how, in Hashem's Eyes, it's better to be from the insulted rather than the insulters, and you want the blessing the comes from being silent.
Maybe you wanted to criticize or explode.
Doesn't matter. They're all excellent reasons to hold your tongue.
So there you are, with your lips pressed together. Maybe your mouth is twitching and you have a pained or angry look on your face, but your lips remain pressed together.
And maybe you feel good about your restraint...or maybe you don't.
If you haven't grown up with this ideal or if you aren't at all used to such self-restraint, you might feel awkward, stupid, frustrated, insecure, or resentful.
But now the audience is going wild with cheering.
Because again, they see you against the backdrop of billions of people over thousands of years—people who said whatever they wanted regardless of the consequences for anyone else. And also the billions of people who tweeted nastiness, who abused the comment sections of Facebook & websites, and who left soul-destroying messages on WhatsApp & Instagram. (3.6 billion people are on social media right now.)
Yet here you are, with your mouth closed against all odds!
It's like when that little one-man battleship needed to fly deep into the massive planet-destroying Death Star to destroy it.
He succeeds; it blows up in a planet-sized explosion.
But no one knows if that pilot managed to get out in time...
They think he's dead.
And then...he appears!
He made it!
He destroyed the Death Star, saved the Universe—and made it out alive!
What a wild finale!
So that's how everyone feels when they're going to see you with your painfully closed mouth.
Likewise, as you flail in the mud at today's 50th level of tumah, hopping from one foot to the other, struggling to free yourself from the mud, but you manage to do no more than get one foot out when the other foot gets sucked back in again.
You feel frustrated, despairing, exhausted, and gunky.
To make things worse, others deride your efforts.
Most of the world does not understand why you don't simply lie down in the mud and relax by streaming in some trashy brainwashing Hollywood films while snacking on non-kosher hot dogs & making nasty or inane remarks on social media.
Yet you're relying on Rav Bender's exhortation in Words of Faith:
"One foot in, one foot out.
I'm a middle-aged housewife and mother in Eretz Yisrael who likes to read and write a lot.
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