And regarding that, I think it's also essential to discuss keilim (tools, resources).
Increasingly, American society is providing people with fewer keilim to manage well in life—practically, financially, and spiritually.
In other words, society is not giving people the keilim they need to succeed in any aspect life, including the keilim necessary just to maintain basic human decency.
Schools are not.
Parents are not.
(Why? Because the society, schools, and families lack these keilim themselves.)
Even more worrying, if the people themselves lack the keilim from within, then how are they supposed to acquire these keilim?
Remember, they aren't receiving the keilim from external sources.
Well, if they become frum Jews, they can acquire it through Torah.
But it's not going to be easy.
Some people start out at such a low point, they don't even understand why certain keilim are good.
They simply do not see the value in a particular kli (tool, resource). They may even think a good kli is bad.
For example, in modern secular society, being of "those who are insulted and don't return the insult" or being "ma'avir al middotav" is NOT a virtue. It means you lack self-esteem and need to learn how to be more assertive.
You need to learn to stand up for yourself, they'll tell you. If you don't, then people will victimize you forever more.
And so on.
I personally have seen arguments in shiurim with attendees from a secular background who try to convince the speaker why the speaker (and therefore, Chazal) is wrong about being mevater to the extent described 2 paragraphs above.
Probably you've seen that too.
And that's just one example.
When Sloth Meets Superman...
- You have very ambitious, driven, success-hungry types who throw their all into financial and professional success.
- You have the couch potato.
When the driven type does teshuvah, they often channel their drive and talents in a frum way. We usually enjoy hearing their stories.
They may struggle with slowing down to think and dealing with their inner world. If they're mothers, the slower-paced yet more chaotic & inconvenient homemaking/parenting aspect of their lives might prove a big challenge.
(Yet they often rise to it admirably.)
Then you have...the couch potato.
The couch potato will run directly into the wall of Judaism's emphasis on zerizut and its severe disapproval of laziness or any time-wasting whatsoever (as seen by strong condemnations of atzlanut and batlanut throughout millennia of Torah scholarship).
"Sittin' by the dock of the bay wastin' time" and similar leisure activities (or inactivities, as the case may be) haven been glorified in American society for a while now, and are only intensifying.
Just relax! And if you can't relax, have a drink! Or go to a doctor and get a sedative! You only live once! Live free! Treat yourself! You deserve it!
"Living a life of leisure" is a goal for many.
In fact, the driven & energetic types can also drift into the lifestyle of leisure and relaxation, they'll just do it with more gusto—like bungee jumping rather than vegging in front of their TV.
Going out to eat, going to the movies, hanging out, cruising, vegging in front of the TV, sleeping in, immersing oneself in a novel, drinking, night-clubbing, listening to music, listening to podcasts, tuning in to v-logs, suntanning at the beach, and so much more is considered very positive in American society.
It's considered healthy.
(Maybe not physically healthy, some of it, but it is considered emotionally healthy to an extent. It's as if you have an actual need to watch inane sit-coms & talkshows that you must satisfy...or else.)
Self-nurturing, they call it. Self-care. Rejuvenation. Breaking free. You NEED it, you are told.
Of course, there are times to legitimately take a break and listen to music or stare at the sea or catch up on sleep, and so on.
Judaism allows down-time for beneficial reasons--l'to'elet.
But this constant pursuit of leisure is really frowned upon in Judaism. Just peruse any chapter of Mishlei/Proverbs, and you can see it right there.
The problem is when, for example:
- You've been conditioned by your society in the pursuit of leisure
- AND you come from a couch potato family (rather than the driven success-oriented family)
- AND your innate personality tends toward laziness and batlanut (like if you've got a strong "Earth" element to your personality).
And then...you embark on a frum life, which rightly has a whole other rhythm to it: the anti-couch potato vibe.
This means you obviously face a massive challenge.
And in some ways, you're set up for failure (or at least, a whole lot of falls), especially if you compare yourself to others who possess either the internal or external keilim you lack completely.
Here's more on the effects of external & internal keilim...
Example of No External Keilim: Women's Role Today
Sometimes the mother was working and it was easier to order dinner from the local restaurants (which offered healthy food too) while leaving housekeeping to a paid housekeeper.
Or maybe the mother suffered physical or mental ailments, and the father hired a housekeeper for the cooking & cleaning.
Either way, these daughters never saw their mother cooking or cleaning.
Nor were these daughters taught anything about clean or cook or basic home management.
In these particular cases, these daughters weren't even taught to clean up after themselves.
(Please note that these situations did not occur because of wealth, but due solely to the mother's lack of ability or desire to engage in domestic tasks. Many people with housekeepers can & do teach their children housekeeping skills, cooking, and cleaning up after themselves. So it's not about having a housekeeper or ordering in, but a certain attitude and chinuch toward domestic duties.)
Anyway, upon becoming frum, these young women discover that the whole arena of cooking meals and managing a home plays a big part in frum life.
And these young women have been given no keilim for even the basics.
Again, everything in secular society now looks down on the domestic arena.
Yet in a weird twist, men are praised for helping out with domestic tasks, while women are discouraged from focusing on or even valuing the domestic arena too much.
Many modern mothers themselves train their daughters by example (or even outright propaganda) to despise the domestic arena, to view it as denigrating. Or at the very least, to view it as unimportant.
So what if, in addition to lacking the external keilim to face domestic life, she doesn't have these keilim within her either?
How Internal Keilim can Overcome the Lack of External Keilim
There are many people like this, but for simplicity's sake, let's compile it into one person.
At home, this type (which lacked external keilim but possessed the internal keilim) was born with a knack for and an attraction to organization & cleanliness. Eventually, she started trying to clean or cook on her own, and took both pleasure and pride in whatever she managed to accomplish.
When she joined the frum community, she embraced the opportunity to help frum women in their Shabbos preparations, intending this as not only chessed for these women, but also as training for when she herself would make lovely Shabboses.
When she married, she was finally free to run a home as she saw fit.
She could never run her parents' home, nor could she run the homes of her Shabbos hosts, her seminary dorm, or a family she lived with as a bat bayit. But marriage brought her this new & much-longed-for opportunity.
In one case, this type showed me the new furniture she bought after the wedding. It was common Israeli furniture, but they featured all sorts of handy additions I hadn't seen before.
"How did you get those additions?" I asked her.
"Oh," she said, "I asked them if they could attach it."
"But how did you know they had such things?"
"I didn't. But I just thought it would be a good idea. Isn't it handy?"
"Wait," I said. "You mean you never saw this anywhere? You didn't see a picture of it even?"
"So how did you know to ask for it?"
"Well," she said, "just looking at the set, I felt like something like this would be so handy. So I asked them if they could add this. And they did."
That's when I realized she has what's called natural talent. It's the same talented eye that artists and sculptors possess, in that they see a blank canvas or a piece of stone, and they also see what can be created there.
So she was able to create an attractive well-run home on a simple budget, despite her lack of external keilim.
She was able to succeed & even excel in this area because she possessed the internal keilim, which she was able to develop & hone once she entered the frum community.
And this is just one example of how inner keilim can take a person very far, especially if at some point, they receive direction or the supportive external keilim (as she did once she entered the frum community).
No External Keilim & No Internal Keilim
So for this type, this meant that the whole foray into helping the Shabbos hostess was foreign territory. (Those who were more child-oriented focused on entertaining or helping with the children instead, which is also a big chessed.)
Upon getting married, this also meant that the most basic aspects of domestic tasks were also foreign & overwhelming.
She needed to learn on the job, and it's not something you can learn in a few days or even a few months (especially if you lack the keilim).
Of this type, some never cooked during the week; their children subsisted on yogurt & sandwiches from Shabbos to Shabbos.
(This is, of course, not the end of the world. Sandwiches made from healthy ingredients can be healthy. But this went on for years and it was because the mother felt too overwhelmed to even make a pot of rice or beans or potatoes—and again, that's understandable considering where she comes from.)
And of course, Shabbos proved a big challenge, as were the chagim, and these women scraped by with the minimum they could manage. And that bare minimum was the best they could do.
Some also struggle with making sure their children go off to school in clean clothes & proper hygiene.
This proved particular problematic for those with girls because in Girl World, being smelly or wearing stained or frayed clothing is not acceptable. That's just the instinctive response, no rejection intended. But even the nice compassionate little girls don't want to sit next to the girl who smells, let alone play with the smelly girl.
The big downer for this type is the constant underlying current of feeling bad about herself.
These women see they aren't managing. Their homes, their laundry, their meals—everything is less than what everyone else was doing.
And they know it.
To compound things, some of them end up with husbands who can't accept the wife's best efforts (which seem to be everyone else's least efforts) and these guys are pretty expressive about their disappointment, which depletes the wife's motivation and energy even more, and deepens her feeling of being innately defective.
These guys feel they got a raw deal. And in some ways, they did.
If your wife, even at her healthiest and most energetic (i.e., not pregnant or dealing with a newborn or a part-time job), simply cannot organize herself to do more than barely function, then yeah, you kind of got a raw deal.
But in some of the cases, the guy isn't better than her. Meaning, looking at his middot and what he brought into the marriage, he didn't deserve better than he got. But he'll not see it that way.
He can also daven for her; davening does work.
In a nutshell, her lack of external keilim AND internal keilim basically sentence her to a life of which the bare minimum is ALWAYS overwhelmingly challenging.
It also sentences her to a life of feeling constantly below average and constantly defective because, no matter how hard she tries, she's always going to fall at some point.
And she's going to fall a lot.
In other words, she's basically set up to fail. Repeatedly.
If she goes for aitzahs, she's likely to receive a disapproving attitude & unhelpful criticism in return. Even if at first the yoetz or yoetzet is helpful and encouraging, they might get fed up with her inability to keep up the simplest domestic schedule.
Why can't she just get her act together? they wonder. Everyone else is able to do it.
Even more destructively, she'll likely be compared unfavorably to the woman in the section above, who also lacked external keilim, but possessed internal keilim.
See? If she could do it, why can't you?
(Happily, there are some exceptions to this. Some advisers possess a great deal more insight and compassion, so hopefully these struggling types will encounter those advisers.)
So...maybe one week she manages to keep up with the laundry and have the small living room tidy when her husband comes home.
But will she be able to do that next week too? After all, it took a lot out of her both mentally and physically, and it still feels unnatural.
And what about when she's pregnant, has a cold, or spent the day running errands?
Furthermore, can she do all that, plus prepare a hot meal at least 3 times a week AND make sure her daughter's hair gets shampooed more than once a week?
For some women, this is nothing. They could do this in their sleep.
But considering her keilim, it might be too much to ask (especially in the inital years), especially for her to keep this up regularly.
And this is just one type of example.
There are similar dynamics going on with child-rearing, conflict-resolution, a sense of personal responsibility, anger management, and so much more.
And the influences destroying external keilim affect FFBs too.
Some frum communities strive to insulate themselves as much as possible, while others go so far as to embrace the external influences (and then there's everyone between those 2 extremes).
The main question is: How does Hashem see such a person?
Seeing Ourselves through Hashem's Eyes Using a Scale of 0-10
People who start out at 8 can make it to 10 in only 2 steps.
(And they get lots of attention for this.)
People who start at 6 can go to 10 in 4 steps (and get a lot of attention and accolades for this accomplishment).
But what about people starting out at zero?
If they push themselves to 4, they're still appear below average and will always be perceived as below average. Not up to par at all.
However, they accomplished the same number of steps as the 6!
And they actually accomplished more than the 8!
So 4 steps is really good.
The problem is that depending on the person's starting point, most people will not see it as good because on the scale of 0-10, it's below average.
So who is going to give them chizuk and validation for accomplishing 4 steps?
Who's going to help them feel hopeful rather than defective & hopeless?
And the even bigger problem in our deteriorating surrounding society today is that we have an increasing number of people starting off at minus-5.
Getting to zero will take a LOT of effort.
If they make it to 2, that's amazing.
That's 7 steps.
Had they started out at 6 or 8, they'd be off the charts with 7 steps!
But...no, they started out at minus-5.
And therein lies the rub.
Because no matter how hard they try, they'll always be viewed as substandard.
Even if they accomplish 10 steps (which would take a zero all the way to 10—a HUGE success story, BTW), the minus-5 will still only make it to Level 5—average.
In other words, all that strain will only get them to "Meh."
It's unlikely that they'll get any validation from anyone for all their efforts and mesirut nefesh.
Having said all that, some people who have developed a more spiritual vision will see the hidden accomplishment of the former minus-5, and will validate and encourage them.
But mostly, the former minus-5s will not only not receive acknowledgement, but on the contrary, they'll receive criticism and an attitude of "That's it? Well, if that's the best you could do..."
(In addition to, of course, unfavorable comparisons to those who started out at a much higher starting point.)
But that's not how HASHEM sees such a person.
Hashem can see into our hearts and kidneys, as Tehillim says. He knows at exactly which starting point He placed us.
He knows exactly how much we are able to accomplish.
And He knows exactly how much effort we exerted to achieve the impossible & reach what everyone else considers merely "Meh."
What is the Great Virtue of the Person with No Keilim?
They try even though there may be no chance of obvious success.
When we talk about l'shem Shamayim and other such concepts of mesirut nefesh and performing mitzvot without thought of reward, it seems to me that these people fit in that category.
Especially since seeing themselves from the outside, they may not think they're even collecting much reward for their efforts.
After all, how much reward should a 2 get?
Did the 2 used to be a 6?
(Not so good.)
Was the 2 always a 2?
(Also not so good, but not as bad as downscaling from 6.)
Or did the 2 start out at 1 or 0?
Or did the 2 start out at minus-5?
(This could reap a lot of reward.)
The greatness of a person who lacks all the keilim is that despite the high chance of failure, despite the much more difficult journey, and despite how their accomplishments may never be perceived as accomplishments by others (or even by themselves), they still set out on that journey.
And this is very precious to Hashem.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due...and Being Gentler Too
- We need to invest more in relating to others with gentleness, patience & an awareness that we often don't know their starting point or their keilim.
- We need to invest more in relating to ourselves with gentleness & encouragement.
- We need to note our very real accomplishments—without pride—but definitely with pleasure & gratitude.
- We need to encourage others and note their positive aspects. We need to focus on what they're doing RIGHT.
Some people fear doing the above because it seems to justify the people who don't even try—the people who stumble and don't realize they've stumbled. The people who step on others without remorse, shame, or even an awareness that they did anything wrong.
Sometimes they give lip-service to the idea of middot work or teshuvah with a vague general comment like, "Better just keep trying" or "Just keeping working on those middot" without ever actually doing so.
But they find excuses and justify themselves anyway, so I don't know that matters.
But even with such remorseless resistant types, it rarely helps to conk them over the head with the truth.
If you do so, they just feel like you're being mean.
In fact, telling them the truth about themselves can totally throw off their equilibrium and send them into a out-of-control tizzy.
So it's best to focus on what they do right and be gentle with them too (unless, of course, the situation calls for a tougher approach, as it sometimes does).
And some of them do change over time.
Anyway, whether you've progressed half a step or whether you've accomplished 15 steps, the main thing is that you're trying.
Even if you fail a million times, it really is the effort that counts.
So gentler, patient, & more encouraging is the way to go, both with yourself & others.
And also try as much as you can to realize that:
- You may not know the person's starting point, and
- You may not know their real story, like with their keilim and how hard they've been trying until now.
This is what I'm working on now too.
And to read what Shlomo Hamelech and Chazal say about this subject, please see:
Here are some stories from Rav Levi Yitchak Bender of seemingly hopeless people who changed through the patient, gentle, encouraging approach (and for some, it took a LOOOOONG time to even think of changing):