You will always discover new issues as you continue to dig deeper.
And that's okay. It's good!
For example, I lived with a certain mindset that I honestly considered normal and justified. Yes, I realized that other people in similar situations held very different mindsets, but I simply assumed that:
A) They were acting from weakness and not being honest with themselves regarding the reality, which tended to backfire on them.
B) They were on an impossibly high level, a level way beyond my reach.
Assumption A was often true and I was mostly right to dismiss it.
Assumption B is the bane of our generation and constantly used to justify and even encourage spiritual inertia.
But I thought that no, really, this time this particular level really is way beyond me.
A Searingly Special Shiur
(I must confess, I'm rather fond of people like this who strive to make the world a better place for everyone, and this is her description of herself, not mine.)
Then she described how she realized that wasn't the proper way to be, so she changed and started handing out praise and encouraging words to these same people...."and I received even better service than when I used to criticize!" she pointed out.
But even when her new 'n' improved behavior didn't yield the desired results (i.e. better service, etc), it was still the right way to proceed and she kept up with it.
She also mentioned the importance of telling people they're right, even if you know they aren't: "people" meaning your husband and young adult children. No, you don't have to do this in a sinful or bobble-headed manner (i.e. no moral compromising), but she merely pointed out that there are times when saying "You're right!" really is the best way to go, even when that person is technically wrong.
What I loved about her is that she didn't pretend, but stated outright several times that yes, you can be right and your husband wrong -- not that you just think you're right, but that you really ARE right! -- but that in some situations, it really is better to just let that go and say to him, "You're right."
She meant to do so from a place of strength and emuna, and not from a place of weakness and cowardly appeasement.
Now, I've known many people with her type of personality and I know how hard it is for them to make the kind of change she'd made and to say the kinds of things she was. Furthermore, she was being aboveboard about herself and her own difficult challenges in self-improvement. So I really, really admired her and felt like she was the real deal.
She said several other things not commonly heard in shiurim, points that also deeply resonated with me.
But then she suddenly started addressing my precious mindset.
The Unpleasant Shock of Truth
She emphasized that people who engage in a particular behavior (which I'd indulged in, although I was curbing it better lately) derive that behave from a particular mindset (gulp!), and that mindset signifies...she made a dignified discreet gesture that clearly indicated "mental illness."
Of course, I responded with all the usual evasive maneuvers:
- This doesn't apply to me. It just doesn't.
- She doesn't mean my specific situation. Mine is different!
- It's a cultural difference, not an objective viewpoint. Israeli Sefardim are different than American Ashkenazim like me.
- She doesn't understand. If she knew all the details of MY issue...
- It's a personality difference, not an objective viewpoint. People blessed with such lofty self-discipline and meticulousness (like Rabbanit Arush) can't apply their standards to people like me.
Except that her obvious commitment to truth, scrupulousness, and the more strenuous aspects of self-improvement made it difficult to wholly dismiss her point, especially when she repeated it several times.
But it was too much for me nonetheless.
Then I remembered that the Rav Eliezer Papo made pretty much the same point in his seminal Pele Yoetz. In fact, I even checked his book several times just to make sure (i.e., to try and see how Rabbanit Arush's viewpoint didn't apply to me...but alas, I couldn't deny the words of the Pele Yoetz: It did apply to me -- gulp!).
Seeing as he was a tremendous tzaddik who chose to suffer to death from the plague so as to atone for his city and save his fellow Jews from suffering the same fate in epidemic proportions, I felt like I could no longer ignore this.
Time to drag myself kicking and screaming from my blissful state of denial!
I wrestled with Hashem about this and what can I say? It hasn't been easy.
I really had convinced myself that this was way beyond me, miles above my current level, and God basically said, "So what? You need to get going up this mountain anyway because that's what you're here to do and objectively speaking, this is the proper Torah way of thinking and behaving. Don't let the difficulty or the height discourage you; just you making the attempt makes Me Happy."
Purging Out the Props
And in this way, we cripple ourselves and make certain behaviors and beliefs into crutches to keep us propped up.
If we give up these behaviors and beliefs, then we crumple to the ground, helpless and powerless. This is both demoralizing and terrifying.
(This is also where the Jewish concept of "sur m'ra v'aseh tov/turn from evil and do good" comes in because while you can initially sur m'ra, continuing to sur m'ra is mostly impossible unless you replace the ra by investing in aseh tov/doing good.)
Even the mere act of recognizing this mindset as inappropriate made me feel extremely vulnerable, helpless, anxious, and off-balance.
And this is totally normal.
Thankfully, I also saw a bit of encouragement early on to bolster my fallen, newly crutchless self. Certain aspects of life that had long been sharp suddenly softened.
Also, as per the advice of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and elucidated on by Rav Ofer Erez, I stopped myself from indulging in toxic shame (and instead limited myself to regular healthy shame), and refused to label myself as wholly & innately mentally ill, sick, psycho, or anything else negative just because I had ONE unhealthy anti-Torah belief wedged deep into my psyche (especially since it initially got there for a good reason).
And even if you find 20 anti-Torah wonky beliefs wedged into your psyche and entrenched in your behavior, that doesn't mean you are innately awful or hopeless.
It's all from Hashem and not your fault.
But as always, I got tested too.
And so, once you pinpoint a weak area, Hashem brings you situations to enable you to work that weak area and make it strong and healthy.
A lot of people fear this, which is only natural.
But it's also why you need to cultivate a relationship with Hashem to get through this and experience God as a Loving Caring Physiotherapist, rather than as a punishing nitpicky bully, chas v'shalom.
Otherwise, it's unbearable and you can turn into a hard brittle person from it.
Disclaimer: Sometimes you hear a piece of advice, even from a prominent highly respected person, that really is not for you, doesn't apply to you or your situation, is genuinely all wrong for you, is truly a result of cultural or personality differences, or results from narrow-mindedness or misunderstanding on the adviser's part. That's fine and it's important to respect your own opinion so you don't get screwed up by the other's mistaken or inapplicable opinion.
But my point is the importance of differentiating between real necessary dismissal and misplaced denial. That's all.
May we all merit to do complete teshuvah from love and not from tribulation/nisayon or disgrace/bizayon.