By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Recently, I gave a shiur on sholo-m bayis-marital harmony. A day later, I asked one of my friends who attended with his wife if he thought it was helpful. He told me the following candid response. “Rabbi Weiss,” he said, “Everything you said is absolutely true and the practices you propose are one’s that we should definitely follow. However, after the lecture, I spoke with some of my buddies who also attended and we all said the same thing. In our group of friends, each couple has been married for over thirty years and we’ve been doing things the same way for decades. Does Rabbi Weiss really think that at our age we can start to make significant changes?”
I mulled over this reaction for a period of time and I came to the following conclusion. The answer is a resounding “YES!” Hashem expects the Torah personality to always be thinking about change. This is why the Hebrew word for soul, neshamah, has the same letters as the word meshaneh, which means to change, for the very fulfillment of the soul in this world is to constantly change and better ourselves. Hashem will not reward us for the raw materials that he granted us. Rather, our reward will be for the improvements that we work on from what He has granted us.
However, my friend did raise an important point. Normally as the saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” So, how does one successfully go about a career of change? I believe a very secret ingredient for success in this objective is to develop the right retzonos, desires and will. The Gemora, in Masechtas Makos, teaches us the following truth which is taught to us in the Torah, again in the Nevi’im, and yet once again in the Kesuvim. Its teaching is, “Baderech she’adom rotzeh leileich bah molichin oso – In the way a person wants to go, he or she is led.” This is an absolutely fundamental principle for we can make our own fate by sincerely wanting something. For then, Hashem will give us Siyata d’Shmaya, the Divine assistance, to achieve our desire. As the Gemora teaches us, “Habo litaheir m’sayin oso – One who wants to purify, Hashem will assist him.” Or, as the Zohar teaches, “Ein dovor omeid bifnei harotzon – Nothing stands in the way of an honest desire.”
Unfortunately, most of us have only mundane and small dreams and desires. They might range from a good steak to a good read, a better car or a promotion. While there is nothing wrong with these things, we need to focus on spiritual hopes. Let me list a few. We should fervently desire that when we daven, we should be focused on Hashem and know what we are saying. Similarly, we should desire to be able to be generous with our hard earned money for it is very tough to part with our money and share it with others. Recently, I watched someone go over to a multi-millionaire to ask him for a handout. While most of the people in the room were giving him dollar bills, this wealthy man handed him a one-dollar bill, asked him for change, and then took back three quarters. At first I was amazed. The man could have easily given him a hundred dollars if he wanted to. But, to take back change from a dollar!? Upon reflection, I realized that if a person isn’t schooled in the art of giving, his money is an extension of himself and every bit that he gives away is like a mini-amputation. A person really has to want to invest in one’s own eternity by giving generously to charity.
We need to want to learn Torah every twelve hours of our life for, after all, “Techilas dino shel odom eino ela b’divrei Torah – The first matter a person will be judged about at the end of his days is over his Torah output.” We must want to connect deeply with each of our children, and separately with each one, so that when they marry and leave us we shouldn’t feel that we failed them. Finally, to answer my friend’s question, we must truly desire that our spouse should love us and the only way that we can truly achieve some adoring looks from him or her is if we constantly are giving and doing for them.
The Tzetel Koton teaches that to change one’s nature in any area, whether it is to learn to smile, to get up in the morning for prayers, or to hold back a sharp retort, is to practice the good trait or abstain from the bad one for forty consecutive days. That changes a nature for we are taught, “Arboim yom leyitsiras havlad – It takes forty days to create an embryo.” When it comes to change, forty is the magic number. That’s why there are forty saah in a mikvah which transforms one from contamination to purity, the great flood which purified the world was for forty days and forty nights, Moshe Rabbeinu was on Har Sinai for 40 days and forty nights to receive the Torah which would change the world.
In the merit of our Torah study, may Hashem give us spiritual skill and stamina to constantly change and improve, and in that merit may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
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