Tactical Teshuva

From: Marcia

Dear Rabbi,

I’m sure you’re familiar with the following phenomenon: Every year at Rosh Hashana time I make grandiose plans to improve myself but after all is said and done, I accomplish very little change. Could you help me with this?

Dear Marcia,

Sure I’m familiar with this, from personal experience, as most people are.

The problem is, out of great enthusiasm to improve, we set for ourselves unrealistically great goals, overlooking the value of making the smaller improvements that are in our reach, and which would eventually lead to the otherwise out-of-reach goals we fail to attain.

Rabbi Chaim of Tzans expressed this with a wonderful analogy:

There was once a poor widow whose children were constantly begging her for food. One day she found an egg and brought it home, to the delight of the children.

But the woman insisted, “I’m a far-thinking person. We’ll not eat the egg but rather ask the neighbors to have their hen sit on it till it hatches and we’ll have a chick.” The children were delighted.

But she said, “I’m far-thinking. We’ll not eat the chick but rather wait till it grows to be a hen”. The children were delighted.

But she said, “I’m far-thinking. We’ll not eat the hen but rather let it lay plenty of eggs”. The children were delighted.

But she said, “I’m far-thinking. We’ll not eat the eggs but rather let them hatch and have plenty of chickens”. The children were delighted.

But she said, “I’m far-thinking. We’ll not eat the chickens but rather sell them and buy a cow”. The children were delighted.

But she said, “I’m far-thinking. We’ll not eat the cow but rather sell its milk and buy another”. The children were delighted.

In the meantime, her grandiose plans distracted her from the egg in her hand such that she dropped the egg and all her aspirations were dashed to the ground in an instant…

When aiming for long-term, significant growth, we need to recognize the value of, and be satisfied with, relatively small and incremental improvement toward that goal. But in our passion to improve, we belittle these steps and delude ourselves into imagining we can, from the outset, suddenly attain an ideal which, in actuality, is very far from where we currently are. It’s no wonder that when the bubble bursts we’re not much further than where we started!

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