Wednesday, May 22, 2024

It’s a Matter of Focus

It was a couple of weeks after Shavuos and Rav Yaakov Aryeh of Radzamin, one of the great Chassidishe rebbes of his time, was visiting Warsaw. While there, he went to visit his close friend, the Chiddushei Harim, who lived in Warsaw at the time. The Chiddushei Harim looked at his friend and exclaimed, “Reb Yaakov Aryeh, what is the matter? You look so pale, like you have barely eaten in days. Is anything wrong? Why do you look as if you have the burden of the world’s problems on your shoulders?”

Rav Yaakov Aryeh explained, “Every year, when we lain these parshiyos during the summer, I become dejected. Look at what happened to the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar! So many terrible incidents, so many horrible chato’im – the misoninim, the meraglim, the machlokes of Korach, the Mei Merivah… It is so hard to even understand how the Torah could write such strong expressions of sin about the dor dei’ah!”

“Reb Yankel,” the Chiddushei Harim said in wonder, “halevai that our mitzvos would be done with as much good kavanah as their aveiros! After all, what became of their aveiros? Their aveiros became Torah! What, I ask you, has become of our mitzvos?”

Upon hearing this, Rav Yaakov Aryeh’s face lit up with joy. When he left the home of the Chiddushei Harim, he commented, “I knew Reb Itche Meir (the Chiddushei Harim) was great, but I didn’t realize how great!”

Of course, the dor hamidbar was on a madreigah that was beyond anything that we can even begin to contemplate, and their “aveiros” were only aveiros in accordance with their great madreigah, but if the Torah wrote these aveiros and they became Torah, there are lessons from them that apply to us.

Acceptance is Key

If we analyze their aveiros, most of them show a lack of acceptance of the way Hashem was conducting Himself with them or treating them. They were not happy with what Hashem was giving them. They wanted more. In last week’s parsha, they complained about the monn, stating that it was the same thing every day. Monn for breakfast, monn for supper. What a boring diet. They focused on the fact that it was boring. Why didn’t they focus on the fact that they had food in the desert in such a miraculous way? Why didn’t they focus on the fact that the monn could taste like whatever one wanted? In life, there are usually many ways to look at events that transpire. Even those that may appear negative have positive aspects. It all depends on what you choose to focus on.

The same can be said of the meraglim. Instead of focusing on the fact that the giants who could crush them like ants inhabited the land, they could have focused on the fact that Hashem Himself promised them the land, and if He promised it, He could also take care of the giants.

When one analyzes each of the chato’im in the midbar, it becomes clear that with a change of focus, not only would these things not have had a negative connotation, but, on the contrary, they were indicative of an outpouring of tremendous chesed and love showered by Hashem on the Bnei Yisroel.

Perhaps we can learn lessons from this that we can incorporate into our own lives. Indeed, I think all of us must know someone or perhaps even more than one person who is always focusing on the negative. “Life is so hard… I have this issue and that problem… This person insulted me and that person has no hakoras hatov to me…”

Ten Children…One is Unsuccessful

A well-known wise person once said, “You are only as happy as your least happy child.” While that is a very understandable statement (just ask any parent), it doesn’t mean that it is right or the correct hashkafah. Yes, Hashem has wired parents and imbued them with such a natural and visceral love for their children that even if they have ten children and nine out of those ten are very successful, the focus of the parent will gravitate to the child who is not doing as well. Instead of being over the moon with simcha for the fact that nine of the children are doing wonderfully and thanking Hashem for every detail that went into producing the successful children, we will get stuck on the one who is not successful. Not only do we get stuck, but we genuinely feel down, disheartened, and sometimes even depressed.

At times, it is not even because the child is unsuccessful. The child could be doing wonderfully, but he or she is taking longer to find his or her basherte. That uncertainty, that angst, is enough to send many of us into a terrible tailspin.

Three Minutes a Day…to Count Your Blessings

Now, of course, these things are on our mind. After all, we are human beings, but the question is one of focus.

It is important that rather than zero in on what we are missing, we look at the entire picture, at how much we do have, at how much chesed Hashem does for us every day. It isn’t fair, nor is it right, to only focus on what you are missing instead of seeing what Hashem has given you.

If people would sit down every day and take just three minutes to focus on the blessings in their lives, whether it is health, parnossah, loving family, daily chassodim, and so on, they would become so overwhelmed with appreciation that it would also be easier to deal with the setbacks and the things they feel they are still lacking.

Certainly, we have to daven to Hashem, beg Him and even shed tears, if we can, for what we are missing, but that should be done together with talking to Him and telling Him how much we appreciate what He has done for us and what He continues to do for us.

We simply cannot let ourselves become consumed by what is not going well and what we are missing. Besides the fact that this is wrong, as stated above, it is also wrong because it transforms us into unhappy and often bitter people with whom others don’t want to interact.

A Tale of Two Attitudes

For example, picture two diametrically opposite reactions to a phone call you make to someone whom you don’t usually call.

Reaction one: pure gratitude. “It was so nice of you to call! What a wonderful surprise!”

Reaction two: “Oh! Now you finally remember that I exist! What took you so long to call me? Do you need something from me?”

The first person is a happy one, a person who notices the good in the world and the good that Hashem bestows upon him. He therefore also looks favorably upon the motivations of others.

The second person is always focusing on what he is missing, why others do not treat him as they should. He believes that the motivations of most people are negative or nefarious. He is not even happy when others are nice to him, because he thinks that no one is genuinely nice and must therefore have ulterior motives.

My friends, these middos just become more and more ingrained as one gets older. We clearly see how they are acutely manifest in older people. You meet elderly men and women who are full of love and gratitude, who look favorably upon others, who appreciate every small favor that others do for them and take nothing for granted. Thus, even as they slow down and their bodies don’t work as well, even as they are filled with aches and pains and are infirm, they are still full of joy. They have learned how to focus on the big picture, on what is good in their lives.

And then you have those who are bitter people, whose every ache and pain is a reason to complain, to look negatively upon others, and to have taanos on others.

I remember my father, zichrono livrocha. As he aged, he became more infirm. He was in constant pain and it was difficult for him to walk or even stand for more than a minute or two. Yet, he was always so full of good cheer. Every grandchild loved to be around him, because he was always in good spirits and always exuded humor, had a smile, and, most of all, demonstrated acceptance of others, even those who weren’t exactly like him. Why? Because he knew how to look at the whole picture.

It is all a matter of focus. If we focus on the entire picture, with an emphasis on the good in our lives, we will be happy throughout our lives, even in old age, and people will love to be around us.

Think about it.



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