Devorah Amsel, Flushing, NY
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
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Jim’s Apple Watch alarm goes off at 6:30am. He quickly checks his WhatsApp and other social media, then rushes to get ready for shul. As his Keurig coffee brews, a UPS driver delivers the Amazon package he ordered the night before. Jim opens the package and quickly syncs the new wireless Beats to his iPhone, orders an Uber, and grabs a prepackaged microwavable muffin on his way out the door.
Jim’s world–our world–has become instantaneous. As technology moves faster, we have come to expect instant gratification in every area of our lives. And yet, as we move faster and with more certainty into the future and take every shortcut available, we might arrive at our destination quicker, but the journey loses meaning. Although this seems like a uniquely contemporary problem, it is a timeless human predicament that the Alter Rebbe addresses in Tanya when he contrasts the difference between taking “the short-long way” versus the “long-short way.” ln simple terms, a short-long path is one that seems to be making faster progress but never actually gets to the goal, similar to putting a bandaid to cover an infection. A long-short path progresses more slowly with much more toil and effort, but ultimately leads to the goal. This would be like putting an antiseptic on the infected cut; the wound may take longer to heal, but it will do so correctly.
This impatient desire to take a short-long route is extremely visible when it comes to gashmius, the physical. We want to lose weight, attain success, and have great relationships quickly and without effort. Our impulsiveness has catapulted the growth of major industries and trends such as weight loss surgery, entrepreneurship, and speed dating. This ideology has percolated into our ruchnius, our spiritual approach. We expect inspiration and growth overnight, and we become frustrated when we don’t see immediate spiritual development. ln this essay we will explore the dangers of impatience in both gashmius and ruchnius through the teachings of the Rebbe. We will use letters, parts of a discourse, and a story to discover ways to channel this attribute toward good (the positive).
This will all be built on our adaptation of the Alter Rebbe’s “long- short way” model using underlying principles of Tanya.
The danger of impatience (the short-long way) is especially destructive in the gashmius realm. lnstant weight loss is detrimental to the metabolism; instant success is usually obtained through risky and sometimes less-than-ethical means, and can easily be lost; relationships built “overnight” will often crumble. This leaves one to wonder, how exactly can we achieve these goals in a healthy and permanent way? The Torah in Parshas Mishpatim says, in regard to driving the Canaanites and Hivites out of lsrael, “little by little I will drive them away from you.” The Rebbe explains that G-d was sending the Jewish People an integral message: the only way to achieve a permanent change is to take small steps towards a goal. ln a letter addressed to Mr. Mordechai Shoel Landow of Miami Beach, Florida, the Rebbe uses a play-on-words and writes in terms of total commitment to Torah Yiddishkeit. “We cannot expect every ‘poor’ Jew to be instantly transformed into a ‘millionaire’ Jew in terms of total commitment to Torah Yiddishkeit.” Spiritual development is a step by step process. While the Jewish People may have experienced instant miracles in Egypt, today we are in the world of tevah (nature), and do not have that luxury.
The danger of impatience is compounded in the spiritual realm. We want to go from “zero to gadol hador” overnight. While in the past, one would spend hours combing through sources to prepare a lecture or to gain an understanding in an area of Torah, nowadays all this can be done with a simple Google search. While this method has the benefit of being quick and convenient, we lose the chashivus and taam of the Torah by cutting out the toiling process, which only furthers our intolerance. The Rebbe explains the importance of the toiling process:
ln all areas of holiness, success can only be acquired if one works slowly and with toil. Praying for a miracle to bypass that process is counterproductive; The process is essential.
Due to impatience, we often become frustrated when we don’t see immediate growth. We want to see the hand of G-d right away (his hand is always there, just not always visible to us) and never consider that the reward for our toil is being saved for a later time or future generations. The key to combat this idea is to see how Hashem illustrates his patience and emulate his ways (although the Torah illustrates this idea in regard to ruchnius, we can apply it to gashmius as well). The idea is that small and deliberate steps need to be taken to ensure durability, especially when it comes to growing in ruchnius where one can easily be tempted and fall. This is why Hashem originally told Moshe to ask Pharaoh for a three-day leave from Egypt. Although the Jews ended up leaving and never returning, we find that Moshe only requested a three-day “vacation” from Pharoah. Hashem wanted to slowly separate the Jews from Egypt by leaving for three days then coming back, then leaving again so they can slowly climb in holiness. He knew that taking them out in one step and immediately giving them the Torah would cause a “relapse” as soon as their adrenaline settled; indeed, we see this happen many times.
Now that we have explained why stability is needed for growth, how can we we put this into practice? The following story about the Rebbe brings out an important lesson:
A young college student came to the Rebbe quite distressed. She explained to him that she had no friends and had messed up every relationship due to her obnoxious, petty nature. She had spent years in therapy desperately trying to control her negative traits to no avail. She was at her wit’s end, and the Rebbe was her last hope. The Rebbe gave her a simple piece of advice–when she returns to school she should make it a habit to serve people during meals.
“Whatever it is someone may need,” the Rebbe said, “the butter, sugar, salt, a glass of water, whatever it is, it should become your habit to bring it to them.” The woman was relieved that instead of analyzing her, as every therapist had done before, the Rebbe gave her practical advice to implement in her life. The woman later relayed that it wasn’t until years later that she fully understood what the Rebbe was telling her. “A selfish, petty, egotistical person came to the Rebbe and said ‘I need advice, l’m not a nice person and Idon’t know what to do about it.’ And the Rebbe, in effect said, ‘you want to be nice, so start doing nice things for people,’ there ‘s little point in spending so much time analyzing your behaviors, just start thinking and speaking in a nice manner.”
Although seemingly easier said than done, the Rebbe was explaining that we all have a capacity for positive traits like patience, respect and honesty, and once we recognize that we want to refine our character in there areas, we must actively practice these traits in order to actualize our ambitions. lntegrating small acts of patience into our lives penetrates our soul and brings out the divinely-placed patience within us.
While the most efficient way to combat impatience is to integrate small bits of patience into our lives, we must acknowledge that impatience is not all toxic. Every middah that a person has within them was placed there in order to be cultivated and used. Therefore, it must be that impatience can be channeled for good. Whether we are uplifted with inspiration or overcome by regret, we should be impatient to channel our emotions toward repentance. Furthermore, the Rebbe encourages impatience in regard to the coming of moshiach, as he would often chant “we want moshiach now!”
lt would be foolish to suggest that we ignore the reality of our fast-paced world; it is here to stay, and we must learn how to properly navigate it to thrive. The mistake of the secular world is that they throw out the old way when a new “shinier” model comes along. They look for the fastest possible route, which is essentially taking the short-long route. The Torah view is the exact opposite. G-d, with his infinite knowledge, was well aware of what would be in the future when He wrote the Torah.
Therefore, the only way to succeed in the present is to look at the past and learn from the Torah and our Torah giants. When looking for a solution to our ever-growing impatience in both the physical and spiritual realms, the answer lies in the Torah and the Chassidus brought out from it. We learn from G-d’s instructions to Moshe that the only way to ensure growth is through slow steps, which the Alter Rebbe explains is a long-short route. The Rebbe expounds on that idea by providing us with practical applications to achieve that goal and illuminates the avenue to direct this middah for good.
The story of Jim ends with the following:
The next morning, when Jim turned off his alarm, instead of reaching for his phone, he reached for the basin of water and then carefully washed his hands, right then left, three times. As he was about to check his phone he paused … ‘it can wait until after I daven.’