Kick the Habit
Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )
As the bliss of a young couple's marriage began to dissipate amidst aggravation, quarrels and disharmony, they valiantly sought out the advice and counsel of various marriage counselors. No one could right the ship which appeared to be on a crash course for separation and divorce. As multiple counseling sessions failed to yield any headway, one of their rabbinic advisors suggested that, as a last-ditch effort, they take the matter to one of the most senior leaders of the Jewish People.
With decades of Torah wisdom, life experience and a razor-sharp understanding of the human condition, the Rav exhausted every angle before he, too, ultimately conceded that perhaps severing the relationship was the only viable exit strategy. However, before deciding the fate of their union, he concluded they should wait two weeks during which time they should engage in self-contemplation and each spouse had to watch the couple's wedding video twice a week.
When they reconvened two weeks later, a ray of hope began to glimmer from amidst the abyss of hopelessness and helplessness. Somehow, that emotional core that remained beyond the reach of skilled marriage counselors was rendered somewhat accessible via the videographer's captured moments of the bedecking, the chuppah, the ring, the breaking of the glass, the mazel tovs and the optimism and enthusiasm that surged when everyone "put our hands together .... For the very first time ... Mr. & Mrs...." Getting back to basics enabled them to refocus and reorient themselves such that the troublesome patterns that had developed could be assessed in a different light.
Those initial moments of excitement, happiness and optimism had been eroded by the realities of everyday life, but revisiting them in full living color provided the foundation from which to rebuild, repair and renew.
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"This day, Hashem, Your God, commands you..." (Deut. 26:16). Rashi: "On each day, they should be new in your eyes, as if you were commanded regarding them that day."
"This day you have become a people." (Deut. 27:9). Rashi: Every day [the commandments] shall be in your eyes as if you had entered the covenant with Him that day."
As we enter into the penultimate Shabbos of the year, our mindset is focused on identifying aspects of self-improvement that can hopefully catapult us to higher levels in the new year. Rav Avigdor Miller, zt'l, would invariably advise his students, "Before you get busy asking Hashem for a new year; get busy thanking Hashem for last year." Indeed, as we end the year, the kindness God bestowed upon us is virtually limitless.
All the doctors we didn't need to see.
All the prescriptions we didn't need filled.
All the lawyers we didn't need to consult with.
All the nights we didn't go to sleep hungry.
And all the mornings we woke up in our bed.
And we haven't even reckoned all the bills that got paid, all the food that was consumed, all the weddings we danced at and all the times we arrived at our destination safe and sound...
When our mind can easily rattle off dozens and dozens of Divine "gifts" from the past year, why are we not brimming with gratitude? Why does our baseline attitude so frequently overlook all these undeserved riches? Why are we not eager to serve God "out of an abundance of everything" (Deut. 28:47). Rav Miller zt'l identifies the culprit: habit.
While habit can be advantageous - i.e., when davening with a minyan becomes part and parcel of one's daily routine; or when your Tefillin can practically wrap themselves while you're mentally out-to-lunch (at least until your coffee kicks in) - it can (and often does) wreak havoc on our capacity to truly appreciate that which is good in our lives.
We, as Jews, occupy a singular place on the world's stage. We are uniquely equipped (and expected) to perceive and express Hashem's wisdom, plan, purpose, might and kindliness. As we reflect upon the past year, may the kindliness we all received serve as the lyrics for our personal new song of praise and gratitude to Hashem. One un-muffled by habit and liberated from unthinking routine.
May that new song empower and inspire us to get the most out of that which remains of the year.