Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Changes

Somethin' changin' for me inside
Took a long time
Now there's nothin' left for me to hide
I say what's on my mind
Every Elul, I get a fresh group of students to work with. Because the secular school year begins in September, I’m left with only a few weeks to teach something about the major themes of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It’s been my experience that most yeshiva kids know very little about the chaggim, and this is especially true of my students.

At any rate, there’s always one aspect that I like to stress, the idea of practical change. Beyond the halls of the Beis HaMussar, there is very little emphasis on this idea. Oh sure, when I was in yeshiva myself, we studied mussar, and learn much about character traits and improvement. But it always seemed to me that there was a divide between theoretical knowledge of character improvement and its practical implementation. Of course, I’m sure something leaked through by osmosis. But when a person hears all day of the virtues of charity, fear of Heaven, diligence in Torah, kindness and myriad other character traits, it’s difficult to actually sit down and focus on one practical trait to improve.

So I tell my students that regardless of what level they are on, they should pick one – and only one – thing to work on in the coming year. It should be focused and specific, and something that they can realistically accomplish if they put in enough effort.

And I do the same for myself.

Of course, the results are usually dismal. By the time the next Rosh Hashana rolls around, if I even remember what I declared, there’s usually paltry improvement. It’s not for lack of trying. I consider myself a serious person, and I make a conscious effort to challenge myself. Yet the aspects of myself I most desperately wish to transform are inevitably the most difficult to amend.

Oooh, I think I like it
I think I like what I’m feelin’
Even though it’s such a surprise

But this year things went differently.

I’m not going to give any details, but I will say that there were two very specific (and loosely related) things that I've always wanted to change about myself. And this year, I nailed them. I nailed them to the wall. What was it about this year? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m getting a bit older, and starting to realize that I won’t be around forever. Perhaps Chazal’s repeated warnings are finally beginning to penetrate. And maybe, just maybe, I worked a bit harder this year than ever before.

Oh, look at the world we make
What have we begun?
People livin' for what they take
All for number one

One change I keep thinking about is blogging. Those familiar with my short blogging career know that I’ve already thrown in the towel once, and Bari knows that I’ve seriously considered it on subsequent occasions. There are so many fundamental problems – dysfunctions, really – with the J-Bloggosphere. Practically by nature, it’s filled with malcontents and agitators. Opinions are formed by the “godfathers” and strictly enforced by a cadre of sycophants. Certainly blogging consumes time that could be spent better elsewhere.

Yet for now, I think I’ll stick around. Why? Because being a member of the Mishmar team forces me to do something exceedingly healthy for my growth as a person just now – organize my thoughts on a gamut of subjects into lucid posts. True, I only intend to post once every couple of weeks. But I do try to make each post substantial, as opposed to a throwaway link to the liberal (or Republican) absurdities or latest Chareidi outrage that encompass the overwhelming bulk of posts on the J-Bloggosphere.

Also, it seems to me that the best way to make sure of how much I actually know of a thing, and especially to find out how much I don’t know, is to write about it. By writing from a certain philosophical standpoint week by week, I am continually thrown back upon my fundamental principles and positions. I reexamine them and satisfy myself that the logic of my conclusions is water-tight.
Changes makin' me see the light
I finally see the light
I finally see wrong from right
Now that it's all said and done

Will I be able to repeat my success for another year? Well, that remains to be seen. But I do know one thing – the taste of this success is something that I could get used to.

I probably won’t be posting again until after Rosh Hashana (teaser: I intend to start off the new year with a defense of a very controversial figure.) So for all the readers of Mishmar, I wish you a happy and successful New Year, one filled with all the blessings of the Torah, and especially with positive and productive change.

Changes takin' me through the night
I finally see the light
I've opened my eyes
Those changes can open you eyes

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