Question & Answer With Yitz Of A Waxing Wellspring - The Bleakness Of Winter
A Simple Jew asks:
I recently saw in a sefer how certain rebbes in Russia used to refer to the approach of winter by saying, "our good friends are coming", referring to the long winter nights that they could devote to learning Torah.
Do you find the winter to be a time where you are the most energized in your avodas Hashem or do you find it to be a time where you have to shake off your sluggishness?
Yitz of A Waxing Wellspring answers:
For a number of years now I've known that one of the keys to my own personal happiness is in unlocking the secrets to the ebbs and tides in my own life. To succeed one day at a time is a key level and a major step in one's life, however, when one has learned how to make use of a day, the question becomes, how do I string these days together into something bigger?
There is the matter of the week, toward achieving Shabbath. This is a very special and lofty level. Then there is the idea of a hodesh, a month, and the renewal of life that comes with each month, as in each week, as in each day. Then there are the four seasons, which in Judaism are intimately connected with produce and foodstuffs, be it sowing, rain, or harvesting. Finally we arrive at the year, a real sizable chunk of a human life and the measure by which we mark our achievements. There are greater levels, the seven year shemittah period, followed by the fifty year yovel period, but by and large most of what concerns the individual tops out at the year.
There is a big yetzer hara to mark our achievement in years. If we didn't stick to a schedule for even a whole year, we are tempted not to count it as a lasting accomplishment. Part of the challenge of winter is the apparent disruption of what appears to be normal life. Everything is stark, seemingly lifeless, even (the smarter) animals have hidden themselves away and patiently await fresh food and warmer days.
For the past couple of years, I've started to really become aware of what a difficult time I have in winter, I'm more tired, I sleep more, I wake later, I fear leaving the warm comfort of bed for the shivering reality of the waking world. In the past I would just be upset with myself for months that I couldn't hold to a reasonable schedule.
I think we need to take a cue from the world around us in winter. We need to abandon expectations and work especially hard on the avodah of Rebbe Nachman, to find the good points in everything, especially ourselves. (!) As it's so cold outside, we're challenged by the perception of a colder inner world as well, and we have to pour on more heat. Not necessarily the same kind of heat of demanding Torah accomplishments and great actions, but rather we must identify with the longing of the winter and pray more heartily, more warmly, more deeply, for the closeness of HaShem's bosom.
And, for me the most important thing to recognize is that when the winter ends, and spring comes, what comes out in spring attests to what was working on deeper levels back when everything seemed lifeless and hopeless in the heart of winter. If each spring our Torah and our Avodah is that much deeper, then our year was in fact a productive year. Rather than trying to be the same and accomplish the same all year, we need to learn to ride the rhythms of the changing year. After all, the Pri Ha'aretz, [The Fruit of the Land,] points out that trying to be always holy and flawless is pure folly, it is only in the rising and falling of man that he has any value. When we fall, we sink to the depths knowing that when we rise up again, we will raise the world up with us. Likewise the Noam Elimelech and Rebbe Nachman both teach that it is only the failings of the Tzaddik that inspire teshuvah in the rest of us.
The winter is the time to find rock bottom, to check on stark reality, to see what still needs to be done. Then when we turn the world over on Purim we're reminded of the heights that are within our reach and finally on Pesach HaShem breaks us free of all the cold hard realities and takes us for His own once more.