Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - Searching Everywhere
A Simple Jew asks:
Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin once wrote,
"We humans chase over the world to find things: We climb high mountains; we descend to the nethermost depths of the sea; we trek to the wilderness and to the desert. There is one place where we neglect to search - our heart. But it is there we will find Hashem."
Similarly, in an e-mail conversation on the topic of making changes in our lives you wrote, "In my experience, often making big external changes are often just a way of distracting one's self from the point of the inner work…"
Could you elaborate on this point a bit further and describe an experience or experiences that led you to this conclusion?
Dixie Yid answers:
After finishing college, and shortly after getting married, I learned for a few months in a certain kollel. Although the people there were cordial, the place was so cold you freeze vodka in the Beis Medrash. I approaches a Rav in the neighborhood who was one of my wife's big mashpi'im, and asked his advice on where he would suggest I learn. His first question to me was whether or not we were going through any financial difficulties or hardships or any problems in the marriage that he might be able to help with. A bit surprised, I answered that no, we weren't have any particular difficulty with any of those things. He explained to me that he asked because often times when people have some big personal issue that they feel is too big to handle, they try to make other superficial changes, with the unconscious hope that this will alleviate their problem. (Incidentally, he introduced me to another kollel where I met more people in the first fifteen minutes of my visit than I did in two months at my previous kollel.)
His comment alerted me to the fact that oftentimes, when a person has a major issue that needs to be addressed, sometimes he escapes dealing with the real problem by letting himself feel that he's "making a change" by changing something else that wasn't really the source of the problem to begin with.
Similarly, we may feel pained by the really deep issues like: What's become of me? What happened to the idealistic, committed person I used to be? Am I living a double life, looking religious on the outside but privately feeling like a hypocrite? Do I even know myself for who I truly am, and not as the image that I project to others? How can I have such bad midos like Ka'as, anger, Atzlus, laziness, and ta'ava, after all this time?
However a person may not know how to even begin addressing those inner issues, which though they may have started out small, now seem like giant, and he is just too afraid to face them. Therefore, the tendency is to look for something else that's more manageable, and do try and change that. Packing up all of one's belongings into a U-Haul and moving to a new community is nothing compared to spending an hour a day in quiet contemplation and self-examination.
In the end though, it was said best in that quote that you brought from Rav Tzadok. "There is one place where we neglect to search - our heart. But it is there we will find Hashem." This is certainly what I was writing about here as well. Reb Yisroel Salanter also said that truly chaning one bad mida is more difficult than learning all of Shas. For him to say something like that, we can see that it really is not so strange that we find such avodah very difficult.
One thing I find helpful in this area is using the seforim of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh and Da Es Atzmecha, by the same author. He recognizes that if we focus on completely eradicating a bad mida as our goal, then we will never succeed because we will always be daunted by the challenge. However, he recognizes that there are many intermediate steps along the way. One needs to focus on those goals and give himself temporary permission not to achieve the ultimate perfection until later. I wrote about this with regard to "what to daven for before you give into a ta'ava." This step by step approach is so necessary, and those seforim provide a great, practical way of going about it.
May Hashem grant us the inner bravery to overcome our natural fear of inner work and take the first step!