Yom Chamishi, 5 Elul 5778

Rabbi's Letter - October 2014

on Friday, 15 August 2014. Posted in Rabbi

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was the founder of the 19th-century Mussar movement in Lithuania. One evening, as he was walking home, he passed a shoe-repair shop and saw the shoemaker working very late by the light of a flickering candle. Rabbi Salanter asked him why he was still working so late into the evening. The cobbler responded: “As long as the candle burns, there is still time to make repairs.” Rabbi Salanter was stunned by the man’s reply. He repeated the words to himself, over and over: “As long as the candle is still burning, there is time to make repairs.” What it meant to Rabbi Salanter was that as long as the light of one’s neshama (the soul) still burns, there is still a chance to improve oneself, and to draw closer to the Creator.

Rabbi Salanter understood that there could be gaps between our knowledge and our behaviors. He created Mussar, a discipline of practices to transform one’s behavior that involved small changes over time. The Mussar masters promoted a path of very gradual change involving routine and regular step-by-step practice. Rabbi Salanter taught that change involves small steps, repeated regularly, since what changes quickly in one direction can just as easily change back again.

Although we may understand on an intellectual level the need to change, to do things differently, it is quite another thing to actually take steps towards that transformation. If you go to the doctor for a checkup and find out that your blood pressure is too high or that you need to lose weight, but you choose not to do anything about it, then the information has little impact on your life. If however, you choose to make small daily changes—taking a pill for high blood pressure, committing to take a short walk at lunchtime each day—then over time we make those small changes and our life is transformed. Walking this way requires patience, as Rabbi Yosef Yozel Hurwitz (1849-1919) noted: “The problem with people,” he said, “is that they want to change overnight—and have a good night’s sleep that night, too!

We all know that change does not happen overnight, much as we sometimes wish that we could make it magically happen. We aren’t going to step into a tele-phone booth like Superman (if there are any telephone booths left anymore!) and fly off to spin the world back in time and right the wrongs we have done, or fly off to save the world in record time. Real, lasting change happens not in a leap but through a series of small steps.
Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, (1824-1898), another master of Mussar, taught that we make changes to improve our relationships with God and with our loved ones “in simple things, small things, to come through them to the greatest heights.” He also taught, “It is the work of a lifetime, and that is why you were given a lifetime in which to do it.”

Everyone’s life has its challenges—some more difficult than others. It is through the experiences that we have in life and how we are able to deal with those challenges that we grow and change. As we look back over the last year, can we see the ways in which we have grown and changed? Growth is a fundamental part of life. Every-thing that is alive is growing. Trees, plants, birds, fish, and insects, are all growing or dying. And the same is true for us.

The Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) each year remind us of that possibility, our potential to change and grow as human beings. It is more important that we start some-where and not be concerned with it being the “right” place. It is more important that we take one small step and find right behind that step another small step to take and not be concerned with our progress on the journey being too slow. It is enough that we take the first steps on this journey of a lifetime. The spiritual challenge is in the moment. This year as we open our hearts and our souls on this journey of transformation, may these small steps move us forward in the coming year to transform our souls and our lives on this journey of a lifetime.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Excerpted from Rabbi’s Erev Rosh HaShanah sermon.


















































































Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack






Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.