I had some students who really did not feel comfortable with the idea of Kabbolas Ol. Their main questions were:
- What is the point of Just doing things - isn't It pointless if the actions are devoid of meaning?
- I don't like the idea of "fake it until you make it" - I'm not a hypocrite.
So this is what I plan to answer them:
- (I'm going to make up a powerpoint to go along with it and link it here for download.)
Point #1: The Right Thing
What's the point of doing the right thing if I am not feeling it? Well, do manners matter? Picture a world where people acted only on instinct. That's a world full of narcissism. I have a guest, but I don’t feel like saying goodbye so I holler out a "see ya" from my comfortable couch. Kind of diminishes the relationship. That’s why I train myself to be polite. We teach children (and our inner child) to have self-control, to act in certain ways and develop polite mannerisms. We train ourselves so that we act correctly even when we are not feeling it.
Story: Fisherman caught the fish, "oh, wonderful the king loves fish" so the fish holds on. Moves its way through marketplace etc. until reaches the royal kitchen. Just as the king gives instructions to roast it, "you don't love fish, you love yourself!"
In order to have a healthy relationship, you must make space for the other. If I am always following my own wants and needs then I am loving myself, not loving the fish. To develop a relationship, I must take a step back and make space. It is not enough to love. I must demonstrate and develop respect. In terms of my baby, that means leaving him in a quiet space so he can sleep rather than smothering him with endless cuddles and attention. It's what he needs versus what I feel. Gotta make space for him to be him and have his needs met.
Yesterday was Yom Kippur. We repair our relationship with Hashem. We've crowned Him as king on Rosh Hashana - that means accepting His will, even and especially when it conflicts with our own will. When we say Shema every day, we are saying that we are willing to give our lives for Hashem. We can make that choice every day, every minute. It's in the small daily decisions of how we act.
Point #2: Create Feelings
You asked, why should I act in certain pre-prescribed ways if I'm not feeling like it? Isn't that being a hypocrite? I don’t like the concept of "faking it" until I make it.
Here's the first answer: Neuroplasticity
All my actions and speech create pathways in my brain. They impact the way I think and feel. If I do something positive, for instance, it creates a positive feeling in me.
One day after work, "How was your day?"
I felt ok, but I'd been in a kvetchy mood the previous few days, so it was hard to break out. So as all Jews do, I responded with a question, "Should I be positive or tell you as it really is?"
almost immediately I had a response for myself, "It really is positive! You're feeling better than this morning. Choose to frame your life through that lens!" but my mind wasn't quick enough and it was much easier to fall in the welcoming cacoon of the past week's misery.
"It's ok," came the kind-hearted reply, "You can say it as it is"
I could have chosen to reframe my day. But I took the shloomp way and started with what went wrong. As I whined, I could literally feel myself darkening inside.
It took days to recover.
We can create feelings in ourselves. Tap into the goodness, small as it is and let that goodness overtake you.
Our hearts follow our deeds.
אחר הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות
Story: There was a girl (uni student) who was mean. She didn’t like that part of herself. She sought expert psychologists to advise her. They tried helping her tap into her subconscious, reconnect with moments from her childhood. They tried helping her understand her psyche so that she could change. It didn't work. In desperation, she poured out her heart to a friend who advised her to write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe's advice was deceptively simple: Every day at lunch get something for someone else. You're in the cafeteria anyways, pour water for one person or bring the ketchup for another. She thought that was odd advice. But having exhausted all other avenues, sure didn't hurt to try. And wonder of wonders - doing small little kind actions for the people around her day in, day out effected a change. She slowly became more refined.
Mitzvos refine us
לא ניתנה המצות אלא לצרף בהם את הבריאות
בראשית רבה פרשה מד
We can create feelings. Doing the right thing day in, day out actually creates a change in us. That's whether we understand it or not, whether it is meaningful or not.
And in fact….
The only way to really feel something is when you do it.
You can sit and discuss Hilchos Shabbos and the beauty of Shabbos from today until tomorrow, but you can't feel it until you do it. To understand Shabbos, you gotta just keep it. Experience it. That's really the only way to explain Shabbos to anyone. You can read books and instruction manuals from today until tomorrow, but it'll never be real until you live it. Btw that is why Mitzvos have a supreme advantage over Torah. How will you become a better photographer - by daily watching online tutorials or daily photoshoots? Until you are out on the field it is all theory. That is why we have kabbalos ol and just do it even when we aren't feeling it.
Point #3: What do I do if I'm not feeling it?
If you do mitzvos even though it feels meaningless you are not being a hypocrite! That's because the real you is your neshama. A Jew is Elokus. At essence, the truest part of who I am is the self that is one with G-d.
Even though I may not feel like doing a mitzvah on the surface - my neshama feels like it. When I actually do the mitzvah, I am tapping into the inner, possibly dormant part of myself. It's not fake. It’s the real me. It's not hypocritical. I am getting to know my internal self. It’s the real me.
Being my true self is the truest expression of being a Jew.
Following in Hashem's ways is what I was born to do. When I do that, I'm in touch with who I really am.
So sure, I may not always feel like doing the right thing. I may feel fake covering my knees when I really don’t want to. I may feel hypocritical davening after watching a movie. But don’t think so much. Just do it. Wake up your inner, true self. That’s who you really are. More: that's who you really want to be.
Story: R' Mendel Futerfas couldn't speak English, but he went on Mivtzoim in America. There was a toughie on the route - the bochrim were never able to get him to put on Tefillin. They continued to visit anyways, chatting, leaving pamphlets. They'd long given up hope of laying Tefillin. But R' Mendel didn't need any fancy English. He tapped into the guy's soul, "Me Jewish," he pointed at himself, "You Jewish. Me Tefillin, you Tefillin."
This is who you really are. A yid, at his core, wants to put on Tefillin. That's the instinctive Shema Yisroel of a Jew. Migth need a reminder that that is what is going on in your neshama, but it's there.
That is why we have kabbolas ol and just do the mitzvos. It’s the basis of a rich and meaningful yiddishkeit. Of course we should try to pursue meaning, learn, discuss, understand, feel it. But failing that, or really, while that process is in progress (a lifetime!), just do it. Your heart will follow your deeds. Doing the Mitzvos strengthens the connected-to-Hashem pathways in your brain. Neuroplasticity in action. Just do it.B'hatzlacha.