Friday, April 12, 2013

Change is Scary!

The possuk tells us in this week's parsha, Tazria:

 'Isha ki tazria v'yalda zochor',  A woman conceives and gives birth to a male.

There's a midrash that connects this possuk to one in tehillim, (kuf lamed tes- hei) which says: 'Achor vakodem yitzartani', Back and front you fashioned me.

Reish Lakish teaches us such a powerful lesson about this.

He says 'Achor vakodem' is referring to the first day of creation.

Man is told that if he keeps Torah and mitzvos, " you came before the entire work of creation".  But, if he doesn't, then "even an earthworm preceded you".

Man was created chronologically last, but he's unanimously considered first in importance. That is, if he earned his honor. If not, the chronological order has greater significance.

Now, this is all really deep and beautiful stuff, but it's tickling the logical side of me. Does it make any sense that a lowly little earthworm who does nothing but crawl on his slimy tummy and eat fertilized mud all day, can ever have greater significance than a human being? Even one who is alienated from Torah?!?

Our question has an answer, thanx to R' Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi shli"ta.

Every creation has a purpose. The more significant the creation, the more demanding its purpose.

Man is the crown of creation. The epitome of the universe. A human being has a goal in life which is based on his abilities and opportunities. An earthworm has one advantage over a human.

 It automatically succeeds in attaining its purpose in this world, while man can easily fall short of his potential.

That's because the mission of an earthworm is simply to crawl around on its slimy tummy and eat fertilized mud all day. Period. So unless he has a physical handicap and is born horizontally challenged, (very rare condition), he naturally reaches his goal in life, just by living.

But, since a human being, and especially a Jew, has such a tremendously high potential, if he doesn't keep working on himself, and keep challenging himself to grow more and to become a more wholesome person and a better Jew, there's no way he'll be able to reach the level that he's capable of reaching.

So, what happens next?

The lowly little earthworm attained his goal, while the high and mighty man, did not.

What a sad ending.

So, how do we reach that potential? 
We need to know who we are, and what we can achieve.
Introspection, leading to personal adjustments. 

Prior to making personal adjustments, taking internal inventory is required, deeming it necessary to take a deep, introspective tour of our interior. We may discover things in there that we never knew existed. For the good, and for the better.
We also might come across negative aspects of ourselves that we are unaware of, or aware of, yet choose to ignore... and here we are facing them head on. It's scary and difficult.

And we don't like it.

We do like learning, tho. We like going to classes on the topics of happiness, love, enthusiasm, and many other 'harmless' concepts. But learning about deep spiritual growth is a bit scary to us, because it means we have to work. Hard.

It creates the realization that we need to make some changes in our lives. And we don't like to change.

 There was a study done in the United States a few years ago, where people were asked to confess their biggest fears. When I saw the results I almost burned my intestines on the coffee I was sipping. The study proved that a large majority of adults are more afraid to move to a different city than they are of dying.  

 Didja hear me?

 More people are afraid of moving, than they are of dying?!

Moving to a different home, a new neighborhood or new city and meeting new neighbors, perhaps the need for a new job or school… and all sorts of change, apparently causes more anxiety in Americans than actual death.

Death is predictable. It’s expected.

 Its inevitability creates a certain comfort and optimism in us. Yes, people fear death because of the how and when factors, but the actuality of its reality diminishes anxiety. Additionally, once death occurs, there are no adjustments to make, and no changes to get used to. It’s over.

The effects of fear of change, however, can be anxiety provoking and even debilitating.

If change is so scary when it just involves physical movement, like moving to a new home, imagine how much more frightening it is to make a lifestyle change, or a character change.

 "What if I don't like what I find? I just paid $175 an hour to find out who I am, and now I needa replace it for a new and improved version?"
"Does this require any thinking? Cuz that would be heading into unfamiliar territory."

Those are some of the many panicky thoughts bombarding our minds at the thought of introspection, and being that in most cases fear of change stops us from taking action by paralyzing us with its anxiety, these thoughts usually end up interfering immensely with our growth process.

Fear of change is nothing new. It has nothing to do with modern psychology.

When the Jews left Egypt and started their journey through the desert, the had food raining down on them from the sky, no need to cook, no need to shop, no one has to work for a living, no looking for parking, no gaining weight,  it was literally heaven on earth! I mean, after 210 years of slavery, this was the life! This defines freedom!

But yet, were they full of gratitude? Were they overwhelmed with love for their Savior?

I think not.

Rashi  describes the kvetches and complaints of the Jewish people in the desert. They cried out to Moshe that they want to go back to Mitzraim! They want to turn around, and head straight back to Egypt... where they had 'free fish'.

Yup, you heard right. They didn't like the mann thing- they wanted more options on the menu. They wanted to go back to where they got 'fish for free'.

Didn't we all learn this story at least 30 times since we were born? In Miztraim they were slaves. They did back breaking work. They sweated their pores dry. Why on planet earth did they want to go back to such a place, and why in heavens name did they claim that they had fish for free there? They didn't even get straw for free, how could they have gotten free sushi?

Rashi explains: Chinam min hamitzvot, they were free from doing mitzvos.


Even though, while residing in Egypt they worked themselves ragged, and their lives were so bitter, and they had no rights, they were beaten to a pulp, and they just lived in misery...they still preferred to go back to that living hell, rather than have to change their lifestyle. They chose slavery over freedom; over a life of following the Torah. They were too afraid of all the responsibilities that come along with this lifestyle.

 Why? How could they be so stupid?

Easily. Even though their lives in Mitzraim were miserable, they were still so accustomed to living that way, that they'd rather remain slaves, where it's 'comfortable', than have an better life, but have to make major changes to enjoy it.

This sounds very strange to us, that they are all victims of self injury. But the painful truth is that we all, in some way, make the same self destructive decisions sometimes.

I've been acquainted with kids who have developed anxiety at the thought of moving up to high school. Their fears advance at the start of college. Sometimes the anxiety is so powerful that it actually blocks them from applying or attending university, which obviously causes them to remain with a limited level of education.    


There are also those that are offered promotions in their careers, but decline due to the fear of leaving their hometown and having to make new lifestyle adjustments. Therefore, they remain mediocre instead of advancing. They'd choose to stay at a lower position, and lower income,  rather than make any changes.

Unfortunately, there are people who choose to remain victims in abusive relationships, even while given opportunities to leave, due to those same fears.

The mann that the Jews received in the midbar, came with strings attached. They can have it... but they have to start keeping the mitzvos now. The fish that they got in Mitzraim was FREE!!  No responsibilities. No obligations. No changes.

Although we might be tempted at times to stay where we are, whether in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense, in order to avoid change and adjustment, running away from the 'fear of the unknown', we have to realize that such behavior will cause us to remain in whatever state we are (if not a lower one)... forever. We will go nowhere and become no one. 

Changing a behavior or a mindset creates a challenge. Challenge creates growth.  Achievement and greatness comes from accepting the responsibilities that a life of meaning is offering. 

Without enduring change and growth, we are opting for a life of slavery. 

Why are we so afraid to change?

3 basic reasons:

1. Afraid of the unknown

2. Driven by well-honed habits

3. The pain of loss

The height of our potential is the ultimate, so spiritual growth is an endless path. There might be some stones along the way, but you can either trip on them and break your femur bone, or you can use them as stepping stones to bring you to the next level of your journey.

'Asher barah Elokim laasos', G-d created this world to do.

To move. To change. To improve.

 So, humans are, indeed, creatures of habit.

However, we are not  powerless, and we do have a choice.

Recognizing that we were created just to change and grow, and the whole world itself was built just to change it and improve it, can help us diminish our fear and anxiety of change. Change is the entire reason for existence. We each have the power & the choice to break free from our habits, our patterns, the chains we may be born into carrying, the ideas and expectations that others have of us, and the fate of mediocrity that each of us could comfortably settle for.

And about being compared to worm... you wouldn’t want to soil your reputation by being known as a spineless coward, now would you?

Have a beautiful shabbos!