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Thought for the Day: Working on Z'rizus

There is a general principle when it comes to working on improving oneself: set attainable goals.  It is easy to give examples of what not to do.  Want to improve your davening?  If you are starting from losing concentration at "s'fasai", don't make a goal to say every word of sh'mone esrei with kavana.  Want to improve your kovei'a itim?  If you are barely able to stay on task when the rav says over a d'var halacha betwen mincha and ma'ariv, don't set a goal to sit down for an hour after davening to learn Choshem Mishpat.  That is all reasonably straightforward.  The correct approach, of course, is to choose small, attainable steps.  What those steps are depends and where you are starting and will change as you improve; just keep the steps small achievable.  Stretch goals may be what your supervisor wants at work, but they have no place in avodas HaShem.  In fact, the M'silas Y'sharim says that such a course is a recipe for disaster.

That's the easy stuff; conduct and practice.  Much harder is working on midos.  For one thing, the nature of the work is different.  As hard as it is to pay attention during davening, I can easily tell if I am doing better or not; just note how often I have to refocus, or how many brachos I can remember actually saying.  You do have to make the effort to note things down and review your progress, but at least you have things that can be noted down.  What do you do with midos?  How do I measure if I am more zahir (careful) than last week?  How about improving z'rizus (agility/alertness)?

It's just amazing what you will find in the Shulchan Aruch.  At the end of siman 3, syef 6, barely out of bed and dressed, the Rema gives advice for z'rizus: make it your habit to use the facilities morning and evening.  You may be wondering what using the facilities has to do with z'rizus; I know I was.  After some thought, though, I think this is precisely what we are seeking: a little step in improving my mida of z'rizus.  By being careful to use the facilities morning and evening, I am standing ready to whatever may come up in service of the Lord.  For example, it starts to thunder.  If I have not prepared, I may not be able to make the bracha of "kocho u'g'uraso malei olam".  If that opportunity is lost, its lost.  Sure, I may get another opportunity, but that particular opportunity is lost.  Sounds like a little thing, right?  That's the point; baby steps.

It's little steps like that change your attitude and focus.  Now when I use the facilities first thing in the morning or last thing at night, I'll be thinking about that Rema.  That means the idea that I should always be ready for avodas HaShem will be on my mind when I start the day and when I retire at night.  A tiny change in direction, but over the years and decades it leads to real movement.  And as long as I am making some progress, HaShem is going to be inclined to give me more time, since that is the purpose of Creation in the first place.

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