“While walking on the riverbank, you find an entire field of reeds and weeds, all standing straight next to each other. Not one of them have the power to move itself, even a hairsbreadth. However, within a short time, the slightest wind comes and the entirety of the field is shaking and thrust around like ocean waves.” The Cheshbon Hanefesh uses this as a mashal for understanding how we operate in our “spiritual” lives. Often, people act as if they are programmed, possessed by negative forces. The nefesh habahamis, that has no intellectual capacity, and no “will” of its own, gets “pushed around” by even small, inconsequential bodily desires or pain. Naturally, without the power (or awareness) to fight, it sways to the “guf’s” every whim. This is the story of most people’s lives.
So far, we have explored the first element necessary to succeed in avodas hamussar. That being, what I refer to broadly, as mindfulness. This has been the subject of Post 2,3, and 4 . The second aspect is understanding the science or the mechanism behind that makes our diligence pay off. This is what is known as “reshimos mitztarfim”. Everyone knows, if you want to tone your body and “get ripped” you have to “work out”. What happens is that, every time you exercise a specific part of your body, the muscles get stronger and stronger until you perfect that area of the body. In the same way, when we “work out” on a midda, the constant buildup of strength in that area, causes one to excel in the chosen midda that he took on. This works through a concept called “hergel”.Typically, when we think of the way the term “hergel” is used, it brings to mind a negative attitude. The famous words quoted by the Mesilas Yesharim (actually a passuk…), “mitzvas anashim melumada” come to mind. “Hergel” means “habit”. When we do mitzvos out of habit, it is not a good thing. We don’t often hear of good habits, besides for those who are fans of Stephen Coveys’ “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. The truth is, there is a strong basis for this stereotype. Bad habits are indeed a great source of difficulty for one working on their middos, or for anyone for that matter. In order to work on ones’ patience, for example, one must be able to get past an innumerable amount of less- than- positive encounters when he acted impatiently. Years of anger and stress are piled against him. He is already in the habit of getting angry. It’s not merely a natural reaction anymore. The cards are stacked against him… It’s not simple. What is ironic, is the way the Ba’aley Mussar suggest getting over this. We will be’ezras Hashem discuss in the coming weeks, how we can seize the forces that currently dictate the course of our lives and use them to our advantage.