The Jewish month of Marcheshvan has begun, which means this last cycle of Jewish holidays has ended. In the entire month there are no holidays or fast days, just the Shabbat, our perpetual island in time. The High Holy Days provided us with a spiritual energy burst that we can carry over into our normal lives in the coming month.
In Pirkei Avot- Ethics of our Fathers, the Mishna (rabbinic teaching) states, “Rabbi Tarfon said, ‘The day is short, the task is abundant, the laborers are lazy, the wage is great, and the Master of the house (Hashem) is insistent.’ He continued to say, ‘You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it…’” Rabbi Tarfon was referring to our study and involvement in Torah. And how right he was! No matter how much we learn, we will never reach the end, yet we must not use that reality as an excuse and decide, “What’s the use? Since I can never finish and have mastery, why even bother starting?” We must begin and never stop.
Although the Mishna is speaking about Torah study, we can derive life lessons from this. I’ve often heard people tell me that they are overwhelmed with what they have to do and as a result, nothing gets done. They’ve made lists, but that has not helped either. If we take the first part of the Mishnah at face value, we are told “the day is short,” which means we should make the goals reachable. If one makes a list that is extensive, it becomes overwhelming. Rather, make a list of 2-3 items and get it done. When you finish the list, celebrate your accomplishment. The next day, repeat the procedure. The important thing is to make the task doable. Otherwise, it is self-sabotage. If you follow this advice, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish and how you feel good about the progress.
When my wife and I used to help our children prepare for a test, we explained that if they want to really learn the subject, the best way to study would be to break up the material into small pieces so that by the time of the test, they will have a real handle on it and even remember it post-test. This method took away much of the anxiety of the test and gave them a life skill of breaking down the task into doable parts.
The biggest reason most people will not start something new is that they feel that they won’t finish. That’s when you implement the last part of the Mishna which states, “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it…” Many Jews have felt that to learn the entire Talmud was impossible; enter the “Daf Hayomi’’ project, in which one learns a page of Talmud daily, completing the entire Talmud in 7 1/2 years. Reading the weekly Torah section with commentaries can be overwhelming- but learning an aliyah (section) a day makes it easier.
The bottom line is to start the process, enjoy the adventure, and celebrate your ongoing accomplishments. If you need help starting this plan, let’s talk and decide on a plan of action!
Rabbi Fred Nebel
Jewish Family Services Director