40 in 40 · Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

The Meaning Of Life

The entire purpose of our existence is to overcome our negative habits.

-Vilna Gaon

If you have been paying attention at all to what I’ve been writing about for the last decade or so, you’ll know that this is, hands down, my favorite part of Judaism.

So many tools and resources to improve myself. It’s great. I love it. I’ve written about it a LOT over the years:

Part of the reason that this aspect of Judaism is so appealing to me is because when I was in my early twenties, I was a real jerk. No, seriously.

In retrospect, I see how it’s easy, at that stage of life, to be self-centered and arrogant and all that. Like I’ve said in my personal story narrative, I was raised with a sense of morality. I knew about the Golden Rule (treat others the way you’d want to be treated), but when I found myself in the complex situations that inevitably come up in life, I didn’t always know what to do. And I made a lot of bad decisions.

So when I was first learning about Judaism, I experienced both a sense of relief (there are actual guidelines about how to be a good person and how to deal with basically any life situation?!) and a sense of disgrace (could I ever really make up for the way I treated people?).

Would I really be able to change, or was there something inherently flawed within me (spoiler alert: that’s not a Jewish concept, and yes, change is absolutely possible)?

If you’re like me, a little self-critical, a little perfectionistic, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of noticing absolutely everything that’s a shortcoming in the middos department. That’s not helpful.

When I was at Neve, Rebbetzin Chana Levitan once said that when she has people write a list of their middos, she makes them write more positive than negative, and puts a cap on just how many negative qualities a person can list. Because some people (and she noticed, specifically, that women have a stronger tendency toward self-criticism) will go on and on forever and then just end up feeling lousy about themselves and not actually be able to work on anything at all.

Right, so I started learning about how not to be a jerk, and I started writing about it, and I also started reconnecting online with people who knew me in college, and so for a while, any time I wrote about self-improvement, or good middos, or inspirational anything, I felt like a giant hypocrite.

I imagined that anyone who knew me then, and read what I was currently writing or working on must be thinking to themselves “who is she kidding! what a joke! she’s a jerk!”

This was, obviously, not the most constructive thought process.

I had to work through that discomfort (and also reach out to people from the past and ask forgiveness), and, really, I think that our own self-consciousness and self-doubt can be a huge barrier to real growth.

In the process of personal development and getting to know oneself, it’s necessary to know what tendencies we have. We tend to be a little lazy, a little critical, a little people pleasing, a little rebellious, whatever it is.

After recognizing these traits, it could be tempting to just stop there, to say “oh that’s just how I am” when it comes to a personality trait that is less desirable.

But when we root out those negative traits that lead to negative habits, when we really fix it and improve, oh man, it’s incredible! And also, a lifelong process.

But, as I said years and years ago when I was just starting to realize the depth of Judaism: “I will never be bored again.”

-Featured Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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