The Value of Concentration
The Infinite G-d used the tzimtzum to express Himself within finitude. The universe came into being because G-d is able to focus. Similarly, imagine a craftsman, working his craft. Whether it be a blacksmith, carpenter or locksmith— even a teacher preparing a lecture. It doesn’t take much knowledge of the particular field to appreciate the beauty of focusing for hours on the same task with diligence and passion.
There’s a bocher I see often learning. I don’t know his name because it would be a crime to waste his time. He sits in front of his sefer for hours. He learns aloud, doesn’t look up or around the room; he couldn’t care less about his surroundings. As soon as he even begins to lose momentum, shuckles his mind back to his sefer. Sometimes he stands, sometimes he sits. Every now and then he has a drink of water, uses the restroom, etc. He doesn’t seem to eat; I never see him leave the beis hamedrash. This kid is obsessed. That’s the bottom line. The fact is though, that he picked something—Torah—and invests his entire being into what he’s doing. Nothing else matters. The idea of stopping for lunch is grossly irrelevant. Nothing to do with iskafya. He cares about what he is doing.
This, I believe, is totally in line with the idea of asei tov: if we find pleasure in doing a mitzvah, then we’ll do it again. The fact is that although negative motivation (fear of some loss or punishment) works wonders, pleasure works better. In our society, as Jews living in America, the idea of trembling in “fear of the L-rd” doesn’t fit. No one wants to hear about the loss incurred from transgressing the same way no one wants to hear about how they should start eating healthy and exercising.
This is the solution: fall in love with what you’re doing. A fallacy exists in the society in which we live, that we must follow our passions. The truth is just the opposite. As human beings and as Jews in particular, we are laden with huge amounts of responsibility. If we live according to the “follow your passions” school of thought, we will end up easing our load and dropping the mitzvos we “don’t resonate with.”
Think of a baby. Does a baby have any specific passion? The answer I hope you thought of was, “No, a baby just loves life as long as it feels good.” Anything which is not painful to the baby’s experience is a worthy opportunity.
Let’s try this:
- All children start off happy and with a latent curiosity and openness for the world around them.
- Torah and mitzvos fall under the category of “the world around them.”
- Therefore, children naturally would be curious and open to Torah and mitzvos not hindered by negative associations.
So being that there are no particular innate passions, then anything could become our “thing.”
The Gemora states (Avoda Zara, p. 19), “One should always learn in the place which his heart desires.” On numerous occasions, both public and private (Dem Rebben’s Kinder), the Rebbe made mention of this aphorism. There has to be a balance, the Rebbe explains, between learning that which one is obligated to learn (in seder, relevant halachos, etc.) and that which one wants to learn. When it comes to in-depth learning, however, success will be found more readily in the area where one already finds enjoyment. That doesn’t mean necessarily that it is impossible to learn other subjects in depth. What it does mean is we can and should learn in any aspect of Torah. That’s where hard work comes into play. Thank G-d that what we enjoy the most is what we’ve invested the most effort into. Think of the love parents have for their children—it’s incomparable to the love of the child to the parents. We can learn to love anything. In fact, the more we invest our effort and our (free/down-) time, the more we’ll appreciate the Torah we learn. The more we love the Torah we learn, the less distracted we’ll be. Everything in life will begin to revolve around our “thing.”
I just heard a story of a chossid whose “thing” was davening. The food he ate, his sleep at night was all for the sake of his davening. The truth is that in Hayom Yom, the Frierdiker Rebbe says that everything a chossid does should reflect his identity as a chossid. “There— goes a chossid, sleeps a chossid, eats a chossid.”
The simpler we live, the more minimalist and streamlined our lives become, the more our lives reflect the infinite simplicity of G-d.