I remember when I first became a baal-tshuva and first started learning Talmud — I was in love. I studied for hours and hours and never ran out of energy to learn (I was one of those really, really annoying types). I remember approaching some older kollel-members, who didn’t look so enthusiastic about studying 12 hours a day, and exclaiming “when I can learn as well as you, I’m just going to keep learning right through Shas, over and over!”
Fast-forward 25 years. It saddens me when I don’t do the things I love, I know are good for me, and that Hashem expects of me. Like learning Torah. Or paying attention to my children. Or being truly kind to my wife. Or calling my father. Or eating healthy and exercising. Or making more sales-calls at work. Or davening with real intent.
I know some people who are not like me. They basically always do what is right, what Hashem wants from them. It’s simple – just figure out what Hashem wants from you, and do it. Their challenge in life is not “doing” — action comes easy, but rather about just moving from one level of service to the next.
How wonderful life would be if, whenever I was in a slump or find myself waddling in bad habits or in a negative mindset, I could just say to myself “Just do it” and the problem would be solved. Just be more patient with your kids, Dovid! Just listen to what your wife is telling you! Just get out of bed and go to shul! Just learn Tanya! Just don’t get angry! Just focus when you daven! If it were only that simple, my life would be so much easier, I would be such a better person, and everybody around me would be so much happier.
Just Do It is twofold
Ari Kasowitz, in his blog Abstractitude, writes a great article about the power of “Just Do It” – the Nike slogan. Ari points out that “HaMaaseh hu ha’ikar,” and that “Just Do It” negates the need for choice. For a man with a “Just Do It” attitude,
All the deliberations, complications, hesitations vanish like smoke. All of the pros and cons, the what-if’s and if-only’s are now behind him.
I chalish to be one of those people in the ads, out for a run in the middle of the winter, pushing their mind & body to the limit — you know, “living life?” Or how about the chassidish version (for those Lubavs out there) which may look like wild, crazy, dancing on Kingston till 6:00 am during Succos (of course, in the pouring rain).
But there is another side to “Just Do It”, one that I often struggle with. In many areas of my life, I have already made the choice, and not necessarily the best one – I have chosen not to show-up. For people who have chosen not to participate in life, “Just do it” doesn’t work. That is not to say that it doesn’t always work. Many of us have a “Just Do It” attitude about a lot of things. Like going to work. Or attending a Torah class. Or going to the dentist. Or sometimes, just getting out bed to daven. We are on the other side of the Nike ad, and we are using the “Just Do It” slogan to eek through our lives.
And what’s interesting, is that often, we are not even aware that we have made the choice. If we are lucky, we wake up one day and it dawns on us. I’m not sure when I realized that I was no longer the young, excited, eager-to-learn baal-tshuva, but rather an older, tired, fatter, “chossid”. I’m not sure when I exchanged the meaning of “Just Do It!” with “just get by”.
Perhaps if you have such a lousy self-image that you have internalized, rationalized, and convinced yourself that exercise isn’t for you, than “Just do it” isn’t motivating. If you walk around thinking that you don’t matter, then you will never really understand that when you walk in the front door of your home, your child is staring at their Hero. If you don’t believe that you are good enough to be loved, how can you actually be in true relationship with your spouse? If insecurity and doubt is your “go-to” place, can you really parent your questioning teenager from a place of love and understanding? And if you don’t believe that you can “turn over the world”, can you really be a Chossid? The Rebbe must have been speaking to somebody else.
One of the purposes of the Call of the Shofar is to break oneself out of this self-imposed prison, which we are often unaware of. And don’t kid yourself — everybody else knows about your prisons except for you. Your wife, your children, your community, the Rebbe, and Hashem.
Showing-up for life is the Call of the Shofar. Learning to put away our negative self-perceptions, and ditch the old tunes in our mind opens us up to the possibility of life, to the incredible potential of “Just Do It!”. Recognizing that your family, your Rebbe, and Hashem believes that you are worthy, and that you are capable, and that you matter is a foundational step to being a real father, husband, and Chossid — you know, “living life?”