The Last month of the Hebrew calendar, Elul, has arrived. As the final month, it is understood as the last stretch, the time to finish strong and reflect upon the previous year, 5783. The Hayom Yom (day by day teachings) of 27 Av (this year August 14, 2023), shares that “the month of Elul is a time of reckoning.” Similar to a business man who takes “an accounting and corrects any deficiencies,” Elul is an opportune time to account for one’s spiritual avoda of serving G-d through reviewing one’s thoughts, speech, and actions.
One area that came up for me is the question: When to do more and when to do less? How does one know to do more or to do less? In other words, what’s enough - enough sleep, enough money, enough food, enough learning, enough meditation, etc? Ultimately, it depends on the individual. In this article I hope to illuminate what is enough for you by demonstrating what is a tactic of the ego to slow you down when you could do more, and when you’re doing too much and it would help to loosen your grip.
There are periods in life where we feel low of energy, frustrated, restless, and not in an ideal environment to allow the emotions to settle. This is how I felt in the past week, and somewhat since returning to the city from upstate with the yeshiva. It would seem that learning most of the day is exciting - and it is - but it can also feel stressful because at yeshiva it’s a responsibility. When I came back to the city, I felt frustrated that “I’m not learning anything!” Sure, I am building some skills, but the content, like with Gemara, what did I learn?! Additionally, in a full schedule, “where is the time to reflect and internalize the information, to put it into practice?!”
I wanted to take a break, to relax, and put more thought into what’s next in my life. So, I moved to a slower paced class thinking it would help me out with building skills, learning content, and deciding next steps.
Meanwhile, other things began to bother me and I still felt, for the most part, restless. I felt there were more tasks to take care of for my website, podcast, coaching, earning money, as well as proper nutrition and returning to some exercise.
Then, one day this week I decided I’d get out of routine a bit and not go to afternoon Gemara class. I biked to a coffee shop where I learned and did some tasks. Yet something felt unpleasant. Observing the emotions, I figured maybe it’s just some guilt, but as the feeling persisted and I returned for the next class, I realized that the feeling was informing me that this decision was not aligned with G-d/ with what I truly desired. As I’ve written about before, sometimes entering the unknown for a new experience is healthy and expansive to one’s soul. At other times, it is a ploy of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination i.e the ego to distract you.
Later that day I went to make photo copies of a weekly schedule in the office of the yeshiva. The organizer was talking with an employee about his work. “When you really want to,” he told the employee, “you do a very good job. We need you to step it up each day.”
Thinking that perhaps I was in a private conversation, I didn’t think much of it until the next morning. During davenen (prayers), it donned on me that the Baal Shemtov teaches:
“every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G-d.”
In the face of difficulty, I was taking a load off my plate… Or so I thought. However, I was only adding stress and not utilizing time and energy to the fullest. This was not the proper response. Rather, when people complained about doing too much, the Rebbe highly encouraged doing more! It is important to acknowledge that it doesn’t mean to add stress and strenuous activities, which can be harmful, as will be mentioned later, but the approach to do more can change nature. Meaning, it is natural in the face overwhelm to do less, but in this case doing more is an act of going beyond the challenge, of living as if there is no overwhelm, and that we’re more capable than we think!
In the article, keeping your head and heart in the game, Dr. Joe Dispenza shares an explanation that depicts the situation: “Of course, there are going to be times when life or circumstances frustrate you and you don’t want to do the work. During times like these, we find ourselves not wanting to change our energy because we’re tired, we’re feeling upset, or because we’ve allowed some external circumstance to get us down.” However, as he continues to write, “when you’re able to change your energy precisely when you’re most challenged, that’s when the power of your will becomes the most valuable and transformative.”
Similar to what is mentioned above with new experiences, doing less can come from holy place - if it means, in the language of Bruce Lee, “hack away [what is] unessential.” However, it can also be a trick of the yetzer hara to “cool off” in your spiritual growth.
When it comes to spiritual matters, one must never settle; only in physical matters are we meant to be satisfied with our lot. As the Hayom Yom of Shevat 30 shares:
In material matters, one who is "satisfied with his lot" is an individual of the highest quality. A person possessing this trait will, through avoda, attain the highest levels. In spiritual matters, however, to be satisfied with one's lot is the worst deficiency, and leads, G‑d forbid, to descent and falling.
In the Torah, we are commanded to remember what Amalek, the archenemy of our Jewish people, did to our people when they were on their way to receive the Torah at Sinai. Chassidus explains that “Amalek” represents obstacles and hindrances, especially doubt and “cooling off” in regard to observing Torah and Mitzvos with enthusiasm and joy.
To conclude with a short chassidic story that I came across in writing this article:
A man once came to a rabbi and complained that his wife, his children and his mother-in-law were all stuffed into a small apartment. He was practically suffocating. The man also mentioned that he had a goat. The rabbi said, “Bring the goat into your apartment.” The man did as he was told – but the goat took up room and also smelled bad.
The man returned to the rabbi and complained again. The situation was worse and they were more crowded than ever. The rabbi then said, “Take the goat out.” A few days later, the man returned and reported, “Now we have some space.”
When you really want it, Hashem was telling me, you do a very good job!
There are times during feelings of frustration to pause a little bit, reflect and reset an intention, but then go right at it with greater zeal! There’s no need to take away what is working. Make it work and take upon another responsibility. Raise your frequency, as the saying goes, “nobody changes unless they change their energy.”
May G-d help us see that we are more capable than we think we are.
Although the month of Elul is a time of reckoning and spiritual accounting, if you have a tendency to overthink like me, self analysis can also be overdone. And it can manifest in several ways - meditation, prayer, exercise, learning, and more. Recently, I realized that I had been journaling too much and I had been keeping a journal with me most of the day. Albeit beneficial, it was coming from a place of stress and too much self-analysis, which is not healthy. Instead, I decided to set one time in the morning and one time at night to reflect on the day.
When it comes to self-analysis and self-improvement, it’s important that it all leads to action.
In order that it’s not too little nor too much, set a sacred time to do your chosen activity, and leave it to that time. Any other time throughout the day may be too much.
Opportune times for Cheshbon Tzedek (spiritual accounting of one’s thought, speech, and action).
In a sicha on Shabbat parsha Re’ey 5712 (1952), the Rebbe address when to do the follow accountings:
Daily: when doing the shema before going to bed.
Weekly: on the eve of Shabbat. Other sources share Thursday night.
Monthly: on erev Rosh Chodesh, the eve of the new month.
Yearly: a comprehensive accounting of one’s over-all status and condition with respect to the whole year.
Checkout my blogs on Reflection for some more practical tips and questions.
Wishing you enough. Wishing you just what you need to fulfill your purpose. And a delightful new year. “K’siva V’chasima Tova” - “May you be written and inscribed for a good and sweet year”.