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Parshas Vayikra [Haachodesh] 5775

When There's A Will ...

An Amish boy and his father were visiting a mall for the first time. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his father, "What is this, Father?" The father [never having seen an elevator] responded "Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don't know what it is." While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, an old lady in a wheelchair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched small circles of lights with numbers above the walls light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful 24-year-old woman stepped out. The father said to his son, "Go get your mother."

Wouldn't it be nice if change could come so easy?

The fact is that it’s actually quite difficult to make real change happen in life. You see, most people just don’t like to change. The Law of Inertia dictates that things will, by and large, stay the way they were until now.

And especially when it comes to changing our bad character traits. It’s so much easier to stay the way we are than to try to change who we are. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the great master of Mussar and ethical character refinement, once said that it is more difficult to change a bad trait than it is to learn the entire 2711 pages of Talmud!!

And yet that’s exactly what the Torah expects of us – to work on ourselves and change our behavior, improving our character traits and becoming more sensitive and G-dlike human beings. As the Vilna Gaon writes in his commentary to Proverbs (4:13): “A person's main goal in life is to constantly work on breaking [changing] his bad character traits. If not this, what is he living for?”

So how exactly can we change ourselves for the better – getting rid of bad habits, unhealthy anger, impulsive behaviors etc. – when change is so very hard?

The answer to this question might surprise you in its simplicity – but it is nonetheless true. The only thing in the world that can generate real change in our lives and without which change is virtually impossible – yet is also not expensive or hard to get but, in fact, is readily available and accessible at all times - is our own ratzon, the sheer force of our own will and desire to change. As the popular saying goes (and which my wife posted on the wall in my office for me to remember at all times): “Ein davar ha’omed bifnei haratzon – there is nothing that can stand in the way of a person’s will”.

The great Chasidic master, the Maggid of Mezritch, once commented homiletically on the verse in this week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 1:3): " … yakriv oso lirtzono lifnei Hashem – he shall bring it voluntarily before G-d", that it can also be read: “One should sacrifice it – i.e. his ratzon - to G-d.”

In other words, if a person can take the tremendous power of his own ratzon and will and channel it towards conquering his bad character traits and becoming more like G-d – he will be guaranteed success in his spiritual growth.

In the same vein, his disciple, the Chozeh of Lublin, once told the story of Napoleon who, on a cold wintry night, was sleeping with his army in the field. All of a sudden, he felt a tremendous thirst for something to drink, but was lazy to get out from under the warm covers to fetch some water. He thought to himself, “If so, I’m just another lazy person! What makes me any different than the rest?” With this, he immediately jumped out of bed and went in the bitter cold all the way across the camp to get a drink. When he got there he thought to himself, “One second now… for a little bit of water, I went through all this trouble and couldn’t control my thirst? If so, what makes me better than everyone else?!” Then and there Napoleon decided not to drink anything and went straight back to bed. “This”, said the Chozeh, “is a true example of sacrificing one’s ratzon!”

The bottom line is that the only way to change anything in life is to will to change. If we want to lose weight, we can try all those yo-yo diets (although those yo-yo’s can be a little hard on the teeth…LOL) and slim-fast shakes. But at the end of the day, the only real way to lose weight is to use the sheer power of our will to lose the weight – and when we have the ratzon, nothing can stand in our way.

And the same is true when it comes to losing our bad character traits. We need to unleash that ratzon that’s already inside us and use it to change ourselves for the better. If we really want to change, we will be able to power our way through and overcome any challenge that comes our way – such is the amazing force of our willpower.

As the saying goes ... when there’s a will, there’s a way!

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