One of the most chassidishe vortes I’ve ever heard came from a Jew who doesn’t keep Shabbos…
Chazal tell us:
משנה מקום, משנה מזל
If you change your place, you change your mazel.
(Rosh HaShana 16b)
This person translated it as follows:
משנה, מקום משנה מזל
If you change [yourself],
then HaMakom [another Name for HaShem] changes your mazel
(May this be a zechus for him: Zev ben Avraham)
The truth is this is a fundamental idea in Yiddishkeit that is repeated by Chazal in many contexts. For example, in the sefer, Derech HaShem, we find:
הנה גזר השופט העליון, שמתולדת מעשה האדם עצמו, יהיה היעזרו ממנו יתברך להקל לו השגת שלמותו והצילו מן המכשולים
The Highest Judge decreed that each individual’s deeds themselves result in HaShem’s helping him, simplifying his task of achieving perfection and protecting him from possible stumbling blocks.
Derech HaShem 2:4
Rav Dessler echoes this idea and even takes it a step further:
A person can change his place in a spiritual sense, and consequently his physical environment and the tools provided to him may also change correspondingly. A person may [even] broaden his mazel and reach levels beyond those originally envisaged as his allotted portion. A person may ‘take his own portion and his neighbor’s portion in the Garden of Eden.’ ‘The portion of his neighbor’ means the portion allocated to his neighbor who has failed to use it appropriately.
Strive for Truth Vol 5; p45
But what is the nature of this change that can cause HaShem to so dramatically alter your lot in life? Are we talking about some huge leap of faith, some great opening or clarity, some heart rendering teshuva? What about a sudden burst of mitzvot and maisim tovim?
The reality is that many times the biggest change comes from the smallest of movements.
The Midrash on Shir HaShirim (5:2) says:
אמר הקב“ה לישראל: בני! פתחו לי פתח אחד של תשובה, כחודה של מחט, ואני פותח לכם פתחים שיהיו עגלות וקרניות נכנסות בו
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, “My sons, open for Me an opening of teshuva like the eye of a needle, and I will open for you openings big enough for wagons and carriages to pass through [or like the gates of the sanctuary]
What this means is that for every bit of effort a person makes in an attempt to come closer to HaShem, HaShem responds with favor and assistance that is exponentially greater. As it says in gemara Yoma 39a: “The one who sanctifies himself a little, Heaven helps to sanctify him a lot.”
Often it’s that first small step, the choice to let go or to step back ever so slightly, that can set in motion further steps, openings, and clarity, resulting in an awesome upward journey. As Chazal say,
מצווה גוררת מצווה …ששכר מצווה – מצווה
One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah… [for] the reward for a mitzvah [is the opportunity to do another] mitzvah
Pirkei Avos 4:2
But where exactly do you take that step, and how do you know that your movement is real or even that it is something HaShem wants from you at that moment?
Rav Dessler (Strive for Truth Vol 3; p54) provides some important insight involving the first few possukim of parshas Terumah:
…דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ לִי תְּרוּמָה מֵאֵת כָּל אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם
Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity… and make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst
(Shemos 25: 2;8)
Chazal say that the real Temple, the real dwelling place of HaShem in this world, is within the heart of every Jew, and that the Mishkan itself alluded to the physical and spiritual make up of the perfect man. For this reason וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם can also be translated as, “I will dwell within them.”
Rav Dessler points out that on the words “take for yourselves an offering for HaShem” seem a bit puzzling on the surface. He brings the Ibn Ezra who says that taking is usually the opposite of giving, but taking for someone else is the equivalent of giving.
Rav Dessler goes on to say that a person can give a tremendous amount, he can even have all the right motives while he is doing it, but if there is no resistance to that giving then he is not really “taking from himself.”
Consider the situation of a rich man who gives a generous handful of change and small bills to a beggar on the street. While he definitely did a good deed that he will get rewarded for, at the same time, he didn’t really have to give up anything in order to do it. But what if, in the inner most recesses of his heart, this same rich man struggles to look favorably on the people who ask him for donations? When he gave money to the beggar, if he was simultaneously making an effort on the inside to judge this unfortunate person favorably, then his deed is worth exponentially more in the eyes of HaShem.
According to Rav Dessler, the Torah is saying to the members of that generation: take a good look at your inner most heart and find the point where your yatzer hara is opposed to giving to the Mishkan, and from there take from yourselves. Though they may be giving in a physical sense, the Mishkan was really built on the service of the heart.
Further on in the Chumash, the Ibn Ezra points out on the words כֹּל נְדִיב לִבּוֹ that the literal meaning is “everyone who is generous with his heart”(Shemos 35:5). Rav Dessler concludes, “… maybe this is just what the Torah is teaching us. The Temple is built by giving up one’s very heart.”
In other words, that life changing step lies in the place where you find within yourself a resistance to give. This is the very place where it is hard for you to connect to HaShem. Instead of connection, clarity, and shalom, in this place lies anger, jealousy, pride, anxiety, compulsion, apathy, depression, fear…
Your whole life can change if you are courageous enough to go to that very place, and take a small step back. Invite HaShem in; sincerely make a hole in your heart the size of a needle’s eye or even smaller, and HaShem’s Presence will come through in full force.
This one step could set in motion the upward path to places you never thought were reachable.