In my last article, I mentioned that it is very easy to get so focused on the things that we are doing wrong in our lives that we can despair of ever getting it right.
It’s because we have fallen for the illusion.
The reality is that as long as we are alive there is always hope, always a point from which we can start the journey forward.
But, if that is so true then how do we even reach such a level of despair in the first place?
A big part of the problem is that we underestimate the impact of the little victories we have along the way.
Spiritual Growth: One Small Step at a Time
Chazal tell us that spiritual growth does not happen in leaps and bounds. The real battle, the choice between truth and falsehood, life and death, happens in the smallest possible steps- teeny, tiny micro movements, not miles
There is a well known, often quoted midrash:
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel,
“My sons, open for Me an opening of teshuva like the size 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]
אמר הקב“ה לישראל: בני! פתחו לי פתח אחד של תשובה, כחודה של מחט,
ואני פותח לכם פתחים שיהיו עגלות וקרניות נכנסות בו
Midrash Shir HaShirim (5:2)
Rav Dessler brings an interesting insight about it:
We usually understand the idea of “Heavenly Aid” in the sense that HaShem provides us with the means by which to serve Him…This may take the form of a good environment, a good teacher, etc [i.e the person is put into situations that will help him grow further]… But Heavenly aid can also come in another form… [J]ust as the needle point refers to an inward spiritual reality- the complete penetration of the heart’s obstruction, even if to a tiny extent- the Divine response must be of the same nature… an inward reality in the heart. This is how the world is run. A person makes a choice [to come closer to HaShem] and bores a hole the size of a needle point into the obstruction around his heart… and the “great gate of the Sanctuary” develops from this. This is God’s response to our actions… We only need to begin, and HaShem will complete our task.
(Strive for Truth, Vol 3, pg 91-92)
When we make even the slightest real effort to come closer to HaShem, what results is a small opening in our heart. Always. Without exception. Though we may not feel much different after the moment has passed, on a spiritual level a lot is happening. From that small, little impression, HaShem makes a hole the size of a gate in our heart so that the light of teshuva can flow in and we are empowered to further our spiritual growth. This too is always… without exception… and regardless of where you currently are in life.
This means a seemingly insignificant movement on our end can in fact be great leaps and bounds spiritually. It’s like holding a very long stick in your hands. If you move the stick even slightly on one end, the movement on the end, the side that you are not holding, is much greater.
This is how HaShem created the world!
So, don’t under-estimate those little victories along the way.
And don’t get down on yourself because you feel that you don’t have the personal strength and stamina to change and grow…
Because the truth is that no one is strong enough to do anything in this world alone- not even the avos.
There is a beautiful Midrash on the possuk:
And Avraham was ninety-nine years old, when he was circumcised…
And Avraham said to [HaShem], ‘And who will circumcise me?’ He said to him: ‘You yourself.’ Avraham took the knife and took hold of his foreskin, but he was afraid because he was old; he was shaking. He said to Him, ‘Ribbono Shel Olam I am an old man.’ What did the Holy One do as it were? He stretched out His Hand and took hold along with him.
Midrash Tanhuma, Bereshis Ch 3
In summary… There is no need for despair. At every moment we are faced with choices, between good and bad, truth and falsehood, HaShem versus our own belief on how the world should be run… If we choose correctly, even if only for an instant, the spiritual result is way greater than the effort we have made. And should we feel overwhelmed and unable to follow the truth we know in our heart of hearts, HaShem is right there with us ready to help us along the way.