a "key" to success

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-shiftkeyThe first time I ever needed to type out an outline for a school project included what could be considered one of the biggest, “duh,” moments of my life.

I sat down to begin the project before becoming deeply troubled about something missing on our keyboard. I was staring at my home computer for quite a few minutes before exclaiming to my mother that we needed to purchase a new keyboard for our computer. She asked me why I felt this way. I explained it was because our keyboard was missing the Roman numerals. Now I was a relatively intelligent kid, but I was genuinely stuck. My mother walked over to the computer, gently smiled, indicated to me that it was fine, and then pressed “shift + I.” I was so shocked. I had spent all that time unaware that all I needed to use was the shift key! In my mind I was making the process way more complicated than it needed to be.

There are things in life that are genuinely complicated. Not everything is easy. Nevertheless I would hazard a guess that there could be issues in my ethical/moral/spiritual life that I mentally agonize over that are probably as simple as pressing “shift +I” for the first Roman numeral. In the case of the keyboard incident I had an expectation that there would be separate keys for roman numerals or perhaps that pressing “shift + 1” would result in an “I” showing up. The reality of the situation had thrown me for a loop so much that I could not see what was right in front of my eyes…literally. Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to keyboards. Many times in life we find that solutions to major problems involve us running around looking in the wrong places for our answers when the right answer is staring at us in the face. The joke about the man who prays to be saved from drowning to death and turns down three human interventions because he believes God will save him is appropriate to this discussion. The man dies in spite of the fact that God sent him three answers to his prayer. The problem was that the man wasn’t getting the kind of solution he was expecting.

I’ve learned over the past couple of years that mussar is simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. When I meet with my partner weekly, journal daily, meditate on the middot regularly, and read the materials I improve. When I slack on those things, I do not do as well. It’s that simple. In this season of teshuva we probably know a healthy portion of the things we need to do to make amends. If we don’t know, maybe God is the ultimate “shift key” for turning those things we thought only had one meaning into what we need. Let’s take this week of simplicity as an opportunity to face the reality right in front of us.

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