Comfort Zones

A common misconception of many people is that the translation of Rabbi is someone with a frockcoat, furry hat and side locks. Truth be told, Rabbi means teacher.

Being a teacher, one of the things that consist of my day is teaching school children about their Jewish heritage.

In order to ensure that a teacher is the best that he or she can be, we are obligated to attend workshops to introduce us to newer and better teaching methods. At one such conference last year, prior to embarking on her lecture on an improved way of dealing with today’s children, the instructor invited all the teachers to first be willing to go out of their respective “comfort zone”.

Aside from being a prerequisite to learning a new method in discipline, it is also a requirement if a person wishes to attain a more refined appreciation of the Divine.

Being in the Jewish month of Elul, teshuva - returning to G‑d becomes the focus of our everyday activities. In all of our subconscious minds, we know that the holiest days of the year on upon us. Much lies in the balance in these three days. Therefore, we all give a bit more charity; make sure to say a nice word to our neighbor and many other things that will help us build a case for a happy, healthy and prosperous year.

Teshuva consists of two parts, the apology and the resolution. Initially, we have to acknowledge that we erred in our action, speech or thought against our fellow man or against G‑d. Only after we come to terms with the fact that we are not the perfect specimens we once thought we were, can we promise that we will not act in the same manner again. After all, if you don’t feel sick why go to the doctor?

To diagnose your spiritual dilemma means looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I do not like what I am seeing. I am not happy with what I am now. This isn’t what I am supposed to be. I expect much more of myself. How did it get to this?”

The rabbis compare sinning to a falling-out between you and G‑d. Therefore to amend that relationship is to return to G‑d. To “return” so to speak from the “place” where you are now, to the heights you know you belong.

The problem most people face is that we are very comfortable with their status quo. Sure we know that we should be better, but change can be a very scary concept at times. Just like we tell ourselves at the dessert table we will start dieting Sunday morning, we do the same thing regarding our materialistic diet. We feel great when we are thin and exercising, but there is nothing more difficult then dragging yourself to the gym that first time.

The key to better you is to take a step outside of your comfort zone. That first step is so difficult because of the uncertainty and the possibility of failure. Every person who has ever “made it”, has done so because he took a trip into the unknown with the promise for great success.

 A perfect example of the fear I am talking about is my wife’s grandfather. He has children who live oversees he has not seen for a long time. The problem isn’t the money or that he doesn’t feel welcome in his children’s home. Quite the opposite is true, he loves his children dearly and treasures the time he spends with them. So what could be stopping him from getting on a plane and going to see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

He hates flying. Not because he gets air sick or fear of turbulence. He hates the waiting in line, the delays and the sheer disregard for customers that some airlines have. He says he comfortable at home, and he has not the patience to go through all the bother. Even though he will derive great pleasure from the troubles of his voyage, he does not undertake the trip out of comfort. In short, he doesn’t want to leave his comfort zone.

In spiritual service it is the same. If we are to reach a new spiritual plateau, we must come to terms with the fact that nothing will change unless we are willing to sacrifice a bit of our “comfort”. Just as in marriage, if we are to have a meaningful relationship with G‑d it requires some work and sacrifice. Procrastinating will not accomplish anything; G‑d is all ears and is waiting to hear from you.

When I was in day school I was taught that the human body is made up of mostly earth and water. If you stop and think for a moment, you will realize that these two basic elements are total opposites. Water is always on the move as opposed to earth which is stationary.

These two elements represent the two periods in the cycle of life. The rabbis of old said we come from earth and our destiny is earth. However, in between we are water. A live person must be moving like water. If he is accomplishing he is paddling upstream, if he is idle he is flowing downstream. He may not even realize this since he is going with the flow, no pun intended.

We are put in a physical world and are commanded to strive towards spiritually. If we remain in our comfort zones we may fool ourselves into thinking that we are the same as we were yesterday. Truth be told, the opposite is true. If you are not constantly learning and working on your relationship with G‑d, you have already taken a step backward. To lead a Jewish life is to constantly be on the move.

I once heard a rabbi lecture on this topic and used the example of the Rebbe only because he led by example. One of the characteristics of his was that the Rebbe never sat back in his chair. He always seemed to be in the midst of doing something or the other. The Rebbe had no comfort zone or status quo to be happy with. He was the perfect example of swimming upstream because he was always on the move

I don’t mean to be morbid, but we have plenty of time to be earth. For the time being let us be water and start trucking. There is no such thing as a Jew at rest when it comes to spiritual service. We are all wandering Jews.

I would like to bring one last story to drive my point home. A chasid of the Gerer Rebbe once entered into a private audience. In the course of the discussion the Gerer Rebbe asked his chasid if he attended a weekly class. The chasid replied that that class was for baale teshuva - people who were returning to the Jewish path. The Rebbe then asked, “And you are not a Baal Teshuva”?

The chasid answered with a contemptuous no. The Rebbe retorted, “why not”?

Every one of us is on the path of return on one level or another, regardless of level of reading, practice or affiliation. Let us return to our father in heaven and reestablish our relationship of old. All it takes is for someone to swallow his pride and exit his comfort zone.