Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Fire of Growth

The tones go out. That ever present little thing hanging on your belt like a leash suddenly goes *beep beep beep*. You could be anywhere. You could be about to sit down to eat. You could be at work helping a customer. Or you could be davening mincha in the middle of chazaras hashatz. But when it happens, when it beeps or vibrates, it is always sudden and always unexpected. You never see it coming. You're never sitting around thinking, "you know what, we're definitely going to get a call in 3 ½ minutes from now." You think a call might come in, or you might even be sitting around waiting for one to come in, but you're always thoroughly surprised when it actually happens.

You're cleaning out your car. Something that's been looming over your head for months, and you decide you're finally going to do it. You find a cd that has some random shiurim on it that you haven't listened to in ages. Or maybe you're looking through an old pile of books and find some random sefer you haven't seen in a while. You pop the cd in or you open that sefer and BAM, a sudden burst of inspiration. You're amazed by the power of that dusty cd or that ratty old book. You remember how much you love Torah, how awesome our God is, how amazing it is to be a Yid and do the things that yiddin do. Totally random, totally unexpected, you're suddenly ready to become that tzaddik you always knew you could become. You've got that flash in your spirit that it's time to get things moving, time to make some changes.

You roll out of bed and throw on the nearest pieces of clothing you've got. Or you drop the fork and head for the door. You grab your keys, jump in your car, flip on the blue light and try not to drive like an animal. *44-control to Dept 7, 7-102; signal 12 structure; 244 route 306" You hear the call, you know something is burning and it's time for you to go to work. You've trained for this, you've prepared, you've set up all your gear so that's it's ready to go, and you know exactly what it is you have to do.

You pick yourself up from the couch and you get yourself moving, into that groove that you need to be in to move forward. You call that rebbi that you haven't spoken to in years. You listen to that cd the whole way through and devour that sefer from cover to cover. You do whatever you have to do, but you act on that flash. You make that inspiration real. You spent all those years in yeshiva training for this, you've studied all that Torah to prepare you, you've got chavrusas ready to go, you had all those rebbeim all that time giving you the perfect instructions on how to achieve that, and you know exactly what it is you have to do.

You get to the firehouse, throw on your gear, hop on the truck, grab a radio, put your pack on – everything necessary in order for you to be able to go to work as soon as you get off the truck. You know that when you pull up and you see that smoke pushing out from the awnings that you're grabbing the red 1 ¾" line that's facing the driver's side with as much hose as you can fit over your shoulder and you're making a b line for the door. You're not running, because when you run you trip and fall and get hurt and then you're of no use on the fire ground. You move swiftly and decisively like a professional because you know exactly what you have to do.

You get to the bais medrash and you meet up with your chavrusa and you've got all the seforim you need for that seder and your cellphone's off and your mind is completely clear. You've done everything necessary to accomplish the task at hand of devoting your entire being to Torah for the next hour so that you can get as much as you can out of this little drop of growth that you manage to eke out of your long and tiring day. You take it seriously and step by step you start to increase the time and work on other important things that need improvement. You make sure to do this slowly and not take on too much at one time because if you try to just jump into it you might burn out and just wind up back where you started. You take precise actions and you record and calculate your actions like a professional because you know exactly what you have to do.

If you do what you learned in Firefighter-1 and Truck Ops and all the other classes you spent hours upon hours attending, and you listen to your Chief and your Captain and your Lieutenant and all the more experienced guys on the scene and you take their suggestions to heart, then you put the fire out and we all go home. It's basically as simple as that, right? If you put the water on the fire, then all your problems go away. But if you go off and do your own thing, or you start doing things out of order or worrying about issues that are above your head, then you start getting into trouble. You either get yourself hurt, or worse, you hurt someone else. If you hurt yourself, you can deal with it. But hurting someone else, how do you know you can live with yourself knowing that you caused their harm?

If you listen to your rebbeim and all those seforim and shiruim and take everything they say to heart, and really internalize it all, then you keep the fire burning inside of you and you build up that inspiration into something real and deep and powerful. It's basically as simple as that, right? If you listen to the Torah, then you become a better Jew. But if you go off and start redefining things to fit your own interests and desires and start justifying your actions, or if you start worrying about the exterior stuff instead of the real internals, or if you start mixing up your priorities, then you start getting into trouble. What are you left with? You either waste all this momentum by burning yourself out mentally and emotionally; you hurt yourself. Or worse, you really hurt your neshama and your relationship with God. If you just burn out a little bit and get a little down about it, then you can always just rebuild yourself. But if you really get yourself so deep and confused through this whole journey and process of growth, then you might come out really messed up and well, that can be really really bad.

So you put the fire out, packed up all the hose, refilled all the air bottles, put away all your tools and you head back to the firehouse. You did everything right, recalled everything you learned, you carried out all your orders and you did a fine job. Now what? You get back to the firehouse, and you don't just hang out and pick up some food. You do that too! But after you do everything else… You clean off all the tools, you refill the trucks, you clean your gear up and you set it all back into its right place ready to go for the next call. And then you critique what happened at that fire and you go over everything that you could have done, everything you should have done, everything that went right, and everything that went wrong, and you learn from that call. And it's still not over! You still come back to the firehouse every Monday night for training drills, and you still sign up for every class you've got time to take even if you've already taken it 3 or 6 or 14 times. You train, and train again, and then you train some more. Why? Because you're a firefighter and a firefighter always has to be ready and prepared.

So you've made your seder kevua for a little while now, and you've started steadily davening three times a day with a minyan, and you've successfully worked on some things that have needed work. You did everything right. You stayed learning steady with your chavrusa, you kept in touch with your Rebbi and took his advice about those certain areas you needed help with, you tried that new approach to shemona esrei that you saw in that sefer and really grew. You really turned that inspiration into something tangible and you've achieved so much in your struggle for growth. You're truly a better Jew. Now what? You get into your routine, and maybe things start becoming a little rote, and maybe things aren't feeling as powerful as they did when you started getting into it. Well, you don't just chill out and take a break for a little bit and relax. You do that too! But all in its right time… If you know you have a hobby or interest or something you know you like to do and you want to do it, then you find time for it, and the more you learn, the more you figure out how to integrate these things into your life as a better Jew. But before everything just turns into a routine, and before you decide you need to relax a little bit, you have to make sure you know where you stand. You have to study, and chazir, and study and chazir some more. You have to keep learning and keep speaking to your Rebbeim and keep listening to what the Torah is saying and living the way it's telling you to live and doing everything that it tells you to do. Why? Because you're a Jew and a Jew always has to do and believe.