The 'If Only' Syndrome
Nothing in life with true value can be attained with little or no effort, especially Torah; if he tries hard enough, the son of a ditch-digger can be a lofty scholar...
by Rabbi Shalom Arush
Some people fool themselves and say, "If I only had better circumstances, I could serve Hashem better." See how familiar the following expressions sound:
"If only I had a better income, I'd have more time and patience to learn Torah."
"If only my father were a Rebbe or the head of a Yeshiva, I could learn Torah."
"If only I didn't have so many expenses, I could give more charity."
"If only my spouse were nicer to me, I would be more loving."
"If only I didn't need the extra income, I wouldn't have to work on Shabbat."
All the above "if only's" are merely us, fooling ourselves. If a person thinks that "if only" he had better conditions, then alone could he serve Hashem, he is sorely misleading himself. The truth as that Hashem gives each of us the ideal conditions we need to attain our soul correction and to perform our mission on earth. Hashem gives us the exact conditions we need to get close to Him. One's spouse or lack of spouse, one's children or lack of them, one's employment or lack of a job, one's money or lack of money and every other condition in our lives for the best individual environment for each of us to serve Hashem. Our family members, our neighbors, our schoolmates and every other person in our lives are all the products of precision Divine Providence designed for our personal growth, spiritual perfection and ultimate success. We must simply believe that everything Hashem does is for our ultimate benefit; therefore, everything is good. There is no bad in life, for everything is the result of carefully premeditated Divine Providence designed to help us attain perfection. We don't need the "if only", for each of us has his or her own best circumstances to serve Hashem this very moment.
There's another important lesson we must learn, which holds true both on a material and spiritual level - easy come, easy go. Human beings don't appreciate things that come with no effort. Even worse, what a person attains without effort will ultimately be detrimental to him. Real gain requires real effort. Any gain in life without effort makes a person arrogant, and arrogance always leads to downfall. One who receives a wife without having had to pray for her will likely suffer from her. One who brings children into the world without having had to pray for them, and who considers them the mere physical consequence of conjugal relations, will surely have grief from them. People who are born into riches or who have money that they didn't have to work and pray for are invariably conceited. The same holds for everything else in life.
Our sages tell us (see tractate Megilla, 6b) that if one attains something without effort, don't believe in the reliability of the acquisition. Likewise, if one attains something by concerted effort, then he certainly can believe in the inherent good of the acquisition. This applies to everything, be it money, education, a spouse or even spiritual growth. Without real effort, there is no real gain. In addition, if you've worked hard for something, don't let the evil inclination minimize your efforts, telling you that what you've done is insignificant to Hashem. That's not true! Hashem cherishes every tiny spiritual endeavor a person makes; the more the effort, the greater the value. Our very efforts in Torah, prayer and teshuva are in themselves priceless assets for posterity.
We should only believe that something is genuine after we've worked hard for it. Nothing in life with true value can be attained with little or no effort, especially Torah. The Torah belongs to us all, and we each have our portion in Torah. If he tries hard enough, the son of a ditch-digger can be a lofty scholar. So don't say, "If only my father were a Rebbe or the head of a Yeshiva, I could learn Torah." You can if you want. Go for it!
Rabbi Shalom Arush is an Israeli Breslov rabbi and founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions. He spreads the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov among Sephardic and Ashkenazic baalei teshuva around the world through his books and speaking appearances. Rabbi Arush is considered one of today's leading Hasidic spiritual guides, inspiring hundreds of thousands through his books, audio CDs and online presence.