Saturday, June 4, 2016

Finishing The Job

R' Itiel Gilady

Lecturer in the School for the Soul and Editor of the Writings of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg

I often start things that I do not finish. I start at the beginning, with Bereishit, to study the Torah with the commentary of the Ramban, but I fall by the wayside at the beginning of Vayikra. I enthusiastically join a new cycle of the Daf Yomi (daily Talmud study), but I do not even finish the tractate of Berachot. I participate in a course, but I never do the final project. I write a final report for a course, but I get stuck before I submit it to the teacher. I work on a promising project, but it gets stuck before it yields any real results.

Are you familiar with this problem? It is not a difficulty in making decisions or changes, but it involves a problem with getting to the finish line. Our tradition teaches us that "credit for a mitzva goes to the one who finishes performing it" [Devarim Rabba 8:4], but there are some people who never reach an end when doing a mitzva...

Not Followed by another Task

A person who starts things but never finishes lives in a perpetual state of frustration, even if he or she is not always aware of the reason for the feeling. The continuous experience of things which did not reach the end, of getting stuck in the middle of the way, can lead to feelings of despair, which is a well-known source of bad elements in a person's soul.

Among the forces of the soul, the power of dedication to a goal belongs to the "shell" of "hod" – beauty – which is internally linked to "temimut" – the ability to continue things until the very end. When the force of dedication is lacking, we say that "My 'hod' has become destructive." A beginning without an end is a source of "bleeding," it adds to the soul an impure feeling of sadness and despair. "Hod" is transformed into a feeling of sadness all day long.

Our mentor the Baal Shem Tov – the greatest healer of the soul who ever lived – teaches people "to be complete in serving the Holy One, Blessed be He – to accomplish complete tasks." Our sages call this "a task that is not followed by another task." This is a job which has reached its proper conclusion. How can we learn to do this?

Just a Small Additional Effort

At a simple level, recognition of the problem is half way to the solution: A person who knows that he or she has difficulty finishing must pay special attention to the words of the sages: "When one starts to perform a mitzva, he is told: Finish it!" It is true that "all beginnings are difficult," but there are those who need to make the most strenuous effort just to continue on their path, during the mundane stage of fulfilling an obligation, after the initial enthusiasm has waned and when difficulties arrive.

Part of the trait of "hod" is to accept the truth of the obligation to finish the task even when its importance seems to have dulled somewhat. There are also those who survive for almost the entire length of a mission but need special strength at the very end. When it seems that everything is almost finished, a final effort is needed to reach the finish line – one more "white night" to finish the task, some special "finish," or a solution for some problem that came up at the last minute and which must be overcome. Acknowledging that the end is not an automatic consequence of the beginning helps a person gather the special strength needed to finish the task at hand.

You are not Required to Finish the Job

However, there are times when despair, based on many years of experience, overcomes the ability to renew the strength, even when the difficulties have been recognized in advance. There are also cases when the problem of completing a task stems from perfectionism. The desire that every single aspect must be perfect is the archenemy of the ability to complete a task and to accept that it is necessary to be satisfied with the current state of the work. The solution then becomes to understand "complete work" in the opposite way – not a desire for "completeness" which leaves the person frustrated by its imperfections but a mission by G-d which views every act as divinely complete. A person must develop a feeling that what he has done is complete, sufficient for the task, and has value, and that there is no need for additional finishing steps. My work "does not need any work to follow it" because it stands alone. Even if I came to the world for the one element which I studied today – it is "enough."

This is a different aspect of the shell of "hod," and when a person lives with this feeling every minor action fills him with thanks and joy that he is "partaking of a meal to help complete the Torah." The change in mental outlook which allows the joy of finishing every minor element gives a person faith in his ability to reach a conclusion. This can free him from the stress of perfectionism and give him the strength to continue on the proper path with new beginnings and endings – with the help of G-d, who brings all things to their proper conclusion.

(Based on a lesson by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg, A Day of Study of the Soul, 13 Av, 5769.)