Sunday, December 4, 2016

We Don't Need Galus Anymore

I am a horrible procrastinator.

Let me restate that. I am actually an excellent procrastinator.

Which is precisely the problem. Procrastination is a trap that self-perpetuates because it works so well. The pressure is mobilizing. Hours before a project is due, each tick of the clock releases a surge of adrenaline that injects acute awareness, precision, and unwavering commitment into the task at hand.

A rabbi once told me that I procrastinate to preserve my self-image. Last-minute success is seemingly more impressive than planned, deliberate progress in which time is on your side. When you procrastinate and succeed, you triumph over the constrictive forces of time, sleep deprivation, and lack of resources. Success in the face of so many enemies is much more self-satisfying than the alternative. It's proof that you can not only succeed under convenient circumstances, but even under the most challenging ones.

The best part is that if you fail, you have an excuse. The circumstances didn't allow for success. Not enough time, not enough sleep. You can convincingly attribute failure to circumstance instead of to personal factors.

Unfortunately, when one relies on the circumstances created through procrastination, the necessity to draw on internal motivation disappears.

I think this phenomenon can teach us something about galus.

We ask when Moshiach will come. When will we want Moshiach enough for him to come?

But for us to really want Moshiach, we need to stop needing galus.

If we're really honest with ourselves, galus only continues because we're dependent on it. It squeezes out the best in us. Darkness and pain blinds us to our differences, unifying us. God gives us tribulations to force us to stretch beyond our natural abilities and raise us to our highest selves. We have a strange codependent relationship with galus in which we elevate it, and it elevates us.

Galus is difficult. God is challenging us to rise to the occasion- but if we only rise when there is an occasion, what's so impressive about that? Of course people come together in difficult times. Of course we will enter into fight-or-flight mode and conquer our natural inhibitions to tackle crisis situations. In a state of darkness and confusion, our light antennae instinctually perk up and we detect more opportunities to bring goodness into the world than we would if we were living in comfortable, peaceful conditions. It's simply our nature.

It's as though we need the challenging circumstances of galus to make us great. In a sense, we do. The purpose of creation cannot be actualized without our descent into galus. It's part of the plan. But galus is simply a means to an end.

The final test of galus is being able to say we don't need the darkness anymore.

We don't need the fear, the despair, the feeling of not belonging in this world. Historically, these were all necessary parts of our progress as a people, but now it's time to let go. We can be great without all of that. We can yearn for geula simply because it is God's deepest desire, and that alone gives it inherent worth. Any reason besides this is external, a symptom of the hardship of galus.

"L'chathila ariber: At the outset, go above!" This well-known chassidic melody proclaims that we shouldn't wait for a challenge to force out the best versions of ourselves. Instead of approaching life reactively- responding to challenges by acting in a heroic fashion- we must live proactively- be extraordinary at the outset, even when circumstances are ordinary.

We need to find the courage to tell galus we don't need it anymore. We need not the force of darkness and finality of rock bottom to propel us upward. We can live looking upward, even when we're comfortable. Sometimes I think it's my nature to be wired to fall deeply before I can ascend. Maybe this is true, but I just keep telling myself: Nature can't compete with the soul.

The essence of procrastination is a reliance on external circumstances to motivate success and excuse failure. We use the challenges of galus in the same way. Galus creates a sense of desperation that motivates us to be our best- and when we fail, it gives us an excuse. Our concern for self-preservation keeps us stuck here, and we confuse stagnation with progress.

Self-actualization does not come from perpetuating hardship. It sounds cliché, but dislodging ourselves from the vicious cycle of galus starts with believing in ourselves and having faith in the innate abilities that God gave us.

The Rebbe told us that Moshiach can only come from us. We need to do the work- not let circumstance do the work for us.