02 Aug Willpower
The Gemora in Berachos [14b] reveals a wonderful promise: Whoever says Tehilah l’Dovid (Ashrei) three times a day can be confident that they are a member of the Afterlife. The Gemora promptly asks: Why is this true for this particular chapter of Tehillim? The Gemora answers in part because it contains the critical verse, “Posei’ach es yodecha umasbi’ah l’chol chai ratzon – You (Hashem) open up Your hand and satisfy every living being’s desires.” The Gemora’s answer begs the question: What is so fundamental about this verse that it guarantees one who follows its sentiment a berth in the Afterlife? The Yechi Reuven explains that this posuk champions the power of one’s ratzon, one’s will. As the Gemora states in Makkos [10b], “B’derech she’hadom rotzeh leileich molichin oso – In the way a person wants to go, Hashem leads him.” Or, as Rav Nachman of Breslov, Zt”l, Zy”a, put it succinctly, “Ein dovor omeid bifnei haratzon – Nothing stands in the way of one’s will.”
The word ratzon has the same Hebrew letters as the word tzinor, a pipeline, for one’s will acts as a conduit to bring down from Heaven the power to bring one’s will to fruition. Thus, we find by the wicked Bilaam that Hashem initially told him not to go with the messengers of Balak to curse the Jewish people. ‘It’s a fool’s mission.’ ‘How can you curse a blessed people?’ But the very next day, Hashem tells Bilaam, ‘If the nobles of Balak are coming for you, go with them.’ How strange. First, Hashem categorically says not to go and the next day He says to go. The Gemora explains that Bilaam had a ferocious ratzon to go. He wanted the international glory and incredible treasures that Balak promised him. And, ‘the way a person desires, that is the way they are led.’
The Vilna Gaon, Zt”l, Zy”a, considers the mission of developing the right desires to be so vital that he reveals it is one of the six critical life pursuits that are embedded in the mnemonic of the first word of the Torah, Bereishis, They are: Beis, bitachon, trust in Hashem; Reish, ratzon, having the right will; Alef, ahava, which embraces love for Hashem, your fellow man, love for your spouse, etc.; Shin, shtika, silence, knowing when to keep your mouth shut; Yud, yirah, fear of Hashem; and Tof, Torah.
Now, let’s get practical. Since we all want to have a nice portion of the Afterlife, we all need to develop the proper desires that will fuel our success in life. After considering the issue, I realized that one of the things that strongly formulates our desires is the environment that we are in. If the people around us put a premium on imbibing the finest single-malt scotch, that will become a big desire. If their sense of worth is measured by the car that they drive, the house they live in, the summer home they possess, and the posh weddings that they make, then that will be one’s major desire. But, if one lives in an environment where finishing masechtas, having children talmidei chamamim, and davening a good Shemone Esrei are the trappings of success, then these will be the goals of their desires.
Another great help towards having the proper desires is the study of mussar. Classics such as the Mesilas Yeshorim, Chovos HaLevovos, Malos HaMidos, all whom have been translated into English, are great ways to acquire the right desires. Finally, having a Rebbe or Mechaneses also is a great way to develop the right ratzonos. As the Alter of Slabodka, Zt”l, Zy”a cautions, it’s not enough to want to want. You must really want to never lose your temper at home, to spend more time with your children, to make your spouse happy, to learn Torah every twelve hours, to give lots of charity, to gladden the hearts of your parents.
In the merit of developing the right ratzon, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful. May this be a zechus for the speedy refuah sheleima of my Rebbetzin, Miriam Liba bas Devorah, besoch shaar cholei Yisroel.