Three years ago a new self-help fad swept the world. Offering nothing less than everything from unimaginable wealth to happiness and finding one’s soul mate, the people behind the fad claimed they had discovered a very old “secret” that had been carefully guarded and handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, across many cultures. Presenting this secret to the masses for the first time, they called their film documentary and accompanying book, “The Secret.”
And they made a mint.
After one gets past the glitter, the underlying core of the “secret” is a powerful idea expressed in the Talmud that has special relevance to Rosh Hashana.
The operative dynamic behind “the secret” is a concept called the “Law of Attraction”:
Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind. It’s what you’re thinking.
You become what you think about most, but you also attract what you think about most....
Long ago, the rabbis of the Talmud said: “The way a person wishes to go is the way he will be led” (Makkos 10b). If a person really wants to do something -- for good or bad -- all the elements of the world surrounding him will help him go in that direction. The universe will conspire to help him achieve his burning desire.
What we truly want is where we are going to be led.
What we want – really want -- is where we are going to be led.
The Wise of Heart
A verse in the Bible reads, “To those who are wise of heart I have given wisdom” (Exodus 31:6). If you are only given wisdom after you have a wise heart, how do you get a wise heart in the first place? It’s a catch-22.
The answer is that the hallmark of a person who is “wise of heart” is that they have a burning desire for wisdom. If they have the desire, then the wisdom will come.
The emphasis in the verse is the word heart: If the heart desires it then the wisdom will come. What you want has to be not just an intellectual understanding, but something that is pounding inside of your heart. If your heart is numb, you do not act. You only act when you truly desire it.
First Thing in the Morning
The great 18th century sage the Vilna Gaon suggested using this technique first thing in the morning. There is a special intensity about early morning thoughts -- those moments of reverie while in our beds even before fully awakening.
If your first thought in the morning is connecting to what you want -- what you really want -- you will get up with energy. You'll be focused and won't get sidetracked by distractions. And things will happen. A practical solution will come to mind. People will call and say yes. Doors will open.
So what's important to you? Which way is your arrow pointed? What did you get up this morning thinking? What was your first desire in the day?
Whatever is truly in your heart, the day will conspire to help you achieve it.
Sometimes life sends you a situation to test the strength of your resolve. For example, if you have decided that you are not going to get angry today you may nevertheless find yourself in a clear anger-producing situation. If you pass the test you will be much stronger for it and much better equipped to handle situations like it in the future. It is like a rocket leaving the atmosphere: it struggles mightily against gravity, but then reaches the point where it finally breaks into space and the resistance is over.
The beginning of anything is the burning desire to do it.
You are what you want
The yardstick of who we are is what we want. What do you want? Do you become excited when it comes to doing something unhealthy and unholy? Are you eager and anxious to do something healthy and good? What you want is a measuring rod of who you are.
Dig down to the root of what you really want.
You have a golden opportunity right now, and every morning, every day, to rethink what you want. If you take time, even a few minutes, to think about what you want, it can help you dig down to the root of what you really want. And from there everything can begin to flow.
Although this opportunity exists every day, on Rosh Hashana this question is the focal point. Rosh Hashana is the day to infuse the whole year with want we want. If we’ve been wanting the wrong things, we can affect of global change in our beings on Rosh Hashana by truly yearning for the right things.
On Rosh Hashana you are setting the direction of the upcoming year. Following through on what we want is what the rest of the year is about. Rosh Hashana is about wanting the right things, because what we want -- really want -- is where we will be led.
The Conflicted Heart
But there are many times when we don't seem to have the things we want. Since where I am is clearly not where I want to be, how can it be that we are led to where we want to be?
First, an inventory check is required. Perhaps they have more than they think, including the very thing they want, but just do not realize it.
At other times, the desire does not come to fruition because God does not want it to come about for whatever reason. There are circumstances beyond our control, for our own good.
Yet, at other times, there is a middle situation -- where the person has been given the power in his hands to change his situation. That is the person who harbors conflicting desires. He truly wants one thing, but at the same time has a desire that conflicts with it. The second desire may be unconscious, but it creates an ambivalence that reduces his focus, energy and ability to follow through.
For instance, a person may say he has a desire to make money but at the same time he has a little voice telling him that “money is the root of all evil.” A battle takes place in his heart every time he goes out to conquer the world financially. He starts out with tremendous energy, and then obstacles get in the way. Suddenly “money is the root of all evil” echoes in his head, whether he consciously hears it or not. "Why I am wasting my time?" he tells himself. So he gives up.
The same conflict may exist in spiritual matters: he wants to do good but he thinks that do-gooders are naïve, foolish or not “cool.” Or at the same time he wants to be good he has a lust for doing something not good. And even if he wins the battle, the cost can zap him of energy needed to make a real breakthrough.
A verse in Psalms says: “A pure heart – create within me, God” (51:12). The heart is equivalent to what you want. We were born to want what is good. However, as we go on in life we can lose touch with this natural instinct. When we pray to God to “purify our hearts” we are asking Him to “purify our desires.”
The purer the desire of the heart, the more likely the person will succeed. The more intense the yearning is, the greater the chance for achievement.
If your heart isn't really in it, chances are it will not last. A person is led in the direction of his desire – only when he deep down truly wants it. If a person has things that are holding him back it could be a sign that, to some degree, he does not want it badly enough.
What can such a person do?
There are no simple answers, but the starting point is the belief in the power of small steps. One success leads to another success. And that success leads to another success. Eventually, a critical mass of successes is created and out of nowhere a breakthrough happens.
A slight improvement in direction means that you are not static. The worst thing is to stay in one place. The definition of being alive is to change, to move. Even slight changes should not be dismissed. To the contrary, focus on slight changes. Those are the ones that will create momentum in the right direction.
Even a lifetime of desire for the wrong things can be reversed with that one small first step.
The Art of Wanting
The more a person has a unity of purpose, the more he summons up powers he did not even know he had. It starts once you determine that you are going to make it happen, when there is a total agreement in the human being that this is where I have to be pointed.
The key is the intensity of the wanting. Like any art you have to work at it. This is what it takes to transform your true want -- your initial will -- into tangible manifestations in the world.
The Hebrew word for “will” is 'ratzon,' from the root 'ratz,' to “run.” Just as physical strength and stamina are dependent upon the intensity of one’s workout regime, the strength of the ratzon is dependent upon its intensity.
A laser beam is light that is concentrated. Imagine a very sunny day. Now imagine you have a magnifying glass on that very sunny day and focus the light on a single spot. You can make a fire. It is the same light that is shining all around, however now the magnifying glass is focusing it.
The difference between success and failure is often the ability to concentrate, to focus all of one’s attention on a single goal. Focus is more important than raw intelligence. Single-mindedness can propel a person with a lesser mind to greater achievements than a person with a greater mind who is not as focused. A fast-working mind is not necessarily a focused mind.
Wanting is the basis of who we are and what we are most responsible for. It all starts there. And Rosh Hashana is the day, more than any other day, to hone your craft, to work on the art of wanting.
Many of the ideas in this article are based on a series of lectures by Rabbi Noach Orlowek.