A Recipe for Transformation
By Rabbi Carmit Harari
Temple Beth Ora — Edmonton, AB
Recently, I was lamenting to a friend about how much I missed my favorite clothing retailer from the States, Ann Taylor Loft, when she made a simple, pragmatic suggestion: order online. What a clever idea! And I’d seriously consider it, save for one tiny little issue: I am an instant gratification addict. I have absolutely no patience, and therefore, the idea of ordering something online, and the accompanying waiting period are pure torture as far as I’m concerned. So torturous, in fact, that I’m sometimes willing to spend more money for the same item if it means that I can get it a few days sooner. You might even call me an instant gratification junkie. It’s why I buy have to buy books and DVD’s on the day that they’re released, or go nuts if I Can’t get through them in that same 24 hour period….
Anyone else share this quality? The truth is, we all do, at least to some degree. In a world ruled by e-mail, text messages, and social media, something that happened yesterday is ancient news. We expect immediate replies to every question, and we get annoyed when we haven’t heard back from the person we e-mailed 12 seconds ago…We like to get everything instantly; just look at the world around us: Convection ovens and stovetops that boil water in ninety seconds, high speed internet and streaming live video. We like to have what we want when we want it and God forbid we should have to wait…just think about your reaction the last time a company you phoned put you on hold… The fact is we live in an instant age. But what happens when something cannot be rushed?
We made it! We’re finally here! It’s Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and we are all chomping at the bit a fresh start. And is it any wonder? We’ve spent a month in spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe, as well as ten days of intense self-examination. Being used to instant gratification, we imagine today as a day where the slate gets wiped clean, and the change within us takes place automatically. I know I’m a completely different person when I walk out the door tomorrow night. Aren’t you? Wait, what’s that you say? Change doesn’t work like the reset feature on an electronic device – it starts acting up and with the push of a button you can restore the device to its original settings? If only life were so easy…Change is anything but automatic. Sorry to be the barer of bad news, but it takes sometimes a significant amount of time. And what’s worse, that’s not all that change requires…
Since we’ve only just begun our fast, I hope you’ll indulge the metaphor that’s coming next. Change, like baking, requires a recipe. Ever try to replicate grandma’s cookie recipe? If she was clever, grandma likely shared the process for re-creating her famous sweet treats, save for one ingredient. And of course, you could go crazy, trying time after time to replicate her baked goods, and each time, falling short. Grandma’s recipe will never be quite right without that final ingredient, and transformation, like her cookies, will never be able to happen unless all the ingredients are in place in the recipe.
Yes, change has a recipe. I share it with you tonight- without removing any ingredients. To affect change, mix equal parts perseverance, effort, patience, and desire [to change], and bake at medium heat for approx 355 days. As recipes go, this one sounds pretty simple, but the irony is that most of us can’t seem to follow it. We expect instant results from Yom Kippur, as if we really could walk out the door after ne’ilah, completely different, better people than we walked in. Or, we talk about change in the future, rather than the present, because we’re never quite ready to truly take it on. But just like you can’t bake a chocolate cake without chocolate flavoring, you can’t create change without all of the above ingredients.
Real change, transformation , is a process. It takes time, and requires the individual not only to buy into the method, but to commit to its completion. Change is complex and takes time, and if any one ingredient is off or missing, that transformation cannot occur. Let’s take a closer look at each of those ingredients:
Perseverance- How many times have you made up your mind to take on a project, and somewhere near the middle, maybe even toward the end, just gotten so tired that you couldn’t quite finish it? It takes real determination to clean your apartment or go through your closet, make your friend’s birthday gift from scratch, by hand, or finish that thousand-page novel. If you’re like me, you’ll start a project and quickly get distracted or lose interest when the results aren’t quickly apparent. In the case of my personal weight loss goal, it has taken significant resolve not to allow myself to quit Weight Watchers every time I gain back a pound or two. Change means shifting old habits. Change means seeing the big picture even when individual elements are disappointing, and continuing to work toward it. Perseverance means trudging on, in the face of challenges and difficulties, even when all you want to do is throw your hands up in the air and admit defeat. And perseverance is the first ingredient in the recipe for change.
Effort- as much as it pains us to hear it, real change requires effort. It is, perhaps, a daunting reality, but a very significant one, if we are to affect true change in our lives. When you were a kid, did you ever wish really, really, I mean reeeeeaaaaalllly hard for something to happen, like the shiny, brand new bicycle or the video game you wanted to appear in your room one day? Remember how disappointed you were when that wish, no matter how pure, and how earnest, simply didn’t come true? The fact is that only in the movies do stuffed animals come to life, or toys appear out of thin air. And so too, only in our imaginations can the changes we often dream of- significant changes in our appearance overnight, financial windfalls, or fancier homes and cars with all the latest gadgets- take place without at least a modicum of effort. Just wishing change cannot bring it about. If we want something, we have to put in the work in order to make it happen. If we didn’t, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much. When we earn something, it can feel tremendous. When we put in the effort, we can see real change start to occur- over time. And though it’s hard to do sometimes, when we work towards a goal, we can meet and even surpass it.
Patience- Given the aforementioned issue surrounding instant gratification, I feel the need to emphasize this ingredient: Patience. Containing our excitement, our nervous energy, our momentum, can be extraordinarily difficult- especially when we’re expecting to see change. When we’re anticipating results, it can be difficult to have patience, but if we aren’t able to slow down, to give our spirits time to shift and alter, then we will have set ourselves up for failure even before we’ve started. Unlike a birthday party, where opening presents at any point doesn’t change the outcome of the happy day, patience is, as they say, a virtue, especially where transformation is concerned. Having patience allows us to appreciate the journey toward change. It allows us to fully comprehend the magnitude of the alteration we are about to undergo. Patience is a key ingredient in this recipe; it sweetens the process in its entirety.
Desire [to change] – this final ingredient in our recipe, is perhaps, the most important. You can put in all the effort, even see the big picture and hang in when the going gets tough. But if you don’t have the desire to change, if you don’t believe in your own ability to do so, then that’s all you’ll be doing- hanging in there- for a really, really long time…We are our own harshest critics, so it is easy to get down on ourselves when we hit speed bumps along life’s journey. But perhaps most detrimental to most of our experiences, the reason why we get caught up in old habits we seem to be unable to alter, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t believe that we can change, if we try to transform without truly believing in our ability to do so, we’ll be left spinning our wheels, like a car stuck in the mud. A belief in one’s ability to change, a belief that you CAN break old habits and you CAN be the person you want to be, is perhaps the single most important element in this equation. When you believe in yourself, ANYTHING is possible.
Now, you may have noticed that our recipe calls for an inordinately long baking time: approx. 355 days. This is no error or typo; it is a reflection of the process that is transformation. If we really want to change our actions and behaviors, our interactions with others, or even the way in which we see the world, it’s going to take time, and, as the medium oven temperature in our recipe implies, constant or at least consistent attention. As I learned from my failed attempts at living 10 days mirror-free, you can’t just dedicate a period of time to a project and expect results- at least not this kind of project. If I really wanted to ignore or at least minimize my outside in favor of a good hard look at my inside, I might have been better served to dedicate an hour a day to the hard work of cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of my soul, rather than simply ignoring my physical reflection completely in favor of only my spiritual one. Like a crash diet, narrowly focusing on my goal- and only on my goal – for a short period of time, means I’m more likely to slip right back into those habits I wanted to break in the first place. Deprivation doesn’t work when it comes to food and it doesn’t work when it comes to change. If we truly want to transform, we need to focus on that transformation daily, throughout the year. At the very least, we need to look in our creation every so often, to open the oven door and have a peek at how the runny batter we put into the oven today, is coming together and turning into something different. If we forget, we run the risk of under-baking – in behavioral terms this means slipping right back into old habits – or burning- going to the other extreme, losing who you are in your new behavior. Change is about building on your core, growing emotionally and spiritually, in small increments, over time.
Ever try to bake a challah without yeast? The dough can’t go through the rising process required for the ideal texture, and you’re left with something unappetizing at best…When you find yourself discouraged a few weeks from now, when you feel like you’ve scratched up the clean slate with which you walk out tomorrow, go back to the recipe and ask yourself: What ingredient am I forgetting? Though pinches and approximations work in cooking, and the ability to improvise elevates a cook, change works more like the chemistry of baking, where every ingredient has a purpose, and careful measurements and timing are key.
This year, aspire to be like Duff Goldman, the Ace of Cakes, or the Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss. Take on the challenge of baking up this recipe for change- you might be amazed at the creation you end up with! Perseverance, effort, patience, and a desire [to change]- these are the ingredients that make up the recipe for change. It’ll likely take a year to see real results, but as the saying goes: Good things come to those who wait.
G’mar Chatimah Tovah
May you be sealed for a good New Year