Oiling a Change?

Shift into “How” with a resounding question mark.

Do you know how to change your car’s motor oil? I don’t. When the indicator light is on in my car, I bring it to a mechanic. He changes the filter, puts in new quarts of oil, and usually attaches a clear colorform-like sticker to the top left of my windshield.

I don’t know how to remove the oil, dispose of it, or replace the filter.

But there’s one thing I am sure of. As long as I keep on saying, “I don’t know how to,” that will still be true.

What if I decide that I want to be independent of the gas station and do my own oil changes? I might explore how to do it. I could research it online, ask a handy neighbor’ s advice, or watch a mechanic several times. Perhaps I would do all of those.

A powerful shift would take place as I journey from being unaware to accomplishing. I would go from saying, “I don’t know how to change the oil,” to “How do I change the oil?” Instead of making a statement, I would begin to ask a question. When I would make that shift, I would be speaking volumes. By changing from a statement to a question, I then allow myself to entertain the possibility that I can do it. My sedentary nature becomes activity when I change around a few words and I go from declaring that I don’t know how to to inquiring how to.

Sometimes the most significant transformations in life are represented by moving from a statement to a question. When you ask “How,” you are digging yourself out of the quagmire of helplessness to vistas of possibilities. That shift is the key to any successful endeavor, change, or accomplishment.

When you say “I don’t know how to,” the punctuation is a period. The sentence is over. There is nothing more to discuss. Intervention, learning, or change can only begin to happen if you append an inquisitive, somewhat mischievous hook to its top. It turns into a question mark. One might say that the goals of teaching and psychotherapy are to put that crooked mark on top of the period.

Consider trying this exercise. Next time you find yourself stating “I don’t know how to” do something, change around a few words. Cut of the first three words, “I don’t know,” and begin your sentence with “How.” That seemingly small word shift opens up a universe of possibilities. It dramatically declares to yourself that there are ways for you to do it. Even if you don’t have the requisite skills, knowledge, or acumen, you are indicating that it’s something that you can theoretically accomplish.

Positive experiences begin by changing “I don’t know how” to “How do I?” The boring period becomes an exciting, daring and perhaps impish question mark. That phraseology and bold punctuation mark is the harbinger of being able to achieve.

I still don’t know how to change my oil. I am complacent with keeping that as a statement. But if I want to, or to oil any other change, I would need to make a word shift. I would discard the “I don’t know” and begin with “How do I,” ending with a question mark that hints that a world of possibilities is dawning.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…A Very Good Place to Start

What is your personal Genesis?

The first book of the Bible is called Genesis because it deals with the genesis, or creation, of the universe. The name has its roots in the term used by our Sages, “Sefer HaYetzirah – the Book of Creation.” Nachmanides (Introduction to Exodus) comments that the name refers to another formation as well. The Jewish People was founded as Abraham concretized monotheism and transmitted his beliefs to his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Then, the twelve Tribes of Israel began and laid the groundwork for a nation. Nachmanides elaborates that the Patriarchal lives microcosmically foretold the development of Jewish history. Events that transpired on a miniature scale to the first Jews portended events that would occur again to their offspring. This was national genesis, the creation of a people.

This can be true in the individual realm, too. An aspect of your personal psyche was created long before you were. Your parents, and their personalities, principles, and tendencies, have influenced you since we were born and throughout your life. One answer to “who are you?” is “the child of your parents.” Your genesis began with their creation.

Recognizing that how you assimilate life, manage problems, make decisions, and deal with others is influenced by your parents and your upbringing can be enlightening. That awareness might provide you with greater insight into who you are and where you have been. It might also help you better understand your current life situation and how you can change it.

At the same time, there are pitfalls and roadblocks that you might encounter when you travel down memory lane. It might be exceedingly difficult for you to trace a negative reaction or behavior to parental influence. We are culturally, religiously, and societally inclined to honor and protect our parents. Discovering that something adverse about yourself has its roots in your parents’ behaviors might seem like you are disrespectfully besmirching them. Sometimes, even people that have grown up in homes with severely deficient parents still find it hard to criticize them or see their negative influences with clarity.

A way to approach this resistance might be to suspend your judgement of your mother and father. You might find it productive to think about your parents and how they interacted with you as an observer. You might find it productive to curiously investigate some of their patterns of behavior, reactions, and parenting methods and see how it made you who you are. Your goal might not be to judge them, but to strive for a greater understanding of who you are because of them. The approach of the observer might allow you the freedom to explore your parents and their influences on you without your feeling compelled to pass judgement on them or their actions.

Also, a drawback to exploring and trailing some negativity about oneself to mom and dad is the blame game. There is a certain ease and freeness that might come from dumping your problems on someone else. Noticing that part of who you are comes from your parents can create a degree of scapegoating onto them, which might translate into shirking your own responsibilities. You might contend to yourself that if unfavorable aspects of your psyche were molded so early in life, you must be almost powerless to change them. Even if you were to consider modifying them, it must take a superhuman effort to do that – and you are only human.

It might be worthwhile considering that the aim of understanding where your personality and behaviors come from is not to shift the responsibility to your parents. Instead, greater understanding of “Me’ayin Basa – from where you came” might expose layers of thinking and default behaviors that you maintain as axiomatic. Seeing those thoughts and actions as resulting from your parental modeling and influence might make it easier for you to mold them and adjust them.

This week, we conclude the communal reading of Genesis. Perhaps is it meaningful to thing about your own genesis and how your parents have influenced who you are. Whatever stage of life you are in, it might provide you with a new genesis and a magnificent future in your own book that is still being written.

Consorting With the Enemy

She is guilty by association

Did you ever hear of Timna? She was an extraordinarily outstanding biblical personality who had private conversations with each of the patriarchs. Timna was authentically religiously motivated – designated by the Sages as having true Yiras Shamayim (fear of Heaven). Yet, she became resigned to history at best with anonymity, and perhaps with ignominy.

Timna was a princess in the biblical Horite Dynasty. She deeply desired to convert to the Abrahamic religion. She visited Abraham and he denied her that opportunity. She waited several years and then went to make the same request of his son Isaac. Following his father, he turned down her request. Timna then proceeded to ask the third patriarch to convert her. She requested from Jacob that he let her join the nascent Jewish people. He also demurred.

Timna maintained her yearning to associate with the People of Israel. She renounced her royalty and engaged herself as a concubine to Eliphaz, son of Esau and grandson of Isaac. She explained that she was so desirous of connection to the Nation of Israel that it was more preferable to her to be a lowly concubine in the house of Esau, wayward son of Isaac, rather than a princess to the Horites (Talmud Sanhedrin 99b).

Timna’s about-face is mysterious. Imagine a young American man who was motivated to join the Israeli Army. He was inspired by the Jewish people returning to their homeland after two millennia in exile, surrounded by enemies and fighting the odds. He reached out to the IDF recruitment office, and they politely refused his application. He was disappointed, but had tremendous resolve. He contacted them the next year and they again denied him that opportunity. He was slightly discouraged, but reached out a third time to the recruiters. They still did not allow him to join the Israeli Army. Yet, he still craved a bond with the dream of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. So, as a last resort, he enlisted with the Palestinian Authority. He explained that it was better for him to have some relationship with the Jews in Israel instead of completely abdicating his dream!

Timma was no different. She so desired to connect to the Patriarchs and then ended up consorting with the archenemy, the malignant and belligerent house of Esau?

Timna set a laudable goal. When she encountered roadblocks, she consoled herself with the belief that she was continuing her lofty aim. Her plans were unfruitful and she altered her destination, but she maintained the identical passion, desire, and motivation that she originally had. Unknowingly, she had crossed the line, with her expression of deep yearning now directed toward ignoble goals. She convinced herself she was getting closer to the patriarchs. In reality, she joined the enemy.

There might be a bit of Timna in all of us. We can aspire to goals that are significant, lofty, and important. Sometimes, it becomes evident to us that these goals can’t be met. It can be painful to admit that we need to adjust our aims or reorient our targets. If we do so, it might mean coming to terms with the fact that we failed or made mistakes. Instead, we might surreptitiously change our objectives, but not allow ourselves to realize that we made an adjustment to our original plans. This defense against accepting reality and changing with it can stymie and stifle us, our satisfaction, productivity, and happiness.

It can be exceedingly difficult for us to navigate life journeys. Unknowingly, we can follow paths that we had set, even after they go awry. It is sometimes significant to recognize that different situations arise that might requires new approaches, new strategies, and new goals. Although adjustments can be difficult to swallow, they can result in the long term satisfaction that can come from being more aware of one’s situations and realities, and the goals of being honest and truthful to oneself.

Timna renounced her royalty and her reality. She abdicated her throne, and with it, her honestly to herself. Part of us wants to join Timna. Perhaps we can allow ourselves to see our reality, and with it, discover our own internal royalty.

Identity Theft

Will the Real Andrew Please Stand Up?

Andrew was an actuary in a reputable firm. He felt that he found his “dream job.” He was well versed in actuarial science, so his work, although taxing and challenging, was not grueling and stressful. He worked hard, but was happy with his hours. He had time to study Torah in the morning for an hour and half before he had to go to work, and he had a full night seder (scheduled period for Talmud study). He also was able to be home for supper with his family, and his firm was understanding about his Jewish practices, such as yomim tovim (Jewish holidays)including chol hamoed (the intermediate days of Passover or Sukkos where work is permitted in case of necessity) and not shaving during sefirah and the three weeks (times of communal mourning where it is customary not to shave). He was at his firm for eleven years and presumed that he would be there until he retired or decided he wanted a change.

Suddenly, Andrew received news that left him flabbergasted and speechless. Although his work was exemplary, the firm was told by its Board of Directors that it had to cut costs. His direct boss was given the arduous task of figuring out who would be asked to leave. The boss called in Andrew and told him that he had to leave. He was going to be given a generous severance package, but could not return the next day.

Andrew left the firm that day, but the firm did not leave him. He was hurt, stunned, shocked, and insulted. He mourned the injustice he experienced and the unfair calculations that led to his dismissal. Andrew began to feel depressed, anxious, and generally out of sorts. He didn’t know how to make head or tails out of his experiences and his new situation.

Andrew did not want to share the bad news of his dismissal with anyone, but he mentioned it to one friend. That afternoon, his friend showed up at his with a gift – Who Moved My Cheese. Andrew sat down to read it immediately. The more he read, the more he felt that the book spoke to him. He liked it so much that he read it twice. He felt happier, more content, and ready for action. He was so enthused that he reached out to two colleagues he knew in other firms to find out if there were any openings.

By that night, Andrew was back to his doldrums. He kept on verbalizing some of the lessons of Who Moved My Cheese. “Change happens,” he told himself. “I can adapt,” he remembered. But he began to feel worse and worse.

Andrew’s reactions are expected, and are in accordance with years of research. Psychological literature spanning a long period of time has suggested that job loss results in low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Some researchers (Mendolia, 2014) have highlighted that the major blow suffered after job loss is not because of financial setbacks (Andrew had a great severance package), but because of the emotional and psychological hardships that losing one’s job creates. Current research (Mendolia) even highlights that job loss affects one’s spouse’s mental health. Likewise, the spousal reactions are usually not because of the financial hardships that losing a job sometimes creates. Furthermore, the latest research (Solove, Fisher & Kraiger, 2015) demonstrates that when one is able to uphold his self-esteem after job loss, it is not only easier to manage the joblessness phase, it is also easier for him to obtain another job reasonably quickly.

Andrew met with a psychotherapist to help him with his anxiety and depression and sense of loss. Together, they began to explore the meaning Andrew attached to his former job, to his losing his job, and how Andrew internalized those. As they met, Andrew began to understand that he saw the job as a large part of his identity. It was how he defined himself and how he viewed himself in the eyes of others. It also was a large part of how he saw his own religious identity, since his former job had created time for his to study and to take off for yom tov (Jewish holidays). As Andrew met more with his therapist, he understood that he saw his job as a central to who he was. He worked with his therapist to trace the foundation of how his identity developed (they discovered it predated his job at that firm) and alternate ways to see himself. As with many psychotherapeutic cases, the acute situation that caused Andrew to begin appointments with his therapist was unfortunate, but the self-awareness, self- knowledge, and self-understanding that the therapeutic interventions explored and developed was a great gift for Andrew.

Andrew took advantage of his severance to take time off and explore who he was even more. He met with his therapist twice a week and probed the depths of his identity and existence. After the six months, he began to reapply to jobs. Some were in actuarial science, and some were completely unrelated to it. Within a few weeks he found his new “dream Job,” but he realized that it was really just a job. The dream was within him.

 

References

Mendolia, S. (2014). The impact of husband’s job loss on partners’ mental health. Review of Economics of the Household12(2), 277-294.

Solove, E., Fisher, G. G., & Kraiger, K. (2015). Coping with job loss and reemployment: A two-wave study. Journal of business and psychology,30(3), 529-541.

The Density of Destiny

The Powerful Lesson of the Long Neck

We recently discussed different ways one can approach and encounter change. A method of acceptance and adaptation is outlined and illustrated in Who Moved My Cheese. An additional technique is to challenge and actively modify your situation and environment, as highlighted in I Moved Your Cheese. In the most recent post, I discussed that both attitudes might be valuable and complementary. It is integral to consider your specific life situation as you explore which of the models to internalize.

In a related vein, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a foremost contemporary Orthodox scholar and philosopher, addresses this broad issue in his essay entitled “Kol Dodi Dofek” – Listen – My Beloved Knocks. In that beautiful composition, those same concepts take on deep meaning in dealing with suffering and evil. Rabbi Soloveitchik contrasts two approaches to evil, fate and destiny. Rabbi Soloveitchik articulates that the suffering of righteous people has been a question which the greatest of prophets, including Moses himself, queried of G-d.

Rabbi Soloveitchik expounds that Judaism provides an approach, not an answer. The approach urges one to differentiate between man being an object or a subject. An individual who faces a hardship can sometimes see himself as an unfortunate person acted upon by the unpleasant and unsavory events of life- an object. His reaction is to see the evil as his fate, where he is helpless, shocked, pained, and crushed. When one sees negative events as suffering that he is to endure passively, the result can be tremendous mental anguish, which may result in unanswerable theological or philosophical questions, anger, anxiety, or depression.

On the other hand, Rabbi Soloveitchik continues, Judaism advocates a different approach to evil, one which is silently heroic. A man might not be able to alter his situation. Yet, within the confines of his circumstance, he can aim to understand, plan, and regulate his actions and reactions, and perform within his situational boundaries, becoming an active subject. He can master his own behavior, calculate his behavioral responses, and analyze what the situation demands of him, transforming pathetic fate into majestic destiny.

The primary intent of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s philosophy is to explain that Judaism often mandates specific behaviors in response to emotionally difficult experiences. In his view, a Jewish man of destiny does not seek to modify a situation that he cannot, but examines what behavior the Jewish faith demands of him at the time. On occasion it can be introspection so that he improves his behavior, the recitation of the required brachah (blessing) on negative tidings, or observance of rites of mourning. One can rise to majesty by remaining steadfast in his religious beliefs and actions, and creating his own spiritual destiny within a physically immutable situation.

This approach can be broadened outside the realm of halachically (Jewish legally) demanded actions to explain a general response that one can espouse when he is faced with a struggle such as insufficient finances, poor educational opportunities, or difficulties in relationships. If the situation is incontrovertible, he must maneuver within its margins to accept it, deal with it, and create a best case scenario. In other circumstances, his most appropriate effort might be to challenge his circumstances and attempt to change them.

Sometimes, a man’s persistence and optimism demonstrate both his acceptance of change and his defiance of its supposed limitations. Consider this majestic manifestation of destiny, discussed by Dr.Viktor Frankl in a postscript to Man’s Search for Meaning (Postscript 1984 – The Case for a Tragic Optimism):

Jerry Long, to cite an example, is a living testimony to “the defiant power of the human spirit,” as it is called in logotherapy. To quote the Texarkana Gazette, “Jerry Long has been paralyzed from his neck down since a diving accident which rendered him a quadriplegic three years ago. He was seventeen when the accident occurred. Today Long can use his mouth stick to type. He ‘attends’ two courses at Community College via a special telephone. The intercom allows Long to both hear and participate in class discussions. He also occupies his time by reading, watching television and writing.” And in a letter I received from him, he writes: “I view my life as being abundant with meaning and purpose. The attitude that I adopted on that fateful day has become my personal credo for life: I broke my neck, it didn’t break me (note the play on words making a potential object into a subject –SM). I am currently enrolled in my first psychology course in college. I believe that my handicap will only enhance my ability to help others…”

If [suffering] is avoidable, the meaningful thing to do is to remove its cause. For unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic. If, on the other hand, one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude. Long had not chosen to break his neck, but he did decide not to let himself be broken by what had happened to him (again the object – subject change – SM).

After reading Frankl’s book and contacting Frankl, Long became a friend and then a colleague, of Frankl. You can see Dr. Jerry Long, Jr. and Dr. Viktor Frankl discussing some of their experiences together in this moving video. Long accepted that his cheese was moved, yet might be considered to have broken free of the maze that the cheese was in altogether, transforming what some might have seen as a confining, miserable fate into a heroic, magnificent, destiny.

Don’t Be So Amazed!

Aharon doesn’t like spare change

Not So Moving

In a recent post, we met Aharon and Shabsi. They are chavrusos (study partners) in Yeshivas Torah Lishmah. Their rebbi (rabbinic teacher) had to take an extended absence in the middle of the z’man (semester). Aharon and Shabsi and their entire shiur (class) moved to a different shiur. Aharon and Shabsi both resented the move and their learning and moods suffered. Then Shabsi changed his mindset by reading Who Moved My Cheese, a book that suggests that change is inevitable in life and it should be embraced and dealt with, instead of denied and resisted.

Aharon thought long and hard about Shabsi’s new approach. Although he saw that the lessons of Who Moved My Cheese resonated with Shabsi, it was still hard for him to swallow. Something about accepting change and adapting to it did not sit well with him. He could not elucidate what was bothering him, but he felt an uncertainty within.

The Antithesis

After a few days of thinking about what was concerning him, Shabsi was in the waiting room of his doctor’s office and spied a book with an interesting title. It sounded similar to the book Shabsi had told him about. He inspected it more carefully and saw that this book was called I Moved Your Cheese. He was curious and became even more intrigued when he saw the subtitle – For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze. The author was Deepak Malhotra, a professor at Harvard Business School. Shabsi picked up the book and started reading it. As he read the pages, he noticed that the points of the book resonated with him deeply. Professor Malhotra lucidly stated why Who Moved My Cheese had been hard for Shabsi to swallow. Dr. Malhotra explained that he wrote the book because he had noticed that there were many people that internalized a wrong message from Who Moved My Cheese. They understood that life requires a person to accept change and to adapt to it. Malhotra added that

a key to happiness in life is for a person to have a two part response to change. It is necessary for him to muster internal strength to ask why a change happened and then to ask how he can now conduct his life to master the change –  and his destiny.

These two steps allow him to face change actively instead of being a passive recipient.

Deepak Malhotra used another parable to illustrate his point. He described a mouse named Max who lives in a maze where all the other mice indoctrinated the lesson of not questioning change and accepting it. Max was different. He resolved to figure out who did move the cheese, why they did it, and why the maze was the way it was. Max set out on a journey which took him years and included exiting the confines of the maze. Eventually, Max realized that the maze was a tiny part of a huge research lab where experimenters frequently moved the cheese to measure the reactions of the mice in the maze. Next, Max figured out a way that he could also move the cheese like the experimenters. Max explained that he was then able to redesign the maze and control the other mice by moving their cheese. The next time he heard a mouse exclaim, “Who moved my cheese,” he was going to plainly declare, “I moved your cheese.” Max was able to control the daily activities of his compatriots. But, Max continued, if a single mouse decided that he was going to focus on another goal than cheese or that he was going to leave the maze, Max would have no control over him.

Max’s powerful discovery highlighted the fact that sometimes, people are resistant to change because they feel like prisoners in their life situation. Max would argue that often, the best way to deal with change is to realize that one has the power to change his own circumstances altogether. One might focus on a different goal, or leave the organization or situation that constrains him. Dr. Malhotra’s powerful point is that sometimes it is dangerous to see change as inevitable. Often, it is merely a hurdle that one can muster the internal fortitude to sail over and to succeed.

Shabsi’s Move

I Moved Your Cheese resonated deeply with Shabsi. Although he understood that his chavrusa (study parter) Aharon, was able to adapt to his new shiur, Shabsi felt differently. He reasoned that if he appreciated the specific Talmudic approach of his rebbi, Rav Shlomo Eichenstadt, it might be better for him to find a different arrangement than to adapt to the new learning environment of Rav Leibel Grossbard.

Shabsi began an inquiry among the students of Rav Shlomo that were now in Rav Leibel’s shiur. Nine of them echoed Shabsi’s feelings that it was difficult for them to appreciate the scholastic approach of Rav Leibel. Shabsi asked if they would consider creating their own chaburah (study group). The students were very excited about the idea. First, they approached R’ Elimelch Cohen, a respected man studying in kollel (an advanced Talmud study program), who was one of the foremost students of Rav Shlomo Eichenstadt, and asked him if he would consider being their rosh chaburah (informal study group head) for the month. R’ Elimelech gladly accepted. Next, Shabsi met with Rav Leibel and respectfully explained their situation. Rav Leibel understood that they were only learning in his shiur temporarily and were looking forward to returning to the shiur of Rav  Shlomo. Rav Leibel encouraged them to pursue creating their own chaburah (study group) with R’ Elimelech.

By the end of the week, there were ten students studying in the new chaburah (group) with R’ Elimelech. The energy and excitement was palpable and the hasmadah (intensity of study) was reaching new heights. A few days later, at lunch, one of the talmidim in Yeshiva asked the other about the new group,

“Who moved the chevra (group of students) to the new chaburah (study group)?” Shabsi smiled to himself and thought “I moved the chevra!”

What Moves You?

Which approach to change to do you feel more comfortable with, the ideal of adapting to change, espoused by Aharon, from Who Moved My Cheese, or overcoming change, as accomplished by Shabsi, from I Moved Your Cheese? Perhaps neither works for you, or maybe you feel that both are necessary. What are your thoughts?

 

Can You Spare Some Change?

Aharon and Shabsi were flourishing in Yeshiva until…

The Announcement

Aharon and Shabsi were two yeshiva students who studied together in Yeshiva Torah Lishmah. They were both extremely successful in their learning. The hours of the seder (study period) seemed to pass rapidly as they probed the depth of the Gemara, Rashi and Tosafos (Talmud and central commentaries) then moved to the other Rishonim (medieval commentaries) and, if there was time, to some of the Acharonim (later commentaries). When they got to shiur (class), their comprehension was excellent, they retained what their rebbi (teacher), Rav Shlomo Eichenstadt said, and they used some of the concepts he presented to enrich the next day’s studying.

Toward the middle of the long winter z’man (semester), Rav Shlomo made an announcement. He told the students that, unfortunately, he had to schedule emergency back surgery. The surgery was going to take place in two weeks, but he had to stop giving shiur in exactly a week so that he could make the necessary preparations, including going for tests before the surgery. His eyes teared as he made the announcement, because he felt pained at leaving his beloved students. He added that the recuperation was scheduled to take at least a month. During that time, he suggested that the students move to a parallel shiur, given by Rav Leibel Grossbard. The students were visibly concerned for their rebbi and expressed that to Rav Shlomo. He thanked them for their concern and assured them that, with G-d’s help, everything would be alright.

That day after the shiur, during lunch, the dining room was abuzz. Students were upset that their rebbi was leaving, and were unsure what to expect when they moved to Rav Leibel Grossbard. The students in Rav Shlomo’s shiur came to a consensus that they would all move together to Rav Leibel’s class.

The Move

A week later, after a sorrowful parting, all Rav Shlomo’s students moved to Rav Leibel’s shiur. Both the students and Rav Leibel made an extra effort to be welcoming and considerate of Rav Shlomo’s students and they began to learn as once large chaburah (group). Within a week, Aharon and Shabsi noticed that they did not understand Rav Leibel’s shiur as well. He had a different style of learning than Rav Shlomo and he focused on different nuances in the Talmud and commentaries. Aharon and Shabsi noticed that their difficulties in shiur affected their studying during seder, as well. Both of them observed a decreased drive in their learning the entire morning. Seder seemed longer than ever. They also noticed that their comprehension was decreasing. They did not have the same havanah (comprehension) as they had before and they barely got through the Gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos during seder. To make matters worse, as their learning deteriorated, Aharon and Shabsi started becoming less enthusiastic and a little down, in general. They saw that they didn’t come as on time for shacharis (morning prayers) and they were not as punctual as they usually were for any seder during the day.

Aharon’s Change

Aharon went home for Shabbos and his mother suggested he read a short book called Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, MD. I was a quick read and it made Aharon feel much better. He came back to Yeshiva reinvigorated. His learning got back on track and he began to feel his excitement return. He even became better at understanding Rav Leibel’s shiur and became more and more successful.

Shabsi, who was still in his rut, noticed the change that his chavrusa (study partner) underwent. He asked Aharon what had happened and he told Shabsi about the book he had read. Shabsi gave Aharon a brief summary.

A Bit Cheesy

He explained that the book is a parable which explains different reactions that people have to change.  There are four characters in the book, Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw. Sniff and Scurry are mice, and Hem and Haw are little people. They all live in a maze and are nourished by a generous amount of cheese in Cheese Station C. They return to the cheese station as often as they like and eat until they are satiated. One day, the characters arrive at Cheese Station C and notice that the cheese is gone. Immediately, Sniff and Scurry, unanalytical mice, go through the maze to find an alternate source of cheese. Hem and Haw, who are thinking individuals, are amazed at the injustice they just experienced. They cannot believe that the cheese, the standard they always relied on, was moved. They commiserate in the unfairness and mourn their unfortunate situation. Hem sadly exclaims, “Who Moved My Cheese?” They both bemoan the fact that things are no longer the same. After a while, Hem and Haw discuss trying to find alternate sources of cheese. But they conclude that is too risky to venture to other parts of the maze. In addition, there is no guarantee that they will succeed anywhere else either. They return to Cheese Station C day after day, hoping that the golden days of plentiful cheese will return. They still bemoan how unfair it was that someone moved their cheese, and get hungrier and hungrier. One day, Hem decides that he has no choice but to venture away from Cheese Station C. He gingerly takes a few steps at a time into uncharted territory. After searching for a while, Hem finds other cheese stations, but sees that they, likewise, have no cheese. Yet, the fact that other cheese stations exist gives Hem renewed confidence that it is only a matter of time until he finds more cheese. After a while, Hem finds Cheese Station N, which has even more plentiful amounts of cheese. He is elated and looks back at the road he traversed. He notices that he learned several important lessons, which he writes on the wall of Cheese Station N. These include:

Change Happens: They Keep Moving the Cheese

Adapt To Change Quickly: The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, the Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese

Change: Move With the Cheese

Enjoy Change!: Savor the Adventure And Enjoy the Taste Of New Cheese!

Shabsi explained that the book helped him realize that many people are resistant to change. They analyze it and conclude that it is unfair and that they don’t like it. This causes them to be resistant to the inevitable change and holds them back from succeeding in life. Shabsi continued that he realized that the change from Rav Shlomo’s shiur to Rav Leibel’s shiur was like his cheese. He was upset he had to move and reluctant to accept the new circumstances. His adherence to the way things were inhibited him from embracing his new situation. With this insight, he decided that he could adapt to Rav Leibel’s shiur. Even though the rebbi’s style in learning and explanation were different than what he was used to, he tried to appreciate Rav Leibel’s shiur for its own benefits and began to enjoy it and grow from it. His new insight infused him with more energy and he noticed himself succeeding more throughout his day.

Life Changes

Like Shabsi, many people report that they have gained from Who Moved My Cheese. Tens of millions of copies of the book have been sold, and it has spent years on the New York Times bestseller list. The New York Times acclaimed it as “brilliant in its simplicity” and Time Magazine called it “The bestselling business book of all time.” It was lucidly summarized and made into an animated video, which is publicly available on Youtube.

The book’s demand demonstrates that the predicament faced by Hem and Haw are shared by so many. Changing shiurim is one of the many examples of change people undergo. Sometimes the changes are in the social situation of a yeshiva or seminary, such as changing rooms or moving locations. Other times the changes include moving from singlehood to marriage, from kollel (full-time, advanced Talmud study) to the workforce, or from couplehood to parenthood. We all face changes in our lives and often tend to hem and haw about them. It seems that the more quickly we embrace those change, the better life can be.

Not So Simple

Aharon appreciated Shabsi’s explanation and insight and left their conversation deep in though. He understood Shabsi’s points and thought about integrating them into his own life. What do you think about the book’s point? Does it strike a chord within you? There might be reason to say it should – like it did for millions of others. At the same time, the solution might not be as simple as it sounds. There are other perspectives to use to understand the students’ reactions to their situation. Those approaches could take into account other factors, including Aharon and Shabsi’s families, prior experiences –  in general and in yeshiva – and how they view themselves.

Let’s visit Aharon in a post next week to hear some of his reactions to Who Moved My Cheese. We will also explore the students’ experiences further. Meanwhile, are you going to keep the change?