ONE STEP AT A TIME : A major impediment to growth is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. But Judaism is not all-or-nothing. If I cannot have 1,000 gold coins, does that mean I should not strive to have even one?! The biggest reason people fail is that they have set a goal which is too lofty and unattainable. We inevitably fall short and get discouraged. In Jacob's famous dream, God shows him a vision of a ladder reaching toward heaven. Spiritual growth, like climbing a ladder, must be one step at a time. By setting small, incremental goals, we will be encouraged by the periodic success. To make the plan foolproof, make your initial goal something you know you can reach. Tasting success will bolster your confidence and determination, and you can use this energy to strive for higher goals. Remember, the longest journey begins with just one step. And what goes in slow, will remain. The story is told of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter (19th century Europe) who took upon himself to lead an entire city back to Torah observance. He set up a weekly class and began by telling them, "If you have to work on Shabbat, at least try to minimize the violation." In today's lexicon, that would mean walking instead of driving, or setting your TV on a timer. With this approach, Rabbi Salanter was able over a few years to turn the community around to full Shabbat observance -- one step at a time. Take pleasure in the times you achieved your goal, and use that as a motivation to improve further. Don't castigate yourself if you do not always succeed. No human being is perfect. The Kabbalists say that spiritual growth is "two steps forward and one step back." We will inevitably have setbacks. What's important is that we're heading in the right direction. King Solomon tells us in Proverbs (24:16): "The Tzaddik falls seven times and gets up." The definition of a Tzaddik is not someone who never makes a mistake, but rather someone who, although he may fail, does not give up. He tries again and does not despair!
One important principle to remember is that you are not competing with anyone but yourself. Secular society has accustomed us to compete against others -- whether in business or on the tennis court. Of course, healthy competition is good. But life is not a race to beat the other guy; life is only a race to conquer yourself. As we climb the ladder, it's more important which direction we're headed than which rung we're on. Nowhere in the entire Torah is the date of Shavuot mentioned. It merely takes place at the end of 50 days -- because the key is to get there at your own pace, following these steps. To maintain growth, a good rule of thumb is to always be a bit uncomfortable. You don't want to climb a ladder and get stuck between rungs! It also helps to reinforce your goals by writing them down. Writing helps a person to concentrate and clarify his thoughts. A business person would surely write out goals and keep an accurate tally of their progress. In Judaism, this is called Cheshbon -- a spiritual accounting. Keep a notebook for writing down these daily goals, and make a chart to track your progress. Place this in a conspicuous place like in your daytimer or on the refrigerator, and then review your goals by reading them aloud. The Torah, in describing the Omer, says, "count for you" (Leviticus 23:15) -- because each person has to do this for himself, speaking it aloud. Strategize! As with anything, the key is consistency. Choose a convenient time and commit to working on this at least 15 minutes every day. Don't postpone learning for "afterwards," at which time it becomes late and you may be too tired. Say to yourself that you are going to dedicate 15 minutes and nothing is going to stop you. Close your door, unplug your phone, and log offline. If you need a daily reminder, try the buddy system. Ideally, at the end of the Omer process, we will have experienced a journey of self-improvement and be ready to receive the Torah. The holiday we're working toward is called "Shavuot," which means "weeks." The name itself tells us that without the weeks of preparation beforehand, there is no Shavuot. So don't just count the Omer -- make the Omer count.

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