Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | January 3, 2015

Attitude Control

In scientific terms, attitude control is not how a spaceship feels about its mission; it’s essentially the direction in which it is pointed.  The attitude will determine where the ship ends up and even a little error can send it millions of miles off course.  That’s why they use mini-thrusters to make adjustments when necessary.spaceship

If you think about it, our human attitudes are quite similar.  How we look at something can make a huge difference in the conclusion we reach or the place we end up mentally and emotionally.

I once had to make a long car trip for work.  I didn’t know the roads and it was a gray, drizzly, day with low visibility.  Driving was difficult and would have been much more pleasant if it wasn’t raining.  I was about to daven that HaShem make the rain stop when I remembered something.

On Yom Kippur, in the Holy of Holies, the Kohain Gadol would pray that the year be rainy, and HaShem not accede to the requests of travelers that the rain stop.  The world needed the rain, yet these travelers could have deprived it of this life-giving force with their heart-felt prayers that the rain was an impediment to them.  Imagine that the Kohain Gadol had to waste the precious few moments he was given in the Kodesh Kedoshim by praying that HaShem disregard the requests of people asking for the wrong thing!

I realized that this was precisely what I was about to do.  Here I was, driving, and in my self-absorption, I almost did exactly the thing the Kohain Gadol had to fend off.  Instead, I had a flash of inspiration, a mini-thruster, if you will, which put me back on course.  What was my problem with the rain?  It was that it made the driving more difficult.  So, I prayed, “HaShem, please help me drive without being impeded by the rain.”  Situation solved with a little attitude control!

I didn’t have to ask for the rain to stop, I just had to put it in perspective and make the right kind of prayer, one that took the planet’s need for water into account.  If the travelers at the time of the Bais HaMikdash had done that, who knows what the Kohain Gadol might have had the chance to ask for?

How often do we say things to people that sound good but are really not?  When someone loses a loved one, we go to comfort the mourners.  Frequently, people say the prescribed phrase, “May ‘HaMakom’ comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim,” and want to set themselves apart as well.  They add some well-intentioned words like, “You should only know simchas (happy events.)”  A dear friend of mine told me (while I was sitting shiva) that that’s ridiculous.  Everyone has sorrows and wishing people not to have them is an empty blessing.  Instead, he told me, “May we always share everything with a full measure of simcha.”  It’s not about the event, but our response to it.

As I’ve quoted from Rabbi Michel Twerski, the Hornosteipler Rebbe of Milwaukee, in the past, when HaShem said to Moshe, “What is in your hand?” it can be explained to mean, “What is in your control?”  Moshe replied, “Mateh, a staff.”  Says the Rebbe, the word ‘mateh’ comes from the root meaning ‘to turn.’  Moshe’s response to HaShem was, “All I am in control of is my reaction to the things You send my way.”

And that’s a big deal.  When we left Egypt, HaShem did not take us through the land of the Plishtim, which would have been an easier journey.  Why?  Because if everything would have been easy, then we would have collapsed at the first sign of difficulty.  If one is used to things going his way, then when he doesn’t get his way it can be hard to deal with it.

What could be better than wishing someone that everything go smoothly?  I’ll tell you what.  Wishing them that when things don’t go smoothly, they will be able to handle them with finesse, and even enjoy the challenge.  Some cars are great when you’re on a freshly-paved highway, but when there are pits and potholes they become a nightmare to drive.  As you bounce up and down you cringe each time and curse the highway department for not fixing them.

Other cars, though, are made for off-roading and as the drivers bounce up and down they’re whooping and hollering with glee at the adventure.  They love it and go back for more.  Now, I’m not saying you should ask for problems, but if you can look at them as off-roading trips, when the normal course of life is disrupted by ruts and hills, you will be much better able to enjoy the WHOLE trip.

Which is where attitude control comes in.  If you can find the power to shift your thinking when faced with a problem, you can often get yourself back on course.  With a few bursts of the thrusters to reposition your mind, you’ll be surprised to find out just how far you can go.

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