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Wednesday, 20 September, 2017 - 1:12 pm

A little boy talked to himself as he strutted through his backyard, wearing his baseball cap and toting a bat and ball. “I’m the greatest hitter in the world,” he announced. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung at it, and missed.

“Strike one!” he yelled. He picked up the ball and said again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” He tossed the ball in the air, swung, and missed. “Strike two!” he cried.

The boy then paused to examine his bat and ball carefully. He spit on his hands and rubbed them together, straightened his cap and said once more, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” He tossed the ball up and swung. He missed. “Strike three!”

“Wow,” he exclaimed. “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!” In life, all of us strike out from time to time. We shouldn’t focus on the strikes. Let’s focus on what we do right.

What are G-d’s first words in the Bible? What do they say about Him?

G-d opening words are:  “Let there be light!”

That is what G-d is about. He brings light out of darkness, order out of chaos, joy out of sorrow, peace out of conflict. That is what Judaism is about: filling the world with light—the light of love, the light of Torah, the light of compassion, the light of peace, the light of redemption.

But in order to bring light into the world, we must first find it within ourselves.

In 2007, two Harvard researchers, Alia Crum and Ellen Langer, published a study of hotel maids and their exercise habits. The average hotel maid cleans 15 rooms a day, and each room takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete. Take a moment and imagine an hour in the life of one of these maids — walking, bending, pushing, lifting, carrying, scrubbing and dusting. What they are doing, in short, is exercising.

But the maids didn’t seem to recognize what they were doing as exercise. At the beginning of the study, 67 percent of them reported that they didn’t get any exercise at all.

Crum and Langer were curious about what would happen if the maids were told that they were exercise superstars. One group of maids got the good news: They received a document describing the benefits of exercise, and they were told that their daily work was sufficient to get those benefits. Meanwhile, maids in another group weren’t told that their work was a good form of exercise.

Four weeks later, the researchers checked in with the maids and were astounded to find that the maids who’d been told that they were good exercisers had lost an average of 1.8 pounds. That’s almost half a pound a week, which is a pretty substantial rate of loss. The other maids hadn’t lost any weight.

The researchers ruled out a host of possible alternative explanations for why the maids lost weight, including the placebo effect. The maids simply stepped onto a scale, and the scale reported a lower weight. Scales aren’t subject to placebo effects. If the power of thinking alone could indeed make one skinnier, that would be a billion-dollar self-help book: Think Yourself Thin. I assure you, I’ve tried it; it doesn’t work.

The maids had not changed their diets or started going to the gym. So why did they lose weight?

The researchers concluded that just hearing the news that they really were exercisers was tremendously motivating: I’m not a sloth—I’m an exerciser!

The maids succeeded in losing weight because they cleaned with just a little more enthusiasm than before, and the news about losing weight further motivated them.

That motivation changed them. Once they realized that their small daily activities constituted exercise, they began scrubbing the showers a little more energetically. They started making extra trips back to their carts as they changed linens, just to add a bit more walking. They took the stairs to lunch rather than the elevator. And they exerted that extra effort because someone let them know about the good they were already achieving, about the light they already had. They were building on their successes.

If you’re looking to bring more light into the world, think of the maids, and start by looking for the light in yourself. Focus on the good things you are already doing, and develop them.

Maybe you didn’t keep last year’s New Year’s resolution, but at least you made one! That’s the light. Focus on the good things you already do, on the Mitzvot you practice. Recognizing the positive habits gives every person the confidence to keep improving.

You already come to shul on the high holidays; that’s wonderful, that’s light! Consider coming a bit more, maybe one Shabbat a month. You’ll pray a little—don’t overdo it. Maybe you’ll get an Aliya, or sing a little.

You already light Chanukah candles; well, increase the light. Consider lighting Shabbat candles too.

You already have a Mezuzah on the front door; you may as well put some on the bedroom doors. Grow the light.  

Just as it is critical to find the light in yourself, it is also vital to find and nurture the light in others. But how far do our responsibilities stretch? How much light are we responsible for bringing to the world?

The Talmud tells us: “Before a baby is born, an angel appears in his mother’s womb, and holds a lighted lamp before him so that he can see from one end of the world to the other.” Isn’t that a beautiful thought? A Jew, before he or she is even born, is shown the truth: His concern must be to bring light to the entire world, from one end to the other.

By finding light in others, by pointing it out, we help each other to accomplish good on a greater scale than we ever could alone.

As Jews, our task is to bring the light of love and G-dliness into the world. And the best way to do this is not by focusing on what’s wrong in our community, or what’s wrong with our spouse or children. Rather, we must focus on the bright spots and nurture them.

Someone once asked the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad: “What is a Chassid?”

The Rebbe answered: “A Chassid is a lamplighter”.

A Chassid is one who sees candles everywhere, and makes it his business to kindle them, so they can illuminate the darkness.”

Every single day, we each have to chance to be a light for someone who needs our help. If we reach out, we make their world, and the whole world, as G-d intended it, a better, happier, kinder place.

On this holiday, the day on which G-d said, “Let there be light,” may you find your light, and may you nurture the light within yourselves and in everyone around you. May it be a year filled with light!

SHANA TOVA & a happy and sweet New Year,\
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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