Accept what you cannot change; change what you should not accept

There is an old system (described by the well-known kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital) of assessing personality traits based on the four elements: Fire, wind, water and dust. Fire indicates traits relating to arrogance and rage. (We sometimes say someone is hot-headed.) Wind indicates traits relating to hurtful speech. (He is full of hot air…) Water indicates uncontrolled physical urges that break relationship boundaries or envy because there is crossing of boundaries just as water spills over everything. Dust indicates grief, inertia and despair. Dust is the heaviest and crudest of all of the elements. It is the “spiritual” aspect of the physical body. I’m not sure I understand what that means. This is what we learned from Alei Shur.

The corrective measure for “dust” in our character is to be happy with everything we have, knowing that everything God does is good and at the same time to be energized to do God’s work in the world. This frees a person from the oppressive heaviness of grief, inertia and despair.

My father, may he rest in peace, knew this well. He had the rare quality of being totally relaxed and totally energized at one and the same time. This sounds impossible but I saw it. He was relaxed because he was completely accepting of whatever reality came his way. And if something needed to be done, it was done yesterday! He wasn’t rushed or nervous. He just did things right away. His attitude was: If it has to be done, why wait?

I want to share a story: Generally he worked as a lawyer for small businesses. One time his client was a fellow from South Korea whose family had immigrated to the United States and he wanted to join them there. The U.S. embassy wouldn’t allow him entry. My father went to the U.S. embassy early in the morning, every day for I don’t remember how long (but I know it was months) to speak to them gently and softly to try to persuade them to help this person be able to reunite with his wife and kids. He explained that this man from South Korea was a good man, who will work and will be a good citizen and he wants to be with his family.

After awhile their resistance started wearing down and he always thanked them and returned the next day to try again. Eventually he succeeded and the man was able to immigrate and reunite with his family.

The reason my father was able to do what he did is because

a) he accepted reality as it was and knew the results were not up to him and

b) He knew that he had work to do. He was in a position where he could help someone, and he felt it was his responsibility to do so.

These are the two ingredients of happiness that Alei Shur is talking about. My father was happy with all of the tools he had both in material and spiritual things and he was energized to use the tools that God gave him in order to actively help people in whatever way he could. And because of this he was a happy person.

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One Response to Accept what you cannot change; change what you should not accept

  1. Heather says:

    We can all learn form your father — such pure emuna.
    As for the dust, well you can’t escape it living in Israel. Next time I take out the dust cloth yet again to wipe down all surface areas, I’ll think of its corrective measure “to be happy with everything we have, knowing that everything God does is good and at the same time to be energized to do God’s work in the world.”

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