Change for Good

By Levi Yitzchok Kantor, Beer Sheba, Israel
Essays 2016

MyLife Essay Contest 2016

In this essay I will attempt to explain how contrary to typical behavior of intimidating ourselves and others into doing what’s right, if we want to achieve positive results within ourselves and within others, we must make sure that it is done out of real free choice. Only then can we really achieved long lasting and even permanent results. (This essay is based on many sources in Chassidus, but the themes here can mainly be found in the maamar  “לא תהי’ משכלה”  and “תקעו בחודש”  from hemshech samech vov)


Wouldn’t you want to achieve success and increased performance in….any area? For most people the answer would be affirmatively yes. Interestingly enough, chassidus has a recurrent theme of strategies for achieving success which we will attempt to apply in this essay.

First, though, it must be understood that the whole structure of Chassidus is based on understanding the emotional, mental, and spiritual makeup of the person. This being the case we must first be aware that by no means does the following substitute a thorough in-depth explanation of the concepts mentioned, but rather, this is the “tip of the iceberg” of an in-depth and all encompassing life changing mental-diet (if you will). And while what is written here may at first seem as a good solution, we must remember that we are always growing, always advancing in life, and what is good for a beginner is not worth the time of a pro. So too, with the life improving tips in this essay, it will be the reader’s responsibility to continue building on the foundations which this essay hopes to provide.

Most people are taught to give in order to receive, it’s almost a built in defense mechanism to protect us from being taken advantage of. On the other hand, if we have the chance to take advantage of someone else without being caught, we will often times “go in for the kill”. What results from this is that many times during life, things, good things, are not long lasting, or are revealed to be a facade for personal, selfish gain.

So how do I make something real? How do I ensure my motives and actions are sincere? I want to improve my performance, give more, and be more.

The key to this is by understanding two main motivators inside every person. The first one is an effect of what is called in Chassidus, Chessed. The literal translation, kindness, does not convey the Chassidic “weight” and broad definition of Chessed, though. The closest accurate definition in English is a combination of the feeling to give for the purpose of giving, an outward motion, and love. One of the main expressions of Chessed in a person’s emotions is love, known in Chassidus as Ahava. Contrary to popular opinion love is not taking something I desire for the fulfillment of my own pleasure; love is giving, always involving something or someone else.

The second motivator is Ahava’s opposite, “Gevurah” and it’s main effect in the human psyche Yirah, awe or the feeling of intimidation[1]  subservience, inwardness and self-subjugation.

Now let’s analyze these two motivators in our daily life. Are we Chessed-motivated or Gevura-motivated?

Why do I come to work on time?

Why do I keep healthy?

Why am I married?


If the answer to the above is something like:

Because I enjoy my work and really want it to succeed.

Because I enjoy the feeling of having a good run.

Because I love my wife and my family.

then your actions are probably dominantly love-motivated.


If the answer is something like:

I am afraid of my boss getting annoyed.

I don’t feel good about myself, I don’t want to get sick.

I’m afraid of what people will say if I break up my family.

then your actions are yirah-motivated and need some honest assessment and improvement.


Is this really so? Is not awe a powerful enough motivator?

The answer is no. It is not and will not lead to sincerity of action and will therefore distract and disturb your success and advancement.

To further understand the above, we will analyze a scenario.

Teacher A is having trouble disciplining some children in class. He mentions it to the principal, who wishes to see for himself. The principal enters the class, all is quiet, “Ok boys, today we will be learning some geography, please open your books to page 55 and, take out your pencils.” All boys obediently comply and after thirty minutes, the principal walks out, turns to the teacher, and says “I don’t know what the problem is, these boys are little angels.” Obviously he is unaware of the paper planes which started flying the second he stepped out of the classroom. But there is one more thing happening in the class which is worthy of mention, and that is the one student sitting quietly in class even after the principal left, diligently filling out the pages of his workbook.

Why is this one student different than all the others? Is he less mischievous? No, he actually has a very mischievous streak in him. But when he grows up he wants to be a pilot, so that he can fly all over the world and see all the exciting places there are to see, the more geography he learns the more places he’ll be familiar with on the map.

What is the difference between the motivation of the single child to the rest of the class?

When the principal was standing in front of them teaching they were all in ‘Yirah mode’, but the moment the principal left, the intimidation was lifted and they all reverted to what they had been busy with all along. In effect, nothing changed. It was all the pressure of the moment. The single student, who wants to be a pilot, is a different story; he is ‘Ahava-motivated’ which eventuates in real change. He really, sincerely wants to learn, he will continue to do what he has to regardless of the principal’s presence.

So too with the three questions above. Yirah may be a strong motivator, but the moment the pressure is lifted enough, there is nothing any longer to keep you doing what you should.

When Ahava is the key component to the motivation however, there is actual and permanent change affected in the one who is motivated by it.

There is still, though, the detail of less productivity. We explained how love motivation is sincere and longer lasting, but why does that mean there is less productivity in a Yirah motivated state? Yirah, as we said before is a feeling of distance, you don’t connect to something you are trying to distance from, but also with Yirah you’re much more aware of yourself and it’s a lot harder to “lose yourself” in something when you’re subconsciously trying not to. Ahava is all about the other and therefore gives a much larger possibility of being devoted to something. This can best be understood through the example brought by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe when he describes love, [2]when someone is laden down with everyday problems which really make the person’s heart heavy, and suddenly he sees someone he loves…….. for that moment the burden is lighter, and even his pain (if he G-D forbid has pain) can disappear .” 

What happens is that when we are love-motivated, we get rid of a huge obstacle and that obstacle is the capital I. Have you ever watched an athlete who you know can perform well, who, suddenly fails when being watched by his parents or friends? What happened? Why the sudden inability to perform? Many of us have come across similar situations, and some of us call it stage fright. The main reason for this sudden lack of success is distraction, and in this case the person is distracted by his own existence. When you are not focused on yourself, when you are in an Ahava mode, you suddenly are free from this distraction. Like in the example of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the situation turns from being self-centered to caring for another, which is why a person will feel lighter when shifting from himself to the other[3].

So how do we improve ourselves? For starters analyze yourself like in the above. If you are Yirah motivated, start taking the time to think of positive reasons you are doing what you’re doing throughout the day, and even if it’s hard, think of one thing each day that you are going to do not because you have to, but because you want to. The way you find this is by thinking of all the positive sides included in what you do. Take the thing you find you most enjoy and let that for a start be your project. Just one small step….a small detail in your day, a large change in your life. It may take time to think it over but you have to give it the time. You deserve to find success.

The Rebbe wrote in a letter to someone[4] that every person has to think about himself (obviously how to improve) for at least 15  minutes a day. After finding some positive points discuss them with someone daily. As chassidus explains, when a person speaks, it solidifies his emotions. When I talk about something that annoys me I don’t let off steam, I get more irritated and angry. So too with the positive, the more I speak about it, the more I feel better and the more I can focus on doing what needs to be done and not get carried away and distracted by my own self.




[1] Yirah doesn’t mean fear, or intimidation based in fear as is stated in Tanya  but rather it means awe of the something grand and much greater than oneself.

[2] Mamorim Kuntresim  ש”פ תשא רצ”ד דה”מ “טעמו וראו .

[3] This essay is not attempting to ignore the power and importance of Yirah which is in fact the basis for all forms of “working on yourself” it is merely emphasizing one small part of one small aspect, to see the importance of Yirah one can find many sources in chassidus to places where they are emphasized on together with Ahava is chapter 41 Tanya and chapter 2 Kuntres Ha Aavoda.

[4]In אגרות קודש letter א’תקמא of ג’ אייר תשי”ב