Will and Desire

Rachel Schusterman, Atlanta, Georgia
Essays 2018

Contemporary Issue

We face commitments at every turn in life. We commit to ourselves, our jobs and our relationships. Often, once commitments are made we are in power mode, doing whatever we can to fulfill our goal. What happens next is that just as fast as we start we stop. Somehow powering through doesn’t always get us to the end. We lose sight and we fail in what we began, which is to commit. By identifying the intention of our commitment in the first place, and what our end goal is, we remind ourselves of the foundation the commitment was made on. This will help with follow through and endurance even when circumstances become trying or we lose stamina to persist.

Over 40% of the people in the United States makes New Year’s Resolutions and less than 8% of these people keep their resolve. . When a resolution is made it is for a desired goal, but no promise or obligation is made for follow through. When a commitment is made there is an emotional investment and seal of “I promise”. Chassidus gives direction on gaining an awareness of what our will is, how to keep commitments when we become unmotivated, and the benefits of enduring and following through. This essay discusses the idea of Ratzon and Netzach sourced in Maamorim from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Previous Rebbe, Sichos from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and multiple chapters of Tanya.

What is Ratzon

Ratzon, located in the essence of man, is loosely translated as will and desire. Both intellect and comprehension are man’s greatest qualities, but Ratzon (will) is even higher. Will is so strong that it won’t let anything stop it from fulfilling itself. It is such a powerful force that it can change man’s intellect in order to dictate man’s actions in order for it to succeed. (1) (Example. Someone who receives a bribe will be subconsciously biased to the person who bribed him and take his side in the argument. A deeper will was created and manipulates the thinking of the person who was bribed in order to help the other.) (2)

Over 3,000 years ago at Mount Sinai the words “Naaseh V’nishma – we will do and we will listen” were spoken by the Jewish Nation. What they were essentially saying was Naaseh, we are committing to You because we have a will to do Your word.  V’nishma, we will now begin to dissect and discuss that which we have committed to. The Jewish Nation was completely aware of their will, not what the details of fulfilling their will entailed. They knew they wanted this relationship with G-d because it would further them as a nation and as individuals. After they committed they began to break down their will in its full spectrum. (3)

Two wills:

There are two types of wills, internal and external. It is inevitable that in order to fulfill the internal will there will be an external will. (4) G-d has both an internal and external will. The internal will of G-d is that Torah and Mitzvot should be learned and observed. The external will is the world, its people and all the flora and fauna that comes with it. G-d’s internal will came along with an external will in order for it to be fulfilled. (5)

In relation to our commitments, there is an external will created in order to fulfill our internal will. It is most probable that our focus becomes the external will, thereby forgetting there is an internal will. By identifying both wills it will help to motivate ourselves when we reach a low point.

Identify your internal will

Ask yourself.

What is it that I want?

Do I truly want (fill in end goal) _______?

Why yes? (If you ask yourself why not you aren’t identifying a motivating reason)

6 Steps for effective follow through

Be completely H.O.N.E.S.T. with yourself.

H. HOW – the details

In davening, during both the weekday prayers and Shabbat prayers we say Hashem Melech, Hashem Malach, Hashem Yimloch L’olam Vaed. Hashem rules, Hashem ruled and Hashem will rule. The usual order of things is past, present and future. Why are the tenses different here? Chassidic Masters explain that sometimes in order to properly enhance the now, we need to remember the past and think to the future.

In Basi Legani the Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses an idea from the Mitteler Rebbe. There are two types of meditations a person may have. One of the meditations may be a more general, all inclusive meditation and the other is more specific, it is detailed.  The advantage of the specific meditation over the general meditation is that it is more practical.  The Rebbe asked both youth and adults to be specific when taking on new resolutions in order for the fulfillment to be something realistic and grounded.

Think about your past commitments:

Ask yourself

What were the circumstances I was in that made me unable to follow through?

Now think to the future by identifying your external will:

Ask yourself

What is it going to take to get to _____ (end goal)

What might slow me down?

Be specific about what your goal is and what the process to the end goal constitutes of.

O. Optimize

American belief is that quantity qualifies success (I.e. how many people came to a concert or how much money was made off a movie). Although quantity might qualify success, it doesn’t mean quality success. Two of the most successful and valuable companies in the world, Amazon and Apple, started in a dim lit garage. It’s natural that we jump into things quickly and commit to too much, not taking into account what we can actually handle at that moment.  A tree is only a tree because it started as a seed. If you commit to something big without thinking through your present state, you will end up committing to too much and not following through. (6)

Ask yourself.

Where am I now?

N. Now!

In Ethics of our Fathers, Hillel said “If not now, when?” G-d is recreating the world every second, breathing new life into every moment. There is no better moment than now! In order for a commitment to truly endure it must bond with something concrete immediately. (7) If you can get up and do something about it NOW you have completed the hardest step towards fulfilling your goal.

Once, Chassidim came running into the Magid, “‘Rebbe! Your other chassidim are up late at night playing card games!” the Magid responded “And? One day the focus and energy they have for playing those games will be used for good.” (8)

Our subconscious is constantly learning new patterns based on behavioral changes. By leaving our comfort zone this one time to do the first steps of fulfilling our commitment, we are actually helping ourselves for the future. We are slowly teaching our subconscious that this may be a new norm and there is no reason for discomfort.

  • Write H. and O. down NOW!
  • Set a reminder on your phone
  • Do something towards the fulfillment of your commitment

When things become hard

Things are inevitably going to become hard. Human nature is to start something with a passion and then stop just as fast. In Basi Legani, 5749 the Previous Rebbe discuss the attribute of Netzach (Endurance) which is the seventh of the ten attributes and the fourth of the emotive attributes in creation. This attribute is in every Jewish person no matter their spiritual standing. The distinction of this quality which differs from all the other attributes is this focus of “I will reach my goal and nothing will stop me. No matter the obstacles, no matter the distractions I will succeed.” The person who endures is pragmatic, focused and rarely regrets their decision. They won’t change their mind because they are so concentrated on the end goal. (Example: When faced with a life and death situation, most Jews will choose death over doing something that goes against G-d even if they are not observant. The reason for this is that their souls will is to sanctify G-d’s name. It will even go to the extreme of death to endure and complete its Will. This is the ultimate of the attribute of Netzach. (9)

Here is where the last 3 letters of H.O.N.E.S.T. play out – when things become challenging it is time for an evaluation and reminder of why you started in the first place.

E. Evaluate

Taking into account past successes and failures is important to ensure that continued growth and follow through is practical. By stopping and asking yourself pointed questions on your commitment it helps endurance. (10)

Go back to your H.O. and give yourself some space to sit down and think it out.

Ask yourself

Why is this difficult for me?

What is in my way of following through?

Do I need to rearrange some of H. and O.?

S. Speak

Speaking about your commitment puts your credibility on the line. People become aware of your obligations and not following through places a question mark on your capabilities. If you are committing to something spiritual speak to your Mashpia about it and check in every once in a while to make sure you are on track!

T. Think

By thinking about your internal will again you are likely to motivate yourself!

Remember that everything adds to you as a person so even if this is difficult right now this will help you in so many other areas of your life.

The Alter Rebbe discusses how having self-control with permitted things helps to have self-control with forbidden things. (11) Regulating your actions by doing what needs to be done EVEN if you don’t want to in this moment, will help you as a person in all other areas of life.

Real life HONEST play-by-play with successful results!

A friend of mine kept on getting into unhealthy relationships. She decided that her will was to set up healthy boundaries so that in the future she would be able to have a healthy stable home life and marriage. She knew that there was no better time than then to build the skills that she needed for her future.

H. How She identified her external will, what the scenarios might be that would get in her way, (based on past experiences) and what might happen in the future that would make her unmotivated.

O. Optimized She knew she couldn’t cut off ties with the person she was in a relationship with, so she set realistic boundaries in order to get to her final goal.

N. Now She wrote down her H. and O. immediately.

Then, when she realized it was difficult to keep to her commitment she went back to her H. O. and remembered why she committed in the first place. She had forgotten her original will and that slowed her down.

E. Evaluate. She knew this was a commitment that was necessary in order to get her in shape for her future. She was constantly taking a look at her progress until this point and writing down more of her H. and O.

S. Speak She constantly spoke to her good friends about her commitment, how she was doing and what she was struggling with. We were aware of what she was working on and as her friend we affirmed that she was doing a wonderful job.

 T. Think to the future She knew that even though at times this is a hard commitment, she was building stamina not just for her home and marriage but for all different scenarios that might come up in her life.


Chassidus teaches that the personality trait which results from endurance is confidence. The more one is conscious of their will, the easier the resolve will be to follow through. The confidence that results is incomparable because it is a confidence that is tried, true and everlasting because it was built by YOU! Starting with small goals and completing them teaches others, and most importantly yourself that you have the capacity to do and successfully follow through. When you become aware of what you can do, you may begin to take on more challenging commitments with the confidence of following through.


  1. תש”ג ספר המאמרים
  2. זה היום עשה ה’ תש”לח
  3. בשעה שהקדימו תש”מה
  4. Basi Legani תש”ג
  5. Chapter 23 Tanya
  6. חלק כד אלול
  7. Counting of the Omer Rabbi Simon Jacobson
  8. Souls on Fire – Elie Wiesel
  9. Chapter 18 Tanya
  10. Hayom Yom Chof Zayin Av
  11. Chapter 27 Tanya