The third suggestion to alter behavior and put oneself in the driver’s seat – no matter how detrimental the surrounding influences – is to, as Stephen Covey liked to call it, “Begin with the End in Mind.” It is quite a mind-shift to look at your life from the future. This entails thinking about your greatest legacy, how will one be remembered?
The plan is based on the principle that all things are created twice: there is the mental, or first creation; and then there is the actual, or second creation in reality. A simple analogy would be the construction of a home, whereby detailed plans are drawn up before earth is broken. If the plumbing, electricity and engineering are not finely-tuned in the blue prints, there will be expensive rectifications during the actual construction.
Likewise a business venture. Beginning with “the end in mind” will largely determine if the enterprise is successful. If there isn’t a thought-out, properly-researched and reality-synced business plan, failure is almost guaranteed. As the aphorism goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
The same is often true with parenting. I stress “often” for we all know parents who do everything possible to mess up their children who ultimately come out great. While some parents try so hard and are not successful. There are many factors in raising a child, not the least of which is siyaata d’shmaya (Heavenly assistance). We have already detailed the impact of environment and influences.
But undeniably, if you wish to raise responsible, self-disciplined yorei Shomayim (God-fearing offspring), the end must constantly be kept in mind. A parent who erodes a child’s self-esteem or self-discipline has, among other things, not borne the end in mind. And this becomes even more complicated when children turn into teenagers and parents must quickly shift out of “management” and move into “sales.”
I once bought a book (that I wish I would not have lent out…) from a Pulitzer winning author describing his writing technique. He proposed that a successful author should write the ending of the story first, this way you always know in which direction you are heading. Based on this technique (and other incentives, like a negative bank balance) we managed to write three books bs”D in 11 months.
This is a discipline that works, what the Mishna calls, hefsed mitzva k’negged s’chara (contemplating what one forfeits by not fulfilling a mitzvah as opposed to the reward that could be earned) and being ro’eh es hanolad (foreseeing the consequences). We know that if a person could properly stay focused on the consequences of their actions and plan the first creation so that the second one is congruent, they have used their bechira properly and will conduct an enviably, honorable life.
The reason that Alfred Nobel, the father of dynamite, created the Nobel Peace Prize is well known. His brother died while visiting France and a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite and even said, “Le marchand de la mort est mort – The merchant of death is dead.” The obituary also did not fail to mention, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
This was about all Alfred Nobel had to read to decide to improve his ultimate legacy.
When rumors of the death of the famous rabbinic giant, The Ohr Somyach (Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843-1926), reached Jerusalem, the city was engulfed in sorrow. Pubic eulogies were conducted and tributes were printed in religious newspapers. When a copy was delivered to the live-and-well Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, Latvia, he said that for the rest of his life he would no longer need to open a Messilas Yesharim.
Other than such exceptional circumstances, it is unusual for one to look at life from the future. Think again. Yom Kippur, as Joseph Telushkin points out, is Judaism’s annual confrontation with death. During this 24-hour period, Jews are expected to lead a largely aphysical existence, regarding food, drink and pleasure. Many wear a kittel which is a burial shroud. The goal of this confrontation is to make us all feel those “deathbed regrets” while there is still time to do something about them, and act with the end in mind.
Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month.
Rabbi Hanoch Teller