How many taxes are filed on the night of April 14? Just ask all the accountants who come to the Seder bleary-eyed. And how many people file for extensions and don’t complete them until October 14?
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often wryly notes that the procrastinator’s club is holding its first meeting… next week.
People procrastinate because they feel too anxious about doing what they need or actually want to do. The problem is that procrastinating only exacerbates feelings of anxiety. When a person procrastinates, he feels more stressed that not only is he shirking his responsibilities but he is also doing nothing to accomplish his goal. It becomes a vicious cycle.
In life generally, we settle into our comfort zone, in which we feel secure in knowing what and when to expect things. We like the familiar and predictable. Expanding our comfort zone requires optimism and the confidence to step into the vast unknown. It also entails the willingness and “guts” to risk failure. Often, we shy away from opportunities because we don’t want to place ourselves in uncomfortable situations.
The problem is that if we don’t expand our comfort zone, it begins to shrink. We start to lose confidence in our abilities and faith in ourselves. To feel accomplished and successful one needs to challenge his surroundings and be willing to feel periodically uncomfortable.
Often we don’t progress until something forces us to. “Good enough is the enemy of better,” and we often reason that we are doing good enough. If and when we are forced out of our comfort zone by life situations, we often resist mightily. But if we persevere and can adequately traverse the challenge, we look back at that impetus as a blessing in disguise.
The opening words of Shaarei Teshuvah state: “From amongst the goodness that G-d, blessed is He, has bestowed upon His creations, is that he has prepared for them a path to ascend from the depth of their actions and to flee the abyss of sin, to save their souls from utter destruction, and to turn His wrath away from them.”
In his commentary, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, shlita, explains that if the Shaarei Teshuvah commences by relating to us how great the gift of teshuvah is, then it follows that we should feel joy and internal happiness when engaging in teshuvah.
Elul and Tishrei are days of solemn introspection. But beyond that arduous soul work lies great satisfaction and fulfillment. All the issues and “stuff” that we push off dealing with all year round now stand before us like a brick wall. We want to flee its grasp and run back to our idyllic life of complacency and rote. But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are rapidly approaching and we don’t want to lose the opportunity afforded to us.
When we embrace the challenge that confronts us to scrutinize ourselves and contemplate how we can be better spouses, parents, children, community members, Torah Jews, etc., we will feel that sense of deep joy that results from fulfilling our responsibilities once and for all and expanding the confines of our little selfish world.