Do We Need Likes and Trophies In Our Avodas Hashem?

By Rabbi Eric Goldman

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When was the last time you said a shehakol on your cup of coffee and instantly the sky opened and jewels dropped into your hand? Did you see the malachim celebrating when you went to the shiur last week? How about hearing Hashem, in all His Glory and Majesty, commending you on refraining from speaking lashon hara last Shabbos?

One of the most challenging aspects of our Avodas Hashem is that we don’t get to see a tangible result of our efforts. For all the emphasis the seforim put on the amazing and spectacular treasures that we are accruing, there is nothing we can hold in our hands right now. It may be true that Olam Habah is an unimaginable and unfathomable place, but that is both inspiring and inhibiting. I have had countless conversations with teenagers who struggle to see the purpose in sacrificing their freedoms and fun times when they don’t see what they are actually receiving in return. How many adults lie awake in bed at night with the gnawing feeling that they did not accomplish anything special during the day?

In our times, this challenge has become even more pressing. With the ability to receive instant validation and approval on every aspect of our lives, people have struggled even more with the lack thereof in what is the most important part of our lives. If someone can post a picture of their family vacation and within minutes feel the validation of dozens of “likes” pouring in, shouldn’t we be able to expect the same when it comes to our Avodas Hashem? How much more challenging is my struggle to perform mitzvos when a quiet act of chesed garners no publicity, but posting an update on my family whatsapp chat allows all of my actions to be documented and seen?

This is in addition to the general philosophy commonly being preached today about “participation trophies”. Every child, no matter what level of accomplishment or failure receives a trophy. Likewise, every student deserves an “A” even if their efforts and performance to not warrant one.

The irony is that even with the instant capabilities that the smartphones and social media provide, people still feel the void. Numerous studies have shown that the more a person comes to rely on needing the validation from others, the more depressed they will feel. Experts in the field have pointed to what they call “feedback loops” to help explain why people keep coming back for more. The more “likes” one gets, the more dopamine they feel. The more dopamine they feel, the more they end up needing, creating the “feedback loop” that keeps people drawn in and unable to disconnect.

So what is the solution? How can we continue putting the same effort and sacrifice into our Avodas Hashem while not be able to receive the same visible accolades?

Once a year, Hashem gives us a gift. He gives us the opportunity to see a tangible manifestation of our efforts. The medresh relates that after the “court case” we have against the goyim over Yom Kippur, it is unclear who emerges victorious. However, once the Jewish people walk out with the lulav and esrog in their hands, it is unmistakable that they have been given a favorable judgment.

Being forgiven for all of our aveiros is often not an easy concept to fully believe. Trusting that we have been given a clean slate to march forward without being held back by our past is something that we all struggle with on some level. But the lulav and esrog allowed us to feel the results. We held them in our hands and felt the accomplishment. In fact, sitting in the Succah and dancing with the Torahs is an even further extension of this. Who hasn’t been able to feel the holiness of the Shechinah, if even on a minute level, while basking in the shade of the schach? And how easy is it to believe in ourselves and all that we accomplish while we are singing and dancing, clutching the Torahs with all of our strength and emotions?  

This is the feeling that we must carry with us moving forward. To know that this once a year time period is just a catapult. It is a three-week long gift from Hashem that tells us that even on a regular Tuesday, when nothing special seems to be happening, our mitzvos, our tefilos, and our Torah matters. Although we may not be able to see the validation or to hold a trophy in our hands, the impact is still being made. No effort goes unrewarded and no good deed goes unnoticed.

The gemara asks a worrying question- before prophecy was taken from the world, there were prophets spread throughout Eretz Yisroel who would record each and every mitzvah that a Jew would perform. However, now that we no longer have prophecy, who records what we are doing? The beautiful and inspiring answer is something we need to inculcate within ourselves as we leave the powerful month of Tishrei and begin our long treck through the winter months- Eliyahu Hanavi is writing everything down, while Mashiach and Hashem are signing beneath.

May we all be zocheh to take the wonderful and inspirational feelings of this past month with us into the coming year and to feel the true impact of every part of our Avodas Hashem.

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