The day after our three hour conversation, I called the Sudilkover Rebbe as directed to hear his specific advice for me.
The Rebbe prefaced his advice by saying that his advice was not his advice. It came directly from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's instruction to seek out one's good points in Likutey Moharan "Reish Peh Beis". The implementation plan that he prescribed to me, however, was his own. He told me that he wanted me to start this 40 day plan that very day and guaranteed that I would start seeing a real benefit from it within four to five days. He further stated that it was a wonderful way to develop my emuna and remarked, "I guarantee you will see miracles through doing this."
First, he told me to review Likutey Moharan #282 (Azamra) and to listen to the corresponding audio shiurim from Rabbi Nasan Maimon in order to obtain a fuller understanding of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's teaching (I also listened to Rabbi Lazer Brody's CD as well). The Rebbe then advised me to get a notebook and draw lines down the pages and divide them into three columns. In the first column, I was to record things that I did good that day; to include even small things like washing negel vasser in the morning upon arising. In the second column, I was to record the challenges and nisyonos that I experienced that day. This was to include things such as occurrences when I failed to maintain my composure and expressed my anger. Finally, in the third column I was to record examples of Hashem's chasadim (kindnesses) that I observed that day.
The Rebbe instructed to read what I had written down out loud before I said Krias Shema al HaMita each night. After doing this for forty days I would have a clearer picture of how I should proceed. He even mentioned that he too kept such a note book from time to time and said it might be something I may find that I will want to continue past the 40 day period.
Following my hour-long conversation with the Rebbe, I went right out and bought a notebook so I could begin that day.
My yetzer hara immediately started its barrage of arguments.
"How is writing down these things in a notebook really going to help you? And you will see results in four to five days??!!"
I knew better than to listen to my yetzer hara.
My mind then recalled that the Rebbe's advice also fit into another shtickel of Degel Machaneh Ephraim that we learned together. In the Likkutim section at the end of this sefer, the Degel wrote that one time his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, told him that if he would say the tefillos "Keil Rachum Shemecha" and "Aneinu" as he did, that he could quite literally be able to bring Moshiach.
The Sudilkover Rebbe explained that these prayers from Selichos are located at the end of the Selichos service and are very often rushed through in an attempt to finish. The Rebbe explained that the Baal Shem Tov was teaching his grandson that one should not treat these tefillos in such a haphazard manner but rather should understand that these tefillos represented the pinnacle of the Selichos davening; that the little things that we do have the potential to accomplishment unbelievable things if only we would believe in ourselves.
Little things like walking me to our meeting were not little in the Sudilkover Rebbe's eyes. When Chabakuk Elisha came to pick me up, the Rebbe thanked him. In his modesty, Chabakuk Elisha tried to brush it aside, but the Rebbe persisted to tell him what a great thing he had done and how much nachas he had brought him by escorting me. He stressed to Chabakuk Elisha that this was not just a little thing which lacked significance. Quite the contrary.
By identifying confidence/good points as the area where I needed improvement, the Rebbe had also zeroed in on advice that I received from co-workers in a recent 360-degree assessment. While noting that I was strongest in my ability to see other viewpoints and opinions, my co-workers noted that I was not forceful or confident enough. This was not news to me. For some people arrogance is something that they have to continually work on, however, it is definitely not so in my case. My father constantly ingrained the trait of humility into me from any early age with perhaps too much zeal and not enough confidence building. If anything, I now swing too far in the opposite direction and can be too self-effacing at times.
In order to return me to a proper equilibrium to follow the middle path, the Sudilkover Rebbe's plan was a pendulum swing in the opposite direction of self-effacement. It was exactly what I needed. Amazingly, as I followed the Rebbe's instructions, I started seeing results immediately. Each night my list of good points and the list of chasadim grew longer and longer and my list of challenges/nisyonos grew shorter and shorter. The process of having to be conscious each day to write something down made me stop and think at intervals throughout the day. What am I doing good today? What am I not doing good today? What are some examples of Hashem's kindness that I am aware of at this very minute?
Twenty days after I began keeping the notebook, I noticed that what I wrote in my good points column was three or four times longer than my entry from the first day. I began to become so aware of more and more good points each day that I needed to bring my notebook along with me to work so I would not be forced to remember them all at the end of the day when I got home.
Searching out Hashem's daily chasadim, I came to have an new awareness and renewed appreciation for numerous things such as my sight, hearing, smell, taste, and digestive system. I spoke to the Sudilkover Rebbe again about my observations, and he told me that as the days go on, that I would not just be able to note a few things, but I would be able to identify literally hundreds of acts of Hashem's kindness each day.
It was not long afterwards that I was able to see kindness in circumstances that others might have labeled as tzoros. Whether it was leaky pipes, a return of mice in my house, or my oldest daughter falling down and scaping and bruising her face, the first thing I did was thank Hashem for these things; knowing that it was tremendous act of kindness since each of these events could have all been much worse. Later, I even added these events to the "chasadim" column of my notebook.
Aside from these "negative" types of chasadim, I also became even more aware of the traditional "positive" types of chasadim and soon attained the ability to stop what I was doing at any given time and name a handful of them at that very moment.
My last insight into the whole 40 day process came during the final 10 days. The Sudilkover Rebbe's advice benefitted me greatly in the area of my davening. It was only then that I was able to really tie together the notebook advice, the concept of finding one's good points, and my davening.
In Likutey Moharan #282, Rebbe Nachman taught,
"The prayer leader is called the shaliach tzibbur, the messenger of the people, and he must be sent by the all the people. His job is to find and gather all the good points in each of the worshippers."
I asked myself, "If am not the shliach tzibbur today, how can I still gather up all my good points?" I then recalled another of Rebbe Nachman's directives, "You can crease and wrinkle my book any way you like when it comes to your own interpretations – as long as you don't violate a single paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch."
A little creasing, wrinkling, and hisbodedus provided me an answer.
Remembering the connection Rebbe Nachman made between davening and the hands, I decided to modify the bed time ritual that I wrote about here. Before davening each Shachris, Mincha, and Maariv, I used my right hand and counted out five new examples of Hashem's chasadim, and then counted out five new examples of my good points using my left hand.
Reb Noson wrote in Likutey Halachos, Hilchos Haskamas Haboker 1,"Discovering one's good points is the foundation of prayer." Indeed, I found that the more I discovered more of my good points and employed this new strategy, the easier it was to daven and to shake of any lethargy that sometimes tried to convince me otherwise.
Although the 40 day period came to an end on the 12th of Teves, I have continued this practice before davening and I continually seek to find more and more good points in myself and in others. As Reb Noson said,
"Each person's life is unique, but this teaching is universal; it applies at all times in life, in youth and old age. The lesson of Azamra can revive us. Happy are those who take it to heart."