Tanu rabbanan: shtei shanim u’mechtza nechleku Bais Shammai u’Bais Hillel. Halalu omrim noach lo le'adam shelo nivra yoseir mi’sh’nivra v’halalu omrim noach lo le'adam sh’nivra yoseir mi’shelo nivra. Nimnu v’gamru noach lo le'adam shelo nivra yoseir mi’sh’nivra . Achshav sh’nivra, y’fashfeish b’ma'asav, v’amri lah, y’mashmeish b’ma'asav.
The Rabbis taught: For two and a half years, Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel disagreed. These said: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created. And these said: It is preferable for man to have been created than had he not been created. They took a count and concluded: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created. Now that he has been created, he should examine his actions. And some say he should scrutinize his actions. (Eruvin 13b)
Examine his actions: from the past. Look at his sins, confess, and do teshuva.
Scrutinize his actions [in the future] if a mitzvah becomes available, he will consider the cost of doing the mitzvah versus its reward...and if an aveira becomes available to him he will consider the short term [perceived] benefit versus the future cost... (Rashi ibid)
And now that he has been created, he should examine his actions. And some say he should scrutinize his actions. It seems to me, b’Siyata d’Shmaya, that examine refers to his aveiros and scrutinize refers to mitzvos done without kavanah and tefilah without kavana, as I have explained, b’Siyata d’Shmaya, the Mishna Avos 3, 15: u’vatov ha’olam nidone, and in the good the world is judged, in the way we do mitzvos. (Ben Yehoyada ibid)
We are taught that we should examine the quality of our mitzvos and tefilos. The quality of our mitzvos and tefilos compared to those of whom?
The Ben Ish Chai quotes his son Yaakov as providing an answer to this question.
One should compare the way he conducts himself when doing mitzvos to the way he conducts himself when acting on his mundane concerns. Does he have the same level of concentration and joy or are his mitzvos lacking in some way?
When your child is doing something he wants to do and is capable of doing, he is at a level of concentration and joy we call hislahavus. When he is doing something that is too easy for him or requires no concentration at all, he is bored. When he is doing something that is too hard for him he is frustrated and anxious. The ideal place between boredom and anxiety is hislahavus, also known as the Flow Channel. In the Flow Channel, the challenge of what you’re doing is roughly equal to the skills you have to do that thing. In the Flow Channel, people are focused and energized.
In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [pronounced Chick-Sent-Me-High]
uses learning to play tennis as an example to illustrate how you can experience flow.
Your starting point: You’re playing tennis for the very first time. You’re practicing serving the ball over the net (which is tricky, but manageable at first), and trying to hit the other side of the court from your side. At this point, you’re experiencing flow, because the challenge of what you’re doing is roughly equal to your skill level.
From this starting point, one of two things can happen:
You may improve your skills to the point where you get bored of just hitting the ball over the net. The challenge of playing is now lower than your skill level, and you no longer experience flow.
Or, you challenge yourself at a level that leaves you frustrated and anxious. The challenge of playing is greater than your skill level, and you no longer experience flow.
How do you get back to the Flow Channel?
If you’re bored you will need to find a way to increase the challenge of playing, such as by finding an opponent whose skill level is roughly equal to yours.
If you’re anxious you will need to work on improving your tennis skills. You could also decrease the challenge, but that's not always available.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, this explains why flow activities lead to growth and discovery. One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long. We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them.
If you are not challenged at the task at hand you will get bored.
If you are attempting something above your capabilities you will become frustrated and anxious.
Hillel taught: u’dlo mosif, yasafe, if you don’t get better, you’ll die. Perhaps not literally but as in bored to death. If you don’t raise the level of challenge you will become bored. (Avos 1:13)
Tafasta miruba lo tafasta, if you take on more than you can handle, you won’t be able to succeed. You will become frustrated and anxious. (Arachin 4b)
In between these lies your flow channel.
If your child’s davening has become rote she will become bored. Teach her to uncover her feelings and wants, fears and aspirations, and invest the words with them each time.
If your child’s learning is leaving him frustrated and anxious, help him to gain skills or change to a shiur that is less of a challenge.
You are a partner in the creation of your child all through his life. Help your child to examine his actions and to scrutinize his actions. Help him to learn from his past in order to prepare for an even better future, b’Ezras Hashem.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.