This week we start the middah of histapkut which we will define as contentment through simplification.
Most of us probably wish that life was less complicated and just simpler and we could downsize many of the things that stress us out. Like many things in the realm of self-growth, there are no quick fixes.
However, histapkut is a middah that can help us tackle many things and teach us the idea that “less is more”.
In our search for spirituality we can sometimes elevate ourselves to a point where our perspective is vast, but at a cost of losing sight of the details. It’s important, from time to time, to focus on the difference between what we want and what we need. Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gabirol says, “Who seeks more than he needs, hinders himself from enjoying what he has. Seek what you need and give up what you need not. For in giving up what you don’t need, you’ll learn what you really need.” The trick is, of course, determining the bare-bones essentials that you really need in life. Excess, even in our religious life isn’t always necessary.
The most beautiful and architecturally-detailed house of worship isn’t always home to the most heartfelt prayers, nor is the most technologically-up to date school the place where children learn the most. There is a fine line between amenities and distractions. Exercising histapkut helps one gain a level of maturity to approach life by realizing what is really important. This middah is very closely connected to the concept of sameach b’chelko, “being content with one’s lot”.
When I was in my teens, one of my favorite games to play with my friends was “Desert Island Discs”, based on the BBC Radio program. We were all big music fans and we would each come up with a list every six months of what ten albums we would want if we were on a desert island. Then we would narrow that list down to five, then three, then one. I realize now that I often do the same thing with books in my Jewish library. I will look at my collection and think, “What books would I want if I was stuck on an island?” Exercises like this help us figure out what we really think we need and what we would be content with.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches in Likutey Moharan II, 19, that, “The main goal of a Jew is to serve God with simplicity and without any sophistication.” This doesn’t mean that we cannot be complex people or non-intellectual. It simply (no pun intended) means that when it comes to serving our creator or working on improving ourselves we need to do so in a straightforward manner. I’ll give you a very down to Earth personal example. I have trouble getting up in the morning.
At times, I’ve tried everything from setting the timer on the coffee maker to using three different alarm clocks. I have spent time and effort trying to get myself to become an early riser. The simple and non-sophisticated solution to my problem is that I should go to sleep earlier in the evening.
Simplicity and contentment have to go hand in hand. Figuring out what middah we need to work on or what spiritual or religious goal we need to set for ourselves doesn’t always have to be the loftiest of ideals or the most rigid level of observance. It is often we who are the ones that over-complicate things.
Practice: At the beginning of this week make a list of 7 things you would love to have with you if you were shipwrecked on a “desert island”. At the end of the week, look over these items and then narrow the list down to three items. Reflect on how each of those items could help you grow in your spiritual life.
Question: If you could pick just one character trait (middah), that you feel ultimately represents you, what would it be?