Your Ideal Rebbe: Using Self-Imposed Rules To Redesign Yourself

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There is a tradition within Chasidic Judaism of following the lifestyle habits of one’s teacher extremely closely. This teacher is known as a “Rebbe.” It is not uncommon for these students to completely emulate their Rebbe. They wear the same style of clothes. They eat similar foods in a similar way. They make similar gestures and even mimic the way their Rebbe speaks. Imagine for a moment that in two hours, it’s announced that you are slated to become the Rebbe of a group of thousands of these “chasidim” — pious students. They will copy the way you dress, what time you go to bed, how you spend your leisure time, how you treat other people, and basically almost every other aspect of your life.

  • Would you be prepared to be emulated in such a way?
  • Would your lifestyle require some refining before you took this position?
  • Would you want to emulate such a person as yourself?

At this point, you’re probably pondering your habits…and grimacing. The good news is that, with some time and effort, all of your habits can be changed. One way to free yourself from bad habits is by setting rules for yourself — your own self-torah.

Writing Your Own Torah

There is an instruction in the Torah that every king must write a copy of the Torah for himself. I’m certainly not suggesting that your torah should supersede the Torah given to Moshe if you’re a religious Jew. However, in order to help free you from bad habits, establishing your own personal rules and standards for life can help you come closer to being the Rebbe you could realistically see following.

Building Rules To Become Your Best You

Setting arbitrary rules that aren’t focused on a goal won’t stick around as long as goal-rooted rules. Setting a bedtime for yourself will lack weight if waking up earlier has no benefit for you. Think about the kind of person you want to become and then reverse engineer what rules will help you accomplish this. Have a mindset of less of “it would be nice if…” and more of “this type of person does this,” etc.

Design Your Ideal Self First

Before you start thinking about which rules will help develop the best you, you need to define and design what the best “you” looks like. Take a few minutes to think about what this person is doing at any given hour of the day. What kind of habits do they have? How do they treat people? Imagine you’re studying your ideal Rebbe.

For example:

  • My Rebbe takes advantage of the early morning hours to read, pray, meditate, and prepare for the day.
  • He’s an altruistic soul, giving charity and volunteering time to those in need in his community.
  • He’s a focused, efficient and successful worker.
  • He’s a family man — raising children to have an appreciation for the simple things in life.
  • He’s a loving husband — giving his wife the proper attention and support to sustain their relationship.
  • He is mindful of his blessings throughout the day.
  • He’s honest in all of his dealings and speech.
  • He’s always looking to expand and increase his creative endeavors.
  • Etc.

Create an hour-by-hour log of what your ideal Rebbe be doing at any given time.

Gauge If Keeping These Rules Will Bring Contentment

When designing your ideal “you”, take as much time as you need to in order to gauge if this new lifestyle will bring you contentment. If your rules are more focused on making money, take a few days to really consider if having more money or goods will actually make you more content with life. In many instances, downsizing possessions may actually bring more contentment than acquiring more “stuff.” Make sure that your destination is where you want to end up.

Customizing The Rules To The Ideal Rebbe, Not The Other Way Around

Now that we have some examples for an ideal Rebbe ( this is an ideal Rebbe, not the only ideal Rebbe), we can begin to craft some detailed rules to help us get there. For example: If he wants to be someone who wants to take advantage of the early morning, he’ll need to get to sleep at a reasonable time. A helpful rule would be to say he begins getting ready for bed at 9:45 PM and is in bed by 10 PM. If he wants to be an efficient worker, other rules could include not using social media at work or no multitasking when working on a single assignment. Parenting goals could include putting your phone away around your children or making sure you have a date night with your wife on a predetermined day. These rules should always correspond with the character traits of your Ideal Rebbe.

Some Ideas For Non-Specific Goals

Sometimes, there are simply some rules that are handy for being a more well-rounded individual. There’s nothing wrong with these. In fact, these rules may help you design your ideal Rebbe.

Here are 30 of my favorite rules from bestselling author Daniel Wong

  • Spend 10 minutes every day in quiet reflection.
  • Exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes each time.
  • Read for 30 minutes a day. (I’m referring to books, not tweets or Facebook status updates.)
  • Every day, write down one thing you’re thankful for.
  • Compliment one person a day.
  • Never play with your phone or look at your computer screen when someone is talking to you.
  • Be home for dinner at least four times a week.
  • Be five minutes early for every appointment.
  • Never criticize someone over email. If you want to offer constructive criticism, do it in person.
  • Spend the last 15 minutes of each workday planning for the next day.
  • Don’t check your email more than three times a day.
  • Whenever you make a phone call, out of courtesy ask the other party if it’s a good time for him or her to talk.
  • Don’t talk bad behind anyone’s back.
  • Once a month, ask your teacher, spouse or boss for feedback.
  • Proofread every email before sending it.

Other Rule Sources: Pirkei Avot

One of my favorite sources of rules that I can apply to my life is in the words of Pirkei Avot: The Ethics of Our Fathers. This tractate of Mishnah is full of applicable rules for living from some of the greatest Jewish sages.

What rules for living have you established for yourself already? Have you been able to keep them?