Many an hour is spent by the musician practicing his scales. Over and over, again and again their digits run up and down those faithful keys, polishing his use of the instrument. An expertise, nay, a mastery is attained and their fingers can play almost of their own accord. Sports professionals exercise a similar devotion to their chosen vocation, they too believe in the adage: Practice makes perfect. They will diligently spend hour after hour shooting hoops, dribbling, running passing and jumping. And this is just a part of perfecting their art, additional time is spent on their physique at the gym toning their bodies and building stamina. The result is their professionalism and proficiency in their craft. This engenders much adulation. Artisans and athletes are known for bathing in adoration and admiration for the products and entertainment they deliver.
Despite the fact their honed skill does not come with ease, their grit and resolve is viewed with an unwarranted indifference. To the dilettante, the constant practice, the meticulous replaying and painstaking correcting and recreating appears to be overly tedious. The truth; it is tedious, even for the acclaimed expert, but this hardly hampers their drive or curtails their discipline. Regardless of the boredom, their self limitation is liberating. The short term restrictions provide far reaching successes. The singer who applies himself preparing for a faultless performance will sing with more confidence and freedom. He is in control.
Spiritual control is no different. To achieve power over mental choice is occasionally (but not always) best attained by self limitation. The Torah actually builds this into developing its human framework, with a special commandment empowering man to create his own environment. An individual has the authority to impose restrictions that are equally weighted with G-d’s designated boundaries. For instance, if a person were to undertake a vow – a Neder – of vegetarianism, meat would now be forbidden to the degree lobster is outlawed. The rationale why a person can create these new regulations is similar to the confinement of those wishing to excel, it enables man to generate greater self control.
Analyzing and applying this to a classic weakness such a hankering for ice-cream will illuminate the power of this tool. An individual can modulate their intake of ice-cream, achieving moderation with the Neder technique. The effect of this Mitzvah brings more freedom and greater discipline.
Although swearing oaths and taking vows are modalities which are frowned upon by our Sages, the message is not. Growth can occur by limitation. It is not necessary to undertake a pro-forma oath with all of its severity. With a strong resolve and an honest attitude most people will achieve the same goal.