What I learned when I got my flu shot

Last week I got a flu shot. The person who administered the shot to me told me right before the shot that, “If I relax my arm, it won’t hurt as much later.”

I told her that was very interesting and asked if it had anything to do with the muscle being contracted. I was told that I was correct and that it’s more difficult to put the needle into the contracted muscle and that most people have a sore arm the next day because they put up that resistance.

A day later my arm didn’t hurt as much as usual, but  I could get that conversation out of my head. 

I am, in many respects, a rather easy-going and go-with-the-flow type of person.  I’m, also, rather set in my ways, at times.  Ususally I prefer to think of it as a “stick with your guns” attitude, but when all is said and done, I can be rather stiff-necked.  Grown and change are good things, like a flu shot.  The help you out in the long run and I have no trouble accepting them.  The problem, I realize for me, is that even when I do decide to grow/change there can be a little residual resistance that lingers.  That’s the kicker.

If I know that a specific action is a good choice to make and it will benefit me or my family, then it would seem only right to accept it and go-with-the-flow.  Putting up resistance and “contracting the muscle” will only make my arm sore.  So why put up even that little bit of resistance?  The obivious answer, for me, is that it’s a the most comfortable reaction…resisting change.

As I was thinking about this post, a teaching of R Moshe Chaim Luzzato (the Ramchal) came to mind.  In Derech Hashem (part 1, chapter 4, section 4) the Ramchal teaches that:

The Highest Wisdom too into account all the categories of man’s natural faults as well as all the concepts of true excellence and value required by man in order to become worthy of being drawn close to God and enjoying His good.  Taking everything into account, He set up patterns and restraints [my emphasis] through which everything excellent should be incorporated in man and everything separating him from God, removed.

The Ramchal then explains that the “patterns and restraints” are Hashem’s mitzvos.  I’ve always (well, since 1991) been enamored with this defintion of mitzvos.  Following both the postive mitzvos and prohibitions is really an issue of postive action and exercising our bechira (free will) to restrain ourselves and put up the right type of resistance when neccessary.  In light of my flu shot, I have woken up to the reality that resistance of things that are in my benefit will only leave me sore. 

For a real fascinating exploration of bechira, I suggest reading Dr.  Benzion Sortzkin’s  Bechira:  How Free is Free Will?

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