Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 5 September 2015 / 21 Elul 5775

Lasting Teshuva - Part 2

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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Previously we discussed the importance of strategically planning one's resolutions in order to prevent the common relapse that usually follows Yom Kippur. The following is a continuation of tips from the great rabbis throughout the times for making teshuvah last.

The Gemara (Yoma 86b) tells us that when a person repeats a sin on a constant basis it becomes permissible in his eyes. A person may then easily lose sight of the prohibition in his actions. When a person reaches this state he needs to include in his resolution an action or behavior that will re-sensitize him to the severity of the prohibition. One way to do this is by “fining” himself every time he commits the sin. The fine can range from money to tzedaka to denying oneself something he likes for every time he repeats the sin. Through this he can gradually condition himself to have a negative association with the sin, and, with the help of G-d, come to leave it altogether.

Another way of keeping oneself sensitive to the gravity of sin is to set aside time to learn mussar. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter used to say that someone who wants to change his ways without learning mussar is analogous to someone who wants to see without eyes or to hear without ears. Constantly reviewing words of mussar is vital for reminding a person to analyze his ways and prevent himself from going back to his old bad habits.

Perhaps the most efficient method for keeping a resolution is by getting rid of the “tool” that one uses to do the undesirable act. This is very effective because one is essentially making it impossible to return to his old ways. Based on this idea, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 25b) tells us that a gambler completes his process of repentance by breaking the dice that he used for gambling. This act of ridding himself of the dice is not only a testament to his inner desire for change but is also a practical way of preventing himself from falling once again. In addition to one's resolve for change one should get rid of the tool that aids him in performing the immoral act.

All or Nothing

There is a very common device the yetzer hara (evil inclination) uses to make us give up our new resolutions. When we slack off in keeping up with our new resolutions, we suddenly hear a familiar voice in our head: “I told you it wouldn’t last. Who are you fooling? Did you really think you were going to change? You barely lasted this long!”

The way to combat this attack is by catching the yezter hara on the false assumption that “it’s all or nothing”. We must constantly remind ourselves that every second one abides by his new resolution is tremendous. Even if he will eventually falter, those precious moments of accomplishment are still his.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein demonstrates this idea by asking why Yehoshua deserved such a generous reward for bringing good reports about the Land of Israel, since his reports weren't even accepted by the people. Careful analysis of the sequence of events reveals that the ten spies spoke first, followed by Yehoshua's rebuttal, after which the ten spies spoke again. The reason why the ten spies had to speak again after Yehoshua was because Yehoshua's words convinced the people that the original remarks of the other spies were a fabrication. Therefore, the spies had to speak to the nation again to persuade them against Yehoshua's remarks. Rabbi Feinstein says that the reward that Yehoshua received was for those brief moments the people rejected the false words of the ten spies. Even though the people ultimately chose the spies' words over Yehoshua's, nevertheless, Yehoshua succeeded in convincing them of the truth for the brief time he spoke. We see from here the power of temporary change; even a few moments count.

The type of resolution that a person takes on can also help him overcome the false assumption of “it's all or nothing.” Rabbi Dessler suggests that one way to do this is to set a minimum and maximum on any resolution one is taking upon himself. For example, if he is resolving to add to his Torah learning, he should set a minimum of one hour of learning and a maximum of two hours. Or he can take on to add to his learning for a maximum of seven days a week or a minimum of four days a week. In this way, even if he slacks off in sticking to his resolution he doesn’t get the depressing feeling of all is lost, because he can still save his resolution by meeting the minimum standard he set for increasing his Torah learning.

This can also be accomplished by taking on an additional “undemanding” resolution as well. Even if one slacks off in one resolution, he can still feel inspired by knowing he kept up with his other resolution. Taking on an easy resolution has another advantage as well. The Gemara (Menachot 43b) says that the punishment for not wearing the white strings of tzitzit on one's clothing is greater than the punishment for not wearing the techeilet string. The reason for this is that white strings are easily found, whereas the techeilet string is scarce. Therefore, a person who refuses to be bothered with the minimal effort of getting white strings has committed a bigger affront than one who is not willing to go through the effort of getting the rare techeilet string. The same idea is true with all other mitzvot. By also taking on easy resolutions one can demonstrate his vigilance to fix the areas for which he may be held more accountable.

May we all merit using the special energy of this time to make lasting changes and thereby bring about the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.

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