3.02 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: QUESTIONS ON THE FOUR STEPS OF TESHUVA
In yesterdays sheet we discussed The four steps of teshuva. Today’s sheet will focus primarily on providing answers to the most frequently asked questions about these steps.
QUESTION 1-WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REGRET AND GUILT? EVERY TIME I START HAVING REGRET. I JUST FEEL BAD AND HATE MYSELF.
Regret is the acknowledgement that you have lost an opportunity to become greater or that you have not lived up to your potential. Guilt is the negative emotion saying that you are bad. How do you know The difference between the two? The criteria for judging such feelings is how you behave and feel later. Guilt breeds feeling of depression. Regret leads to feelings of joy.
How is this? No matter what you do, you are a good person. You are a soul. Your essence is good. When you do something bad, your Yetzer Hara got the befter of you. It made you confused. You are still a good person.
Your essence is G-dly. You are made in the image of G-d. Therefore, when you have made a mistake and you see it clearly and you feel regret over it, your relationship with the Al-mighty becomes more elevated. You are not a bad person. On the contrary, precisely because you feel regret over it, that is a sign you are a good person. You are trying to improve. Would an evil person feel regret over a sin?
Let’s say, for example, you are running to catch a bus. Just as you are turning the corner to catch it, you don’t see a hole in the street and you trip, fall and miss the bus. You regret the fact that you didn’t see the hole and missed the bus. You regret the fact that you now have to wait 15 minutes until the next one. But are you a bad person for tripping? Did you put a hole in the street?
The same is true with a sin. The Yetzer Hara has tripped you up. Are you to be blamed for that?
In general, learning how to avoid guilt when trying to improve is a skill that takes some time to acquire. If you find That you are constantly feeling guilty whenever you approach self-growth, consult your Rav about this.
QUESTION 2-WHAT HAPPENS IF I KNOW SOMETHING IS WRONG BUT I DON’T FEEL ANY REGRET OVER IT?
The Chovos HaLevavos in Shaar Teshuva, Chapter Three writes of a few prerequisites in order for teshuva to be successful:
Prerequisites #1-The returnee must clearly recognize the negativity of what he has done. If it is not clear to him and he is in doubt about it there cannot be any repentance, nor seeking of forgiveness for it. (#1)
If you have committed a transgression and you don’t feel any regret, on a certain level, you are missing clarity as to why the sin was negative. It might be that you don’t fully understand the power of the mitzvos to bring you to greatness. It might be that you have a block with this particular mitzvah. But it all stems from a lack of understanding. The best advice is to ask someone that you can talk to why this particular transgression so serious.
Prerequisites #2 -It might also be that you are not sure about the halacha.
He must be aware that his specific act was legally wrong… For if it is not clear to him that his deed was wrong and his action was not good, he will neither feel remorse for it nor accept the conditions necessary for teshuva. (Ibid #2)
It is very important to make sure that you are clear that you did in fact do something wrong. Without That total clarity on this point, feeling regret will be hard.
Prerequisite #3 -The Last piece of advice That might help you to feel regret Is the following;
He must consciously reflect upon the good things the Creator has bestowed upon him and how he had rebelled against G-d instead of being grateful to Him. (Ibid. #6)
If you would sit down and write out a list of all the great things that G-d has done for you in your lifetime, most likely it would lead you to have gratitude. If you would Then contemplate that instead of paying G-d back for all the wonderful things that He did for you, you went against Him, This might lead you to regret what you have done.
QUESTION NUMBER 3-HOW DO I DO THE CONFESSION?
The Rambam writes in his Mishnah Torah:
How is the confession done? You say, Hashem, I have made a mistake transgressed, rebelled before you, I did such and such. Behold I feel regret and am ashamed of my actions. I will never ever return to them forever. This is the essence of the confession. Whoever increases his confession and lengthens the matter, behold this is praiseworthy. (Hilchos Teshuva 1.1.’)
We see here that the Rambams confession includes all the steps of teshuva, therefore, it is very important to make sure before you get there to cornplete all of the previous steps.
But what should your attitude be when you say the confession? How exactly do you relate to G-d when you talk to Hirn? There is a very interesting piece in the Mishnah Brurah that might give us an indication. The piece discusses whether scholars should subject themselves to a lot of fasts. The Chofetz Chaim wrote that if you want to do teshuva, do not do anything that will weaken you physically. Since the greatest form of purification is learning Torah, there is no greater teshuva than increasing your learning of Torah. Then he speaks about how to how to talk to G-d:
Connect your thoughts to Him as if you already stand before Him on the Day of Judgement. Speak to Him like a slave speaks to his master or a son to his father. (Mishnah Brurah, Beur Halacha, Chapter 571, Talmid Chochom)
This gives us a little bit of an indication of what our attitude should be when doing The viduy.
QUESTION NUMBER 4-WHAT IS SOME GOOD ADVICE FOR HOW TO MAKE USING THE FOUR STEPS MORE PRODUCTIVE?
Some people have found that if they write out the steps first, and then say them out loud, that this can be helpful. This helps one to have one’s thoughts clearly spelled out (especially during the Ten Days of Teshuva when the main mitzvah of the time period is teshuva).
Some people take the steps, memorize them, and at the end of one specific davening everyday take something through the steps. This is a great tool for gaining familiarity with the steps and learning how to use them.
QUESTION NUMBER 5-WHAT HAPPENS IF I USE THE STEPS AND I FIND THAT THEY CONFUSE AND OVERWHELM ME?
Sometimes a person sits down and starts to do teshuva using the steps and he finds that they just don’t work for him. He finds that whenever he starts to use them, he gets overwhelmed or confused. He knows that when he sat down and did teshuva last year when he didn’t know the steps, he grew a lot. But now that he knows the steps, it just isn’t working for him. The Rosh Yeshiva once gave a. very important Shmooze on this topic and mentioned that if this is your situation, that the steps are getting in the way of your ability to do teshuva, then “just change”. You’ll get The hang of the steps next year.
NOW IS THE TIME TO TRY THE WHOLE PROCESS
Doing teshuva properly s a process that takes some practice. The month of Elul is a good time to work on it. Take a small area that is easy for you to change in and start doing The four steps. Try it. Learn what is holding you back. By working on these steps over a period of time, you will find your relationship to G-d will improve drastically.
Tomorrow we will be answering the most important question of alt, how does one do the fourth step ot teshuva, the commitment never to do a transgression again.