A Comprehensive Program to Maximize The High Holy Days

Category: Days of Awe (Page 1 of 3)

6.01 The Ten Days of Teshuvah: The Meaning of the Al Chet Confession

6.01 THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVA: THE MEANING OF THE AL CHET CONFESSION

THE PURPOSE OF THE AL CHET

When one begins to look at the task of teshuva, it can be overwhelming. We have done so many things wrong over the past year that it is hard to know where to begin. Do we take out a list of the Taryag Mitzvos and ask, what were all my transgressions on mitzvah number 1, and number 2 etc.?” That doesn’t seem to be the direction to go in, for it would be very time consuming and very draining.

The answer is much simpler. We must come up with a plan for spiritual growth that, in the future, will lead us to abandoning our transgressions. If we could find the central roots of our transgressions and attack them had on, eventually, most of our transgressions would fall away. That is the goal of the Teshuva process.

This is the secret of the “Al Chet” confession that we say so many times on Yom Kippur. R. Dessler (zt”l), in his famous work, Miktav M’Eliahu. points out that the Al Chet confession is not a list of sins, per se, but rather it is a list of the roots of sins. Each one of the sins that are listed is a root cause for sin and, therefore, if you look carefully at the list it might be quite helpful in figuring out what the central problem is that is dragging you down.

Therefore, before Yom Kippur arrives, it is very important to sit down and learn what the Al Chet Confession is and make it relevant. In it is the answer to what might be holding us back from greatness. The following presentation is a questionnaire designed to help you find out which are the areas that you need to be working on.

After you have gone through the transgressions listed and have found areas of weakness, make your plan on these areas. But please remember, change is a process that doesn’t happen immediately. Don’t choose too many things to work on in your plan. It might just be too overwhelming. (Please see sheet numbers 12 and 15 for further information).

1.For the sin that we committed before You under duress and willingly.

Explanation of under duress – These are the sins that you committed because you thought you were not in control, but you really were, on a certain level. If you had not put yourself into compromising situations, or even if you had, but had taken the trouble to make fences, you would not have committed the transgressions you did.

Did I put myself into compromising situations and then when I transgressed said it was accidental?
Did I rationalize that had no choice but I really did? (e.g. you davened in a fast minyan and then xxcomplained that you had no cavanah, or you spent time with people who speak loshon hara and then xxcomplained that you ended up speaking it, etc.)
Did I make “fences” so that I won’t transgress?
Do I have a penalty system set up so that I won’t do certain sins?
Even if something did happen to me that was not in my control, did I ask “why did G-d do this to me”?

Willingly – Did you sin because you wanted to indulge in a pleasure?

2.For the sin that we committed before You through having a hard heart

Did I ignore the poor and the weak?
Did I ignore helping people who are not frum? Did I pay attention to their pain?
Was I kind, compassionate and loving when I needed to be?
Do I feel the pain of the Jewish Nation?
Did I give charity to the poor in a cold way?

3.For the sin we committed before You without thinking (or without knowledge)

Do I act like a judge in all my dealings with the world, weighing out what is right and what is wrong?
Do I remind myself constantly of the major goals of my life?
Do I consciously involve G-d in my life?
Am I learned in halacha?
Do I have a goal to be a thinking individual?

4.For the sin that we committed before You through the things we blurted out with our lips.

Do I think before I speak?
Do I often make hasty outbursts?
Do I often make hasty vows or oaths?
Do I often make hasty promises?

5.For the sin that we committed before You in public and in private

Sins In public – Did I do foolish or sinful things to attract attention or approval?
Did I do mitzvos in public, that if I was in private I would not have done them?
Was I modest with my accomplishments?

Sins in private – Do I reassure myself that since no one sees I am free to sin?
Have I denied that G-d exists because of the sins that I did in private?
Do I realize that doing sins in private, in many ways, harms my relationship with G-d in a more serious xxway than doing them in public?
When I was alone did I realize that Hashem was alone with me?

6.For the sin that we committed before You through immorality

Did I have any improper thoughts?
Did I look at anyone that I shouldn’t have?
Did I talk to anyone that I shouldn’t have?
Did I tell any improper jokes?
Do I realize immorality is a major obstacle to
achieving closeness with G-d?

7.For the sin that we committed before You through harsh speech

Did I speak to anyone in a harsh and forceful manner?
Did I express my opinions in a too forceful, non-holy manner?
Did I speak in a soft spoken, sensitive manner when it was necessary?

8.For the sin that we committed before You with knowledge and deceit

Did I use knowledge in a deceitful way?
Did I use knowledge to deceive others?
Did I use knowledge to deceive myself (i.e. did I rationalize sins in order to do what I wanted to)?
Did I use knowledge to circumvent the spirit of the law?
Did I show off with my knowledge of the Torah in order to impress others?

9.For the sin that we committed before You through inner thoughts.

Did I think in a negative way about people?
Did I fantasize about doing sin?
Did I think about G-d in my deepest emotions?

10.For the sin that we committed before You through wronging a friend

Did I defraud my friends?
Did I wrong friends by hurting their feelings?
Did I take advantage of my friends even though they trusted me?

11.For the sin that we committed before You through insincere confession

When I confessed to G-d on Yom Kippur did I do so with sincerity and honesty?
Did I keep my commitments that I made in my confessions to G-d?
Do I realize that keeping my commitments to G-d will lead to self-respect?
Do I confess to G-d when I do something wrong?

12.For the sin that we committed before You while in a gathering of people dedicated to negative things.

Was I in any gathering that led to discussions of negative things?
Was I in any gathering that led to negative activities?
Did I associate with moral and ethical people?
Are you looking to associate with the proper people?

13.For the sin that we committed before You willfully and unintentionally.

(WiIlfulIy)
Did I sin out of a desire to demonstrate my independence of G-d’s authority (G-d forbid)?

(Unintentionally)
Did I sin in an unintentional way that had an aspect of carelessness to it?
Could it have been avoided? Could I have taken the proper precautions to avoid doing that sin xxunintentionally?

14.For the sin that we committed before You by degrading our parents and teachers

(Parents)
Did I have contempt for my parents in my mind?
Did I verbally express my contempt?
Do I realize how much they have done for me?
Do I respect my parents?

(Teachers)
Do I realize that the way to wisdom is to respect teachers and as a result receive the transmission of the xxTorah?
Do I respect my teachers?
Do I appreciate my teachers for all the good that they have done for me?

15.For the sin that we committed before You by exercising power

Did I sin by taking advantage of the weak?
Do I realize that it is not the Jewish way to throw your weight around?
Did I force someone to do something against his will?

16.For the sin that we committed before You through desecrating G-d’s name

Did I give a bad impression of being a religious Jew to someone and therefore desecrated G-d’s xxname?
Did I misuse my power as a role model by sinning or doing something that I shouldn’t be doing?
Did I smile to people?
Was I dressed properly?

17.For the sin that we committed before You with foolish speech

Did I sin by talking about stupid things?
Do understand that speaking words of Torah is the way to become a great person?
Do I associate with people who speak words of Torah in their spare time?

18.For the sin that we committed before You with vulgar speech

Did I sin by contaminating my mouth with vulgar speech?
Did I sin by hearing it?
Did I protest when I heard it?
Did I always express myself in the holiest and most pleasant way possible?

19.For the sin that we committed before You with the yetzer hara (evil inclination)

Have I incited my lusts and my urges?
Have I put myself into situations that do this?
Have I used the tools and techniques that I know are able to control my yetzer hara?

20.For the sin that we committed before You against those who know and those that did not know

Have I wronged people to their faces?
Have I wronged people behind their backs?

21.For the sin that we committed before You through bribery

Have I been influenced or bribed to do sins because of flattery?
Have I been influenced or bribed to do sins because of favors?
Have I been influenced or bribed to do sins because of money?
Do I realize that money is the biggest pull on one’s honesty and integrity?
When didn’t you do the right thing because you wanted approval?

22.For the sin that we committed before You through denial and false promises

Have I sinned through denial of the truth to others?
Have I sinned through denial of the truth to myself?
Have I sinned through false promises?
Did I say any untruth in the slightest way?
Do I realize that the mark of a great man is that he is as meticulous about truth as possible?

23.For the sin that we committed before You through Loshon Hara (negative speech)

Have I spoken Loshon Hara?
Do I know the laws of Loshon Hara?
Do I know the laws well?
Did I try to avoid talking about people as much as possible?
Do I realize that this is one of the keys to the redemption?

24.For the sin that we committed before You through being scornful (or scoffing)

Did I ridicule serious things?
Did I scoff at true concepts?
Did I mock someone who tried to criticize me?

25.For the sin that we committed before You in business

Have I been scrupulously honest in every financial transaction that I made?
Do I realize that this area is what usually ruins people’s integrity more than any other?
Do I realize that integrity is the mark of every great man?
When I was successful in business did I give G-d credit for the success?

26.For the sin that we committed before You with food and drink

When I ate, did I let the animalistic part of myself take control?
Have I spoken words of Torah at the table?
Have I sinned by not keeping kashrus properly?
Did I have gratitude to G-d for providing me with food?
Have I said blessings over food properly?
Have I wasted food?
Have I eaten unhealthy foods?

27.For the sin that we committed before You with different types of monetary interest

Do I know the Torah laws on taking interest?
Have I taken or given any loans with interest without a heter iska (a special contract that permits interest xxtransactions)
Have I made a profit as a result of someone else’s misfortune or downfall?
Am I greedy?
Am I stingy?

28.For the sin that we committed before You by having an outstretched neck (with head held high)

Have I shown arrogance through body language?
Do I walk in a humble manner?
Do I present myself in a humble manner?

29.For the sin that we committed before You with eye movements

Did I look at someone in a flirtatious way?
Did I wink at someone who I should not have?
Did I “express” loshon hara with eye movements?
Did I stare impolitely at someone?
Did I look at people doing mitzvos?
Did I look at the righteous people?

30.For the sin that we committed before You by endlessly babbling

Do I tend to have conversations with no meaningful content?
Do I tend to sound like a chatterbox?
Do I concentrate on what I say?
Do I say brachos properly?
Do I say prayers properly?

31.For the sin that we committed before You with haughty eyes

Did I look at people with an inner feeling of superiority?
Did I love each Jew with warm and loving eyes?

32.For the sin that we committed before You with a strong forehead (you were brazen)

Do I have the Jewish attribute of shame?
Have I lacked the attribute of shame?
Do I stand before G-d in shame?

33.For the sin that we committed before You in throwing off the yoke

Have I accepted the responsibility for doing all of the mitzvos?
Have I accepted the responsibility of living with G-g?
Have I accepted the responsibility of learning Torah when I should be?
Do I love all Jews?
Am I a responsible person?
Do I keep my commitments?
Am I lazy?

34.For the sin that we committed before You in judgement

Have I judged G-d unfairly?
Have I judged people unfairly?
Have I made an effort to judge people positively?
Can I judge truth properly?

35.For the sin that we committed before You entrapping a friend

Have I taken advantage of family and friends and put them in a situation where they couldn’t say no to xxdoing you a favor?
Have I manipulated family and friends? Have I violated the trust of people who have confidence in me?
Did I entrap a friend to do averas with me?

36.For the sin that we committed before You through a begrudging eye

Was I stingy?
Was I jealous?
Did I find ways not to give tzedaka?
Was I unwilling to do favors when I should have?
Do I think about other people as well as myself?

37.For the sin that we committed before You through light-headedness

Do I walk around as if the Al-mighty is standing right before me?
Do I behave properly in the Beis Midrash?
Do I behave properly in the Beis Knesset?
Do I behave properly at the Kosel?
Do I talk about proper things in the above places?
Did I have excessive levity?
Do I treat religious books with the proper respect?

38.For the sin that we committed before You by being stiff-necked?

Am I unreasonably stubborn?
Do I think that I am always right?
Have I been single-minded and lost my objectivity when I really wanted something?

39.For the sin that we committed before You by running to do evil?

Have I hurried to commit sins?
Was I motivated to do averas?
Do I walk in the proper way?
Did I slow down to say brachos and daven?
Do I run to do mitzvos?
Do I run to the Beis Knesset?

40.For the sin that we committed before You through telling people what others said about them

Have I turned people against each other?
Do I know the laws against richilus?
Do I realize that richilus can destroy a society?

41.For the sin that we committed before You through vain oath taking

Have I sworn oaths in vain?
Have I sworn falsely?
Did I use G-d’s name in trivial ways?
Do I realize how careful I must be with Hashem’s name?

42.For the sin that we committed before You through baseless hatred

Have I hated people, on a personal level, instead of disagreeing on issues?
Have I hated people instead of their evil deeds?
Do I realize that when people sin it is mostly because of confusion and weakness?

43.For the sin that we committed before You in the matter of extending the hand

Have I put forth my hand to help people?
Have I joined hands with wicked people?
Have I stretched forth my hand to the poor and the needy?

44.For the sin that we committed before You through confusion of the heart

Have I not gotten the answer I needed because of laziness?
Have I not worked out issues because of laziness?
Have I not gotten the answer that I needed because I did not want to get the answer?
Do I know what I am living for?
Do I have proper goals?

WHAT DO YOU DO AFTER YOU HAVE FINISHED THE QUESTIONNAIRE?

After you have gone through the list and you find areas of weakness, these are the areas to make your plan on. But please remember, don’t make your plan on every single area of difficulty. Choose the areas that will be the most effective in solving your other problems. Change is a process that doesn’t happen immediately. Don’t choose too many things to work on in your plan. It might just be too overwhelming. (Please see sheets number 12 and 15 for further information on the rate of change and how to do teshuvah). By choosing the areas that are the root problems this will. allow for the greatest success in the teshuva process.

MAKING FINAL PREPARATIONS FOR YOM KIPPUR

Yom Kippur is tomorrow night. The day we have been preparing for is now just around the corner. It is very important to finalize and complete all your preparations in these last few hours left.* One who has prepared well will now taste the fruits of his labors on Yom Kippur.

One who studies Torah in order to teach, Is given the means to study and to teach; and one who studies in order to practice, Is given the means to study and to teach, to observe, and to practice (Perkl Avos 4.6).

This concludes the High Holy Day series. I hope that it has proven helpful in increasing the awareness of the ideas needed to make these important days meaningful and procluctive. Gmar Chasima Tova.

* Even on Yom Kippur itself progress can still be made, even from scratch. But we all know that it would be foolish and reckless to count on this.

5.02 The Ten Days of Teshuvah; Restoring Your Lost Innocence

5.02 THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVA: RESTORING YOUR LOST INNOCENCE

WE ARE FOUR DAYS INTO THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVA. HOW MUCH TESHUVA HAVE YOU DONE?

We are now four days into the Ten Days of Teshuva. The obvious priority for these days is teshuva. There is no greater opportunity to get close to G-d, than the next six days of the year. The time for preparation is over. The time for teshuva is now. The most important question to ask at this time is how much teshuva have you done over the past few days?And if the answer is not as much as you should, then now is the time to change.

INTRODUCTION TO LESSON 20

The Gemora points out a fascinating aspect of human psychology:

R. Huna said, ‘Once a man does wrong and repeats it, it is permitted to him.
“It is permitted to him!” Can you really think such a thing?
Rather it becomes to him as if it is permitted. (Kiddushin 40a)

When a man does a transgression and then he does it again, it no longer appears to him as a transgression. It becomes as if it is permitted. As a matter of fact, the Baali Mussar (Masters of Self-Perfection) point out that the third time you do it, not only does it become as if it is permitted to him, but it-even becomes a mitzvah!

People lose spiritual sensitivities by repeating a transgression. A holocaust survivor was once heard saying, ‘The first time I ate treif (non-kosher food), I thought I was going to die; the second time, I felt a little pain; and the third time, something snapped and I didn’t feel any guilt.”

The school of R. Yishmael taught: Sin dulls the heart of man, as It is said: Neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled thereby (Vayikra 11.43). Do not read ve-nitmasem (that you should be unclean) but u-netmosem (that you should become dull-hearted).n (Yoma 39a)

The blunting of man’s finer perceptions which make him unable to distinguish between right and wrong is the outcome of continual sin. This spiritual insensitivity will not only lead you to transgress in the future, but it will remove you from G-d in a very deep way.

When a person does teshuva the reverse occurs. Teshuva sharpens your spiritual nerves. You are now saying to G-d, “I feel it is wrong. I feel regret.” You restore your spiritual being back to sensitivity. To give you an example of spiritual sensitivity imagine this: the Chofetz Chaim fainted when he first saw a Jew driving on Shabbos.

During this very important time period this is exactly what we have to do. Our goal is to try to resensitize ourselves away from sin. The purpose of this sheet is to try to awaken some of the old sensitivities that we might have lost over the past few years, while we were pushing ahead in other areas of our lives.

We must resensitize ourselves to the time prior to when we committed that first transgression. This restoration of innocence is hard work but a very necessary and productive step during the Ten Days of Teshuva.

PART ONE-THE POWER OF THE FIRST TIME

1. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU LEARNED THE LAWS OF LOSHON HARA?

Remember many years ago you walked into the yeshiva and you heard that there was a mitzvah not to speak Loshon Hara? You were fascinated. You thought to yourself, ‘What an amazing thing. I am going to learn those laws. You found a copy of Guard Your Tongue, and you spent a whole day learning the laws. For the next week, you were a changed person. Every word out of your mouth was carefully weighed out and measured. But then something happened. You noticed that other people were not so particular as you. As a matter of fact, when you were very careful, you made people nervous. So, for whatever reason, you stopped being so careful. You wanted to be more “normal’ and accepted. After all, who were you to be acting so frum anyway?

Now, it is many years later, and you look back when you were a “new guy in the beginners program” with a little envy. Why not try to catch a little bit of the old spirit and get back these old sensitivities?

2. START FROM SCRATCH

If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do differently? You have probably learned a lot about yourself these past few years. You have missed a few things along the way that are probably difficult to go back and get. And why is it difficult? Because you think you are so far along in the process that it is an embarrassment to go back and learn it.

So what if you have been here for four years and still don’t understand fully what is written in the siddur. That shouldn’t hold you back from still learning it. Maybe you realize that you don’t understand at all the meanings behind the main holidays. So why not go back and get it now?

Try this exercise. Imagine in your mind’s eye that you are arriving at the yeshiva today for the first time as the person you are, at the level you are on now, and no one knows you and you have never been in any classes in the yeshiva. You now have the opportunity to set up any schedule that you want. What would you do differently? What changes would you make in your life, if no one knew you?

The purpose of this exercise is to focus a person on that part of himself that might have gotten lost over the years. Many people subconsciously judge themselves by the number of years that they are observant. This unfortunately causes a person who needs to go back and learn something he missed to not do so for fear of being embarrassed. As a result he might lose touch with certain essential ingredients that are needed to make up the recipe of his personality.

So ask yourself. How would I start from scratch if nobody knew me? This might bring you to startling realizations about certain areas that might need correcting because you have lost touch with the deepest parts of your soul.

3. THE FIRST TIME SHE EVER PRAYED

At one of the branches of Aish HaTorah in America, I witnessed the following story:

There was a man who wanted to get ahead in life. One of the things that he felt was holding him back was the fact that he was Jewish. So he decided to run away from his Jewishness. He went to Iowa, changed his name, and disappeared into the heart of Christian America.

There was a woman, whose Jewish mother intermarried into a “fine” Baptist family. She was raised as a “fine” Christian girl in the heart of Iowa. One day, this “escaping’ Jew met this “fine” Christian girl and they were married. They had a daughter who they raised as a non-Jew.

The daughter grew up, left Iowa and moved to the “Big City” where she got a job as a secretary for an organization called “Aish HaTorah.” During this time period, for the first time, her father revealed to her mother that he was Jewish. He expected his wife to be angry, but instead she replied, “Oh, my mother was Jewish also.” They both laughed at the irony of the whole situation.

That day the father spoke to his daughter. He told his daughter the story in a laughing way. “Do you know that according to Jewish law you are considered to be a full fledged Jew? Now isn’t that the funniest thing you ever heard?” The girl didn’t laugh. She was extremely impressed with the people at Aish HaTorah and could not understand why she felt so connected to what they were doing.

That night she went to daven for the first time. It was Friday night. I saw her bewildered expression when she left the Beit Knesset for the first time in her life after having found out she was Jewish. She said the following, “How can it be in a place of G-d, people don’t pay attention during their prayers to G-d? Don’t they realize they are talking to G-d? Is there something I don’t understand here? There were even people talking about business.”

Remember the first time you prayed in your life? Do you remember the anticipation? Do you remember how you closed your eyes and spoke to G-d from the depths of your heart? Do you remember how shocked you were when you saw people not acting in a proper way during the service? Are we these same people many years later?

If we daven three times a day for a year, that is over 1000 Shemoneh Esreis. How many Shemoneh Esreis have you prayed so far? 5000? 10,000? Now remember how hard you tried to concentrate during Shemoneh Esrei #1-10?

Take one prayer and pretend it is the very beginning. Put yourself back into those first few days of prayer and just let go. You might find it to be a very powerful experience.

PART TWO-THE POWER OF CRYING OUT

1. CRY OUT TO G-D DURING DAVENING THAT HE SHOULD HELP YOU TO RETURN TO THE PROPER WAY

Here you are in the Ten Days of Teshuva and the tension is on. And you so badly want to figure out a way to open up your heart. But you just don’t know how to do it. Feel the pain of how far you are away from G-d. Feel how close you want to be.

The Gemora in Brachos (16a) talks about the different prayers that the Rabbis used to say at the end of the Amidah prayer. One of the prayers mentioned there adequately expresses this frustration : Sovereign of the Universe, it is revealed and known to You that our will is to perform Your will, and what prevents us? The yeast in the dough and the subjugation to the foreign powers. May it be Your will to deliver us from their hand, so that we may return to perform the statutes of Your will with a full heart.

The yeast in the dough symbolizes the Yetzer Hara (evil impulse) which causes negativity to ferment in our heart. The subjugation to the foreign powers symbolizes the exile with its attendant value system and social pressures to “conform,” which drain our energy and ability to serve G-d.

The message of the prayer is a powerful one. We are saying, G-d, we totally want to be with You. But the Yetzer Hara and the exile just drain and sap our energy. Help us out so we can return to You. This is our deepest desire.

One way to bring us back to a state of sensitivity to sin is to express our deepest desire not to be in sin. At the end of the Shmoneh Esrei prayer, cry out to G-d (in a quiet voice, of course) that your deepest desire is not to be in sin. This is a tremendous form of teshuva in and of itself.

2.THE SHOFAR OF ROSH HASHANAH TEACHES US TO CRY OUT

One of the meanings behind the blowing of the Shofar is to precisely give us this message. Deep down in the bottom of our soul there is a pure part that is smothered by all the insanities of the day. That part is blocked out by our Yetzer Hara. When the Shofar is blown on Rosh HaShanah, the Yetzer Hara is confused. That gives us an opportunity to get in touch with the deepest parts of our essence that we do not have the ability to reach during the year.

It is precisely at that moment, when the Shofar is blown, that people are known to cry out to G-d from the bottom of their soul, “G-d, You are all that we want.’ It is exactly at that time, when their souls are exposed to the Al-mighty without any barriers, that they let go. (It is interesting to note that the Shofar is blown with different types of sounds to symbolize the different ways that a Jew cries. This is to show us that our heart should cry out to G-d when the Shofar is blown no matter who we are or what situation we are in.)

PART THREE-THE POWER OF CONTEMPLATION

1. WATCH AN EXPERT DO IT RIGHT

One of the ways to get back a lost sensitivity to sin is to watch an expert at a certain mitzvah do it right. This can often have the effect of causing us to see how far we have strayed from a certain mitzvah.

Choose a mitvzah you want to reawaken yourself to. Then think of who is the person that is the best at doing this mitzvah. For example, lets say you are trying to work on not saying Loshon Hara. And there is one guy in the yeshiva who is the great at maneuvering conversations away from Loshon Hara. Arrange to spend a Shabbos with him. Watch how he works. Learn his tools. And most of all, be inspired by his amazing qualities.

Once a Rabbi was sitting in Shul and someone approached him and started to speak Loshon Hara to him. He turned to the person with a warm and loving voice and said, “I have so many negative qualities of my own. Why do I have to hear about anyone else’s?” (Heard from a Rabbi in Aish Hatorah)

Once a student watched a Rabbi who was visibly late for a very important appointment take the time to say the Birchas HaMazon word for word with deep concentration. After the blessing the Rabbi said, “Just because I am clumsy enough to be late, should my prayers suffer? The student was deeply moved.

So find the experts in various mitzvahs and watch them do it right. Use this as a tool to inspire yourself to grow to where you should be.

2. EXAMINE YOUR FOUNDATIONS

One way to restore your sensitivities is to examine the foundations of your life. Take some time off between seder hours. Ask yourself the most basic questions:

What am I living for?
What am I doing and why am I doing it?
How much do I know that there is a G-d?
Do I really believe that Torah is true?
Do I really understand the power of Torah?
Why am I not as serious asI used to be? etc.

Many times during the year we work so hard that we lose sight of our priorities. We need to go back and ask ourselves why are we doing what we are doing. Many people have felt that one of the most powerful ways to return to that lost part of themselves is to examine their foundations. This sets apart those who fall into traps and those who don’t.

Don’t be scared to ask those questions that have been piling up inside you over the past twelve months or so. There is nothing wrong with working out issues. Find out where the holes are in your foundations and you will feel much better after you have filled them in. This is the time of the year to do such a cheshbon. This is the time to rededicate to get back to the basics of life and its purpose

3.GET IN TOUCH WITH YOURSELF EVERY DAY

The reason we lose touch with ourselves and allow ourselves to sin is because we don’t take time every day to reconnect with our deepest desires and essence. Therefore, the solution to the problem is the obvious: We have to spend time alone everyday and make it a habit to keep in touch with what we want and what we are doing here on earth. This will never allow us to drift very far from good.

The foundations of piety and the root of perfection in the service of G-d lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and recognizing as a truth the nature of his duty in the world and the end towards which he should direct his vision and aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life. (The Mesillas Yesharim, Perek 1)

CONCLUSION

Hopefully, the previous ideas will serve to inspire us to find the deepest parts of ourselves that are lost and return them to where they should be during these very important Ten Days of Teshuva.

5.01 The Ten Days of Teshuvah: Understanding the Fast of Gedalia

5.01 THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVA: UNDERSTANDING THE FAST OF GEDALIA

INTRODUCTION

One of the most difficult aspects to understand about the Ten Days of Teshuva is the Fast of Gedalia (Tsom Gedalia). Right in the middle of working very hard on ourselves and growing and focusing on the issues of Tishrei, the Fast of Gedalia is suddenly thrown in. And we all have asked ourselves, what is this doing here now, in Tishrei when we are working on the issues of the High Holy Days? What is the connection between the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the Ten Days of Teshuva? The purpose of this sheet is to answer these perplexing questions and focus us to the issues that we should be concentrating during this very important fast day.

THE STORY OF TSOM GEDALIA

After the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the majority of the Jewish People to Babylon, the wrath of the conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, abated. He displayed a gentler attitude to the Jews and allowed some of them to remain in the Land of Israel. He even appointed a Jewish governor as their leader. His name was Gedalia, the son of Achikam. When this became known, Jews who had escaped from the horrors of the war into neighboring countries gradually returned to their towns and homesteads in Yehuda.

Gedalia understood the role that the Jewish People needed to play at this point in history in their relationship to the nations of the world. He understood that they needed to be obedient to the nations where G-d had delivered them. He understood that G-d inclines the hearts of kings to any direction that He wants and the Jewish People therefore had nothing to fear if they did what was right.

But ‘the remnant of Israel’ that stayed behind could not yield to G-d’s plans. Yishmael, the son of Netaniah, spurred on by jealousy and foreign influence, arose .and ignored the will of the King of Babylon. He treacherously killed Gedalia and most of the Jews and Babylonians that were around him. The day that this occurred was the third day of Tishrei, fifty-two days after the appointment of Gedalia, shortly after the Al-mighty had started bringing some rest from their suffering to the remnant of Yehuda.

In the aftermath of Gedalia’s murder, the remaining Jews’ spirits had sunk to their lowest level as they dreaded the reprisal of the king of Babylon. They planned to descend to Egypt to save themselves. But Egypt was the most defiled and corrupt of all the nations, and the Jews dreaded going there. So they turned to the Prophet Yermiahu, who was secluded in mourning, to ask for advice. For forty years they had not listened to the Prophet’s warnings, and now they stood before him shame-faced like a thief who was caught. ‘We will now listen to all that G-d will tell us,” they promised.

Yermiahu now tried to communicate with the Al-mighty but a partition of iron seemed to separate him from Hashem. G-d did riot seem to be responding to the plea of the Jewish People who now wanted to do teshuva. They turned to Him during the Ten Days of Teshuva, but they soon realized that Hashem was still angry with them.

Finally, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish People were forgiven. After many days of waiting, Yermiahu called in the leaders and told them that everything would be okay. In the near future, Hashem would make Babylonia act mercifully towards the Jewish People and He would return them and all their exiled brothers to their own soil. But if they decided to go to Egypt, the sword from which they were running would kill them there.

The Prophet’s words did not penetrate their ears and hearts and they refused to believe. They just could not believe that G-d would allow them to live in the Land after everything that had occurred. The generals gathered the whole remnant of the Jewish People and went down to Egypt. Thus they caused the the banishment from the Land to become complete and final.

Just a few years later, Babylon conquered Egypt and the exiles from Yehuda were completely wiped out by the sword. They fell and died by the thousands and tens of thousands. Not a survivor was left out of the whole remnant of the exiles with the exception of Yermiahu (who was kidnapped by the generals) and some of his disciples. Yermiahu’s prophecy had become painfully true.

The murder of Gedalia ben Achikam extinguished the last spark of hope for a renewal of Jewish life in the Holy Land. Now the destruction had become complete. Within seven years, the Land turned into a barren desert. For fifty-two years all living creatures shunned it.

The day Gedalia was killed has been likened to the day when the Temple was destroyed because it caused the end of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel for many years. The prophets declared that the anniversary of the tragedy should be a day of fasting. Thus, this day became a memorial to the murder of the righteous governor and the end of a Jewish precense in Yehuda. (Based on Toldas Am Olam, Horeb, and The Art-scroll History Series)

THE LESSONS WE LEARN FROM THE FAST OF GEDALIA

1. During the Ten Days of Teshuva we must realize that no matter how much we have transgressed. Hashem accepts our teshuva.

The Jewish People had sunk to one of the lowest levels ever in their history. Their Temple was destroyed, the majority of the Jewish People were exiled, and things looked hopeless. Finally, G-d decided to grant them mercy and change their desperate situation. By having Gedalia, a righteous man appointed, it looked as if the whole situation would radically improve. But things sunk even lower. Gedalia was murdered by a Jew and all hope was wiped out. At this point when the Jewish people were at their lowest level, they decided to do teshuva. This was during the Ten Days of Teshuva. Even at the height of His anger, Hashem relented and on Yom Kippur granted them forgiveness.

The fact that this story is memorialized during the Ten Days of Teshuva is no accident. It is to teach us the message of these days: Return no matter how far you are away and Hashem will forgive you.

2. There is an intimate connection between the Ten Days of Teshuva and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash

The story of Gedalia is one of the saddest of the whole epoch of the destruction of the First Temple. It is so painful to hear about the opportunities to return that the Jewish People lost again and again. When we hear that a Jew murdered so many people, we are stunned and shocked.

The purpose of this day of remembrance is to get us to mourn the destruction of the Temple and the low level we descended to. By hearing this story, this will hopefully bring us to do teshuva on all our sins and bring back the Presence of G-d which we so desperately need.

How can I narrate the disaster when my sighing is so heavy. My soul is weary. My congregations are grieving. Our few remnants who have escaped the flames, even they could not stand firm and were scattered in wrath. How long still will You hide Your countenance from us? Hear our cry and loosen our bound ones. (Selichos of Tsom Gedalia)

During the Ten Days of Teshuva, when the opportunities to return to Hashem are the highest, we should mourn how far away from the Al-mighty we are, and this realization should bring us to teshuva.

3.Doing teshuva means submitting to G-d’s will at all times not iust when it agrees with what you want

Doing teshuva does not mean that you will listen to G-d only when you want.

The Jews who remained alive (after Gedalia’s murder), although not of such a wicked nature, still shared a deep-rooted tendency not to submit to G-d’s guidance. Although they were robbed of all outer independence, they still wanted to establish their affairs upon a basis of human independence and not G-dly dependence.

This became manifest again in the opposition to G-d’s command to wait for the clemency of Nebuchadnezzar. Their downfall was the result of their folly which would recognize as G-d’s will only that which coincided with their own. (Based on Horeb, R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, P. 144.)

This is another message for the Ten Days of Teshuva. Return to G-d in a real way in which you truly submit to His will no matter what. The leaders who went to Yermiahu to ask what to do only went because they were subconsciously sure that G-d would answer the way that they wanted Him to answer. When G-d didn’t answer the way they wanted Him to, they rebelled. It is very important during the Ten Days of Teshuva to ask yourself the question, am I submitting to G-d’s will only in the areas that I want or am I submitting even in areas that are not so comfortable for me?

4.During the Ten Days of Teshuva is the time to realize that not listening to G-d always leads to negative results

The leaders thought that it was impossible to stay in the Land and survive. Yermiahu told them otherwise. The outcome was that they ignored his advice and not one of them remained alive in the end.

This should be a lesson to us during the Ten Days of Teshuva. Even if all the evidence points in the opposite direction to that which the Torah says, listening to G-d in the end will lead to ultimate reward.

5.During the Ten Days of Teshuva is precisely the time to realize how important it is to be righteous

Many times during the Ten Days of Teshuva we might get discouraged by the difficulties involved in becoming righteous. And we wonder what is the whole teshuva process all worth. The story of the downfall of Gedalia is brought to clear away this confusion.

The Fast of Gedalia is enumerated together with the fast days for the destruction of the Sanctuary “to teach that the death of the righteous is as weighty as the burning of G-d’s house’ (Rosh HaShanah 18b). Years of great effort are needed to build a Sanctuary, and its benefits to the world are immense; but even more effort must be expended to develop a truly righteous man, and his death is an even greater loss than the burning of the Sanctuary. (Torah Nation, Avigdor Miller, p.13)

This information is brought to teach us how valuable it is to try our hardest to do teshuva during this very important time period.

CONCLUSION

The purpose of this sheet was to help us understand the connection between Tsom Gedalia and The Ten Days of Teshuva. We hope that these insights will help us realize the tremendous opportunity that is offered on this day and let us rise to seize that opportunity.

4.05 Week 4 – Understanding Teshuva and Selichos; The Power of Rosh HaShanah

4.05 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: THE POWER OF ROSH HASHANNAH

INTRODUCTION

It was taught In the name of R. Eliezer: The world was created on the twenty-fifth of Elul. The view of Rav agrees with the teaching of R. Eliezer. For we have learned In the Shofar Blessing composed by Rav: ‘This day, on which was the beginning of Your work, Is a memorial of the first day, for it Is a statute for Israel, a decree of the G-d of Jacob. On this day sentence Is pronounced upon countries. . . which of them is destined to the sword and which to peace. which to famine and which to plenty. Each separate creature Is remembered then, and recorded for life or for death. (Vayikra Raba 29.1)

CONFUSION AS TO THE MEANING OF ROSH HASHANAH

Many of us approach Rosh HaShanah with subconscious negativity, “Oh no, now I am approaching Rosh HaShanah. Now I am getting judged by the King. If I don’t serve Him, I will be punished.” Because of our Western, Non-Jewish orientation, the issues connected with Rosh HaShanah often put into our minds a lot of negative associations. But if we examine these concepts from a Torah Perspective, we see that Judaism’s concepts are not negative, but beautiful and insightful.

In order to understand what Rosh HaShanah is all about, we have to ask some basic questions. The first question to ask is why did G-d create the world? Since we know that Rosh HaShanah symbolizes the creation of the world and more specifically, the creation of man, this is an important question to ask on this day.

The answer is, of course, that G-d created us in order that He could give us pleasure.

Our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing In G-d and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this Is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found. (The Mesillas Yesharim, Perek Aleph)

The purpose of all that was created was therefore to bring Into existence a creature who could derive pleasure from G-d’s own good, in a way that would be possible for It. (Derech HaShem 1.2.1)

G-d created the world in order to give to us. G-d wants us to have every good in the world. But there is a catch. The greatest form of creation is to make someone independent. Independence implies choice. So G-d created us with freewill, the ability to choose reality or deny it. If we choose good, then we merit the pleasure we receive. That is the greatest good possible to give. (For further information about this complex subject please read Derech HaShem, The Way of G-d, Chapter 2)

Therefore, G-d can’t directly give to us, unless we do the things that involve choosing properly. Now comes the dilemma: G-d created the world with the sole purpose to give but He cannot give unless we merit it.

THE MEANING OF ROSH HASHANAH

The day of Rosh HaShanah is the birthday of mankind. On the sixth day of Creation, the first day of Tishrei, man was created. Every year the process repeats itself; G-d has to decide to recreate mankind. Every year, G-d allows us to earn our lives back. Therefore, every year we must re-earn the right to exist.

On the day of Rosh HaShanah, G-d wants to recreate the world, and he wants to create us anew. This is because He loves us. To do so, He needs us to choose reality. He needs us to choose life.

This is the meaning behind the concept, “The Day of Judgement: G-d judges us this day as to whether we are choosing reality. If we choose reality, G-d grants us a year of reality. If we choose to be asleep, G-d grants us a year of death; a year of being asleep to the meaning of life and truth. But the main point is not that G-d is doing this because He wants to punish us, but rather because He loves us. He wants us to succeed. But we must choose on our own.

Rosh HaShanah is the birthday of freewill. It is the birthday of ultimate choice. Do you decide to be recreated as a soul or do you decide to be as if you are dead, roaming the world asleep all year long?

So when the day of Rosh HaShanah comes, it is as if G-d is saying, “Hello, I created the world and I want to give you every pleasure possible. Please do the things that allow Me to give to you.’ All G-d wants to do is to give, and it pains Him not being able to give to us in the way that He wants to.

THE GREATEST FORM OF CHOICE IS TO INTERNALIZE WHO G-D IS

The day of Rosh HaShanah is the day of realizing who G-d is. G-d is the King. G-d is all powerful. G-d is the Creator. G-d is the Ultimate. Internalizing these concepts is the greatest form of choosing, because it is the ultimate form of understanding truth.

But for many of us, when we hear these concepts we have a bad taste in our mouth. We think of the twentieth century concept of a king. We think of a king as a despot, a greedy and power-hungry individual who wants to subjugate the masses for his devious aims.

The Jewish concept of a king is that he is a servant of the people (See Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 2.6). He is someone who loves and cares about his people. His only concern is that the people live in happiness and harmony. The only reason he make decrees and laws is for the good of the people, not for himself.

This is the purpose of Rosh HaShanah. The purpose of Rosh HaShanah is to crown G-d King. We choose Him as the ruler and director of our lives. We are not doing this for Him but rather for us; now He can give to us and He can shower us with His goodness and love so that the purpose of Creation will be fulfilled.

PUTTING ROSH HASHANAH IN A NEW LIGHT

These concepts put Rosh HaShanah in an entirely new light. Realize we are subjecting ourselves to a loving and beneficent King who make decrees for the benefit of His people.

The main reason to choose G-d on Rosh HaShanah is not for Him. It is for us. It is so we can benefit from the pleasure of His goodness. It is so we can experience the great things that His world has to offer. We must choose G-d so we can allow Him to give to us. Without Him, our ability to succeed in life is impossible.

Rosh HaShanah is the day where G-d desires to give. G-d is begging us to shape up so He can give us life. We have to make ourselves worthy of receiving Hashem’s abundant blessings.

HOW TO USE THE DAY OF ROSH HASHANAH

The object of Rosh HaShana is not to pray for a good year. Its sole purpose is to make G-d ruler over us. We have to ask G-d to rule over the world. In order for Hashem to rule over the world, however He must have subjects and that is what the day of Rosh HaShanah is all about.

This explains why on Rosh HaShanah, there are no confessions in the machzor, for unlike Yom Kippur, teshuva on our daily sins is not the purpose of the day. The purpose of the day is to set our values straight and to return to the reality of G-d as King.This davening emphasizes this again and again.

This is one of the many meanings of the Shofar. We are blowing the shofar to crown G-d as the King. We are blowing to proclaim to the world: HaShem is the ruler of the world. May He reign forever. And we hereby dedicate to Him totally.

ROSH HASHANAH SETS YOUR SPIRITUAL LEVEL FOR THE WHOLE YEAR

The mussar seforim emphasize over and over again the opportunities for greatness that are available on Rosh HaShanah (see Miktav Me’Eliahu, Chelek Beis, p. 68). Because we are recreated on this day we have the ability to rise to heights that are not available the rest of the year. We have the ability to recreate ourselves to a much higher level than we ever dreamed possible. To a great extent, whatever our level is on Rosh HaShanah that will be our level for the whole year.

CONCLUSION

On Rosh HaShanah, choose greatness. Choose the Al-mighty totally without any reservations. This is the day to awaken to reality. If you choose it, you have the ability to reach unlimited heights. So please take the opportunity to succeed. Your whole year depends on it.

4.04 Week 4-Understanding Teshuva and Selichos; Pathways to Cheshbon – Part 2

4.04 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: PATHWAYS TO CHESHBON Part 2

INTRODUCTION

In yesterday’s sheet, we spoke about different pathways that can be used to allow an individual to figure out his goals. After an individual has clarified his goals, there is another very important step that needs to be done. Some sort of system for monitoring his progress towards achieving them has to be set up. Today’s sheet discusses a few possible ideas that might be helpful in monitoring one’s goals.

PATHWAY #1-THE BALANCE APPROACH

Many of us live our lives from one day to the next without focusing on all the different areas of responsibility that we should. For example, many of us might hear a shmuez on a certain mussar topic that inspires us greatly, but then after a few days, the issue fades from our mind, and we move on to the next thing that bounces our way.

This approach calls for dividing your life into specific areas that you will monitor either weekly, monthly or any other time span that you approve of. Here is a sample breakdown of different areas of one’s life:

1. Cheshbon — making sure that one does a proper cheshbon that will insure a proper overview of one’s responsibilities.
2. Learning — making sure that you are growing and achieving your goals in all aspects of your learning.
3. Avodas Hashem (serving G-d) — making sure that you are on the right track in serving G-d. This would include overviewing your davening, blessings, and your overall relationship with G-d.
4. Character Traits and Emotions — making sure that you are working on improving your character traits and solving problems that might be holding you back in the emotional realm.
5. Global and Community Concerns — making sure you deal with your idealistic issues. What am I doing to make this world a better place to live in? Am I bringing Mashiach or distancing him?
6. Interpersonal Relationships — making sure that you are fulfilling all your responsibilities with your family and friends. This might include plans on how to show your family the beauty of Judaism.
7. Health — making sure you are healthy and taking care of yourself in the proper way.
8. Financial — making sure that you are on top of all your financial concerns.
9. Physical Concerns — making sure you are doing the things that you need to do in the physical world. For example, doing household repairs, buying a new suit, fixing your car, etc.

This is just a sample list of items that might go into your own personal list. Once you have come up with a list (one that you feel suits your personality), then you can come up with general goals that you want to accomplish in each area.

You don’t have to be involved with all the areas on your list at one time. For example, if you are a bochur living in the yeshiva you may not have so much to do with the Financial area. If you live in the dormitories the area of Physical Concerns might be something is not too big an issue. But for a kollel student who just bought an apartment, these areas might be very big concerns.

The main issue is to work on all the separate areas of your life before a crisis develops. For example, with a little bit of thought and effort, one might come up with a plan to bring his family on a trip to Israel to see the Yeshiva. This trip might lead to a much greater level of Jewish awareness for them and have a great influence on their future. The time to begin to get involved with your family is now not at a later stage when a major conflict might develop over your different values.

Another example, might be the Health area. Certain times we realize that we are not feelirg well. And we ignore it until we get headaches, nausea, etc. and then lose a day or two of learning. Then we call up the doctor to see him. If every week or month we ask ourselves how we are doing in the Health area, this might help us in the future not even require a doctor.

Practical Suggestions -1. Choose the areas of your life that you want to monitor. 2. Make general goals in each of these areas. 3. Every week or month look over the goals to see whether or not you are on track. 4.If you see that a potential difficulty might be brewing, take the time now to start dealing with it before it becomes a major problem later.

This approach is an excellent supplement to the pathways suggested in yesterday’s sheet. For example, one might make a set of yearly goals for Rosh HaShanah and is looking for a way to monitor them. This system is an excellent way to keep you balanced in overviewing all the commitments you made during the High Holy Day season.

Another important part of this system is to maintain focus on goals you have made which you are not presently involved with (because of other priorities). Many of us when involved in certain areas put on our blinders and plow ahead as fast as we can in that area we are involved in. For example, we might be learning very strong in order to help ourselves grow in order to take leadership positions one day. But that doesn’t mean in the meantime we should forget about the suffering of the Jewish People. That should be a primary motivation in our learning.

By focusing periodically on all the areas of our lives this will help keep us on track in every area.

PATHWAY #2-HAVE A PENALTY SYSTEM

This pathway is not for everybody. It is for people who like a strong, emotional incentive to get something done. The idea is to assign penalties for certain things that you very strongly want to get done. Lets say, for example, you want to get up every morning for davening. And it just isn’t happening. So you tell your friend who you are close with, “I will give you, Bli Neder, $5 for every davening I miss.” You also set up with him that if you do give him money, you can earn it back by doing certain mitzvos that are very hard for you to do. Let says you are memorizing Chumash Simonim and you hate reviewing. So you say to your friend, “If I review 50 Simonim a day I can make back my money.”

This system has been proven to strongly motivate people who have been unable to otherwise get moving in a certain area. But a few words of caution. Make all your commitments for a short time period only, say “Bli Neder” for each commitment, and only do this with a good friend. (Some people just give the money directly to charity so as not to cause their friend any uncomfortable feelings).

For someone who is looking for a strong way to get himself to keep his Rosh HaShanah commitments, this might be the direction for you.

PATHWAY #3-ASK YOURSELF EVERY DAY, “WHAT HAVE I DONE TODAY THAT WILL CONTRIBUTE TO SOMETHING VALUABLE BEING WRITTEN ON MY TOMBSTONE?”

We all remember, when we learned the “48 Ways to Wisdom,” the advice that was given to ask ourselves, “When I die what will be written on my tombstone? Will the answer be that I ate 10,000 chickens? Or drove two sports cars?” This is a tremendous way to focus to see if our lives are meaningful. This pathway suggests that a person ask himself every day, “What have I done today that will contribute to something valuable being written on my tombstone?”

The purpose of this Pathway is to allow us to see if our accomplishments really make an impact on our lives that we can be proud of. If they do then we know that our day was ultimately meaningful.

THE NEED TO BE PERSONAL

There are many different types of cheshbon systems that one can choose from in order to successfully monitor his goals this upcoming year. But one thing is crystal clear; everyone has their own way to do a proper cheshbon. You might try one and then find out that it isn’t for you. There is no “one” right way to do this for every person. If none of the suggestions on this sheet are for you, by all means don’t quit. Try and experiment with any system that you feel could be successful this upcoming year.

CONCLUSION

A man should observe all of his actions and watch over all of his ways so as not to leave himself with a bad trait, let alone a sin or a crime. I see a need for a person to carefully examine his ways and to weigh them daily in the manner of the great merchants who constantly evaluate all of their undertakings so that they do not go wrong. He should set aside definite times and hours for this weighing so that it isn’t a fortuitous matter, but one which is conducted with the greatest regularity; for it yields rich returns. (Mesillas Yesharirn, Perek Gimmel)

4.03 Week 4-Understanding Teshuva and Selichos; Pathways to Cheshbon – Part 1

4.03 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: PATHWAYS TO CHESHBON Part 1

INTRODUCTION

One of the key elements of your commitment to the teshuva process is to have a plan. Without one it is hard to show G-d that you are seriously committed to change in the future.

The first step in making a plan is to figure out your goals in life. What do you want and which direction do you want to take? Once a person determines his goals, he then begins to implement and monitor them. This sheet contains suggestions for determining yearly and lifetime goals. Tomorrow’s sheet deals with how to monitor your goals.

THE NEED FOR CHESHBON

The Baalei Mussar (the masters of self perfection) speak about the absolute necessity of self-reflection and awareness on where you are and where you need to go:

A man must constantly — at all times, and particularly during a regularly appointed time of solitude — reflect upon the true path (according to the ordinance of the Torah) that a man must walk upon. After engaging in such reflection, he will come to consider whether or not his deeds travel along this path. For in doing so it will certainly be easy for him to cleanse himself of all evil and to correct all of his ways. (Mesillas Yesharim, Perek Gimmel)

AN IMPORTANT NOTE

This sheet is not suggesting that you try out all the exercises here. Rather, it is written as a list of options so you can have a choice. Try one and see if the tool is for you. If not, try another one. More than that might be too much.

PATHWAY #1-LOOK BACK ONE YEAR FROM NOW

This pathway suggests that we write down the personal resume that we would write one year from today — if all our dreams came true. Many of us have a work-oriented resume summarizing our past work history. We could do the same for our past personal history. This tool suggests writing a future resume now as if we were summarizing the next year. It will then tell us what we want to happen over that period.

There are three rules governing what goes into your “future” resume:

1. It has to be something you want to happen.
2. It has to be possible (even if you don’t plan for it to happen, or even if it would require great energy output on your part).
3. You have to be as specific about it as possible.

What do you do after you finish your resume?

Look at all the ideas written on the paper. Ask yourself, ‘Why can’t I make this a reality?’ Brainstorm different ideas to overcome potential obstacles from getting you where you need to go.

What is the purpose of the “future” resume?

Many people have unconscious goals and wishes that are buried deep in their personality. They think they never can achieve them. If they make them conscious, they may well see that they can achieve goals that they never thought possible.

For example, you may have a strong subconscious wish to finish a certain mesechta. But you avoid thinking about it because you don’t believe it is possible. By doing this exercise, this desire might come to the surface. Then you might take action for achieving it.

Many times you have a goal that you wouldn’t even consider because your Yetzer Hara has you convinced that it is just not possible. Doing this exercise might get you to realize aspirations that you might not normally concentrate on.

Note: This exercise can be done for a longer period than one year. Pretend you are 120 years old, sitting in a rocking chair looking back on your life. What would you want written about your life that went before. This provides incredible insights into what you want out of life.

PATHWAY #2 – LIFETIME GOAL EXERCISE

What are your lifetime goals?
How would you like to spend the next three years?
If you knew now you would be struck by lightning six months from today, how would you live until then?

Get several pieces of paper, a pencil or pen, and a watch or clock with a second hand. Set aside about fifteen minutes. On the top of a sheet of paper write the question: What are my lifetime goals?

Now take two minutes to list answers. Of necessity, you will have to stay very general and abstract, but you should still include all the areas you can think of. Make your list as all-inclusive as you can. During this listing stage you are not committed to any of the goals that write down, so record whatever comes into your head.

After the first two minutes are up, give yourself an additional two minutes to make the changes necessary for you to feel satisfied with your statement of goals at this early stage.

The Second Lifetime Question — When you list lifetime goals quickly and without much reflection, you probably include a number of generalities such as happiness,’ success, achievement,’ and the like. You can pinpoint your goals better by now asking a second question: How would I like to spend the next three years? Again list your answers as quickly as possible for two minutes. Then take another two minutes to include whatever you may have missed the first time around on this question.

The Third Lifetime Question Now, for a different perspective, write down this third question: If I knew now I would be struck dead by lightening six months from today, how would I live until then?

The purpose of this question is to find out whether there are things that are important to you that you’re not doing now or which deserve more of your attention in the next six months. You might continue to live as you are now or you may want to add several things that are missing. Write your answers as quickly as possible for two minutes, then go back and refine them for an additional two minutes. (Don’t get lost in thinking about this question — just write.)

Working Further On All Three Questions Now spend an additional two minutes minimum reviewing and improving your goals statement on all three questions. You may spend longer if you wish.

Take your list in hand and spend one minute selecting the top three goals in each question.

At this point, you should have nine goals culled from the three lists. To pick out the three most important long-term goals of the nine, write on a fresh piece of paper, “My three most important long-t,erms goals are …” Then write them in priority order. You have now finished a preliminary goals statement.

You might want to try this exercise a few times until you are clear with exactly what you want out of life

PATHWAY # 3-SEE HOW YOU CAN INCREASE SATISFACTION IN YOUR LIFE

Write out a list of all the major areas of your life. That list might include learning, serving G-d, interpersonal relations, financial concerns, community responsibilities, etc. Try to be as comprehensive as you can. Write on the top of a piece or paper the following question: I would have more satisfaction one year from now in each area if…

Then start brainstorming ideas in order to fill in the blank. After fifteen minutes of doing this, you will have a list of directions you might want to change in.

Now come up with specific, practical solutions to allow you to have more satisfaction in your problem area. Implement them in a weekly program and you will start seeing tangible change in how you feel about your life.

PATHWAY #4-MAKE A LONG TERM PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE

King Solomon said, ‘If you search for it like silver, and hunt for it like a treasure, then you will understand the fear of G-d.” What King Solomon is trying to tell us is to treat our spiritual growth as seriously as we would search for treasure. Another way of looking at it is, we should pursue growth the same way we pursue money in our lives.

This pathway is for individuals with a business background or with a business type orientation. It suggests that we should make a long term plan for our lives in the same way a company would make one. Every company has a plan with directions, dates and deadlines for each step in their future. We should have one as well.

So sit down and make a plan for the future. Ask yourself how you would make such a plan if you owned a business. By doing this, you can come to many different insights into how you should take your life more seriously.

CONCLUSION

In order to begin work on the Teshuva process, one needs to know what he wants out of life and where he wants to go. Once he has that clear it will allow him to develop a plan for Teshuva that will lead to maximum growth and direction.

This sheet is dedicated to getting us to delve inside ourselves and figure out what we really want and are looking for in our lives. Out of this we can develop a plan for teshuva that will motivate, and excite us in a powerful way.

So now pick a pathway and try it. You will find that it will open you up and allow you to think of the directions you need to pursue in the future.

4.02 Week 4 – The Power of Cheshbon What Do I Do Teshuva On?

4.02 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: THE POWER OF CHESBON…WHAT DO I DO TESHUVA ON?

INTRODUCTION

We are now beginning the final week of the month of Elul. According to the Rosh HaYeshiva’s plan (see sheet #1), now is the time to intensify the process of Cheshbon (spiritual accounting) and come up with a plan for change. The first week we woke ourselves up to the month of Elul. The second week we worked on our relationship to G-d. The third we worked on Teshuva and Selichos. Now we are ready to get down to the serious business of Cheshbon which includes evaluating and planning for the future.

THE POWERFUL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LAST WEEK OF THE YEAR

It is important to keep in mind that this is the last week of the year. This has very deep spiritual significance:

The Sages have written that just as we say “hakol holeich achar hachitum,” (everything is determined by the end), so, too, we can make amends for all the days of the year by rectifying the days of the last week of the year. How one conducts himself on the last Sunday of the year will be considered as how he conducted himself on all Sundays throughout the year. Similarly for Monday, Tuesday, etc. Since Shabbos is the holiest day, it is especially appropriate to strive to conduct oneself in a more perfect manner of Shabbos observance in an atmosphere of Shabbos sanctity. This will credit all the Shabboses of the year as having been conducted in like fashion. (The Shelah HaKodesh quoted in The New Rosh HaShanah Anthology).

When someone does teshuva at the end of a major time period, the whole period prior to the teshuva becomes sanctified. The most well known example of this is someone who does teshuva on his death bed. This important piece of information should spur us on to be particularly careful this last week of the year.

SO WHERE DO WE BEGIN?

When one begins to look at the task of teshuva, it can be overwhelming. We have done so many misdeeds over the past year that it is hard to know where to begin. Do we take out a list of the Taryag Mitzvos and ask, “what were all my transgressions on mitzvah number 1, and number 2 etc.?” That doesn’t seem to be the direction to go in for it would be very time consuming and very draining.

The answer is much simpler. We must come up with a plan for spiritual growth that, in the future, will lead us to abandoning our transgressions. If we could find the central roots to our transgressions and attack those root problems, eventually, most of our transgressions would fall away. So if one says to G-d in truth, “G-d, here is my plan that I think will allow me to wipe out my transgressions in the shortest amount of time possible,” then G-G-d will accept him back totally

The goal of the teshuva process at this time of the year is to figure out the root of what is holding a person back and attack it in the most powerful way.(Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz in his tapes on Elul and the High Holy Days)

WHY WOULD G-D FORGIVE SOMEONE WHO HASN’T TOTALLY STOPPED DOING ALL HIS TRANSGRESSIONS YET?

Imagine a new child taking his first steps in front of his proud parents. He gets on his feet and takes a few steps and falls flat on his face. The parents clap with joy and happiness. But if you analyze the situation, shouldn’t the parents be upset? After all, the child fell down. The answer is obvious. A parent doesn’t judge a child based on whether or not he fell, but rather on whether he took the steps necessary to go in the right direction.

So, too, with the Al-mighty. If we return to the Al-mighty with all our heart and all our soul, but we are too weak to commit to instant change, the Al-mighty won’t judge us for that. The thing that concerns Him is if we are moving in the right direction with the proper effort that is demanded of us.

So G-d looks at us and sees: Is he trying? Is he committed to change? Since the Almighty can see through time, He can look to see if you really meant it when you said that you would stop doing the transgression in the future.

The goal of the teshuva process is to make a plan that will liberate us from the things that hold us back. This requires the ability to evaluate where we are at and where we need to go. As we have mentioned the word for this in hebrew is called Cheshbon which means an accounting.”

HOW CAN I SINCERELY MAKE A PLAN TO CHANGE EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE. WHEN IT INVOLVES THOUSANDS OF UNKNOWN VARIABLES?

It is obvious that G-d does not command you to have every aspect worked out. You may not have the ability or the understanding to do such a thing. What you can do is to plan the directions that you think will best move you closer to G-d.

For example, take the five best ideas that you think will lead you to successfully and implement them. This is a worthwhile effort in Hashem’s eyes. An individual doesn’t need to know all the answers to everything right now. The key is the commitment to change.

A good analogy is the American Space Program of the 1950’s. The Americans had never gone to the moon before. They at that time didn’t even know how to send a man into outer space. What they had was the resolve to take the next step based on all the available information at the time. And with that resolve they put a man on the moon.

So, too, with your personality. Make a general plan of how you think you will succeed. Resolve to commit to success. Take your next step at the soonest possible time and G-d will consider that Teshuva.

THE KEY IS THE DEDICATION TO THE CHANGE

“There is nothing that stands in the way of free will,” (Alel Shor, perek 25) …

“In the way that a man wants to go he will be led,” (Makos, lOB) …

The secret of free will is wanting (chefetz) which is the highest thing in all creation. . . It is incumbent upon us to know this powerful truth: What a man really wants, this is what he will achieve in life, and the opposite is true: What a man achieves in his life, this is a revelation of what was his will in the beginning. (AIei Shor, perek 25)

All over the Torah there is statement after statement telling us one thing: Strengthen your will in a certain area and you will achieve success in that area. There is nothing that can stand in the way of someone with a true desire.

This is the secret of teshuva for the High Holy Days: Commit to a full return to G-d from the bottom of your heart and that will eventually wipe out all your sins. Dedicate yourself to a plan to wipe out transgression and you will have done complete teshuva during this most important time period.

4.01 Week 4 – Understanding Teshuva and Selichos; Understanding Selichos

4.01 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: UNDERSTANDING SELICHOS

WHAT ARE SELICHOS?

Last night many of us participated in the Selichos Service. The Selichos Service consists of special prayers for forgiveness that our Sages instructed us to say the days before Rosh HaShanah and during the Ten Days of Teshuva. The goal of these prayers is to motivate us to complete our Elul preparations and to warm us up for the intensive activity of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

King David knew that in the future the Beis HaMikdash would be destroyed and the use of sacrifices would cease because of the sins of the Jewish Peopie. King David was troubled because he didn’t know how the Jews would get atonement for their sins. The Holy One said to King David, “At the time that troubles come to the Jewish People because of their sins, let them say before me the order of the Selichos Prayers (the 13 Attributes) and I will answer them. (Tanna D’be Eliahu Zuta, Perek 23)

WHY MUST SELICHOS BE AT LEAST FOUR DAYS PRIOR TO ROSH HASHANAH?

The Ashkenazi Community follows the custom of beginning Selichos at least four days before Rosh HaShanah. The reason for this is the following:

The Sages point out that in reference to bringing sacrifices, on all the other festivals the Torah writes merely v’hikravtem, and you shall bring an offering (BaMidbar 28.19; 27; 29.8;13). However, in the case of the sacrificial offerings of Rosh HaShanah the wording Is changed to read va’asisem, and you shall “make an offering” (BaMidbar 28.2). This change alludes to the fact that before Rosh HaShanah a Jew must prepare himself as an offering to G-d, creating himself a new person.

A sacrifice has to be free of all blemishes. The Torah requires that all animals used for sacrifices must undergo a four-day period of inspection and examination to ensure that they are free of any blemish, thus ensuring their fitness for sacrifice upon the altar. Similarly, four days before Rosh HaShanah, a Jew must inspect and examine himself to see that he frees himself from any spiritual imperfection which would invalidate his rededication to the service of G-d. (The New Rosh HaShanah Anthology, p. 26)

Four days is the absolute minimum required to inspect yourself of any imperfection. So, therefore, the Selichos process is giving us a powerful message: get to work and eliminate those remaining things holding you back from Rosh HaShanah perfection.

WHY DO SELICHOS ALWAYS BEGIN ON A MOTSEI SHABBOS (SATURDAY NIGHT) IN THE YESHIVA COMMUNITY?

The custom is to always begin the Selichos Prayers on a Motsei Shabbos. If Rosh HaShanah falls on a Thursday, Friday or Shabbos, then it begins on the previous Motsei Shabbos. If, it falls on a Sunday or a Wednesday, the custom is to begin an entire week earlier.

Why do we always begin on Motsei Shabbos?

The Jew is filled with the spirit of Shabbos, the day on which he rests from the physical and mundane weekly matters. He spends the day in spirituality, Torah study, and reflection about G-d. Since this spirit of the sanctity of Shabbos flows over immediately to the weekdays, and Shabbos is a day of learning and pleasure, it was felt that in this mood one would be more adequately prepared for entering into the penitential frame of mind. Hence, Selichos are to begin on the night or early part of the day immediately following Shabbos. (The Leket Yosher (O.C. p. 118) quoted in The New Rosh HaShanah Anthology, p. 27)

The fact that Selichos falls on Motsei Shabbos underlines their importance. Four days before Rosh HaShanah would be enough. But in order to guarantee their success, the Rabbis sometimes move it up to as much as nine days early so that we can say them on a Motsei Shabbos. The Selichos Prayers are so important that no obstacle must get in its way. That is why it begins each time on a Motsei Shabbos.

WHAT IS THE MEANING BEHIND SELICHOS?

Now begins a whole new level in the teshuva process. It is the fourth week of Elul, and you have worked on yourself during the first three weeks of the month. You have tried to wake yourself up to your responsibilities, you have worked on your relationship to G-d, and you have begun to investigate the teshuva process. Now is the time to get much more serious.

We come before G-d and we realize where we are holding. We realize how far we are from where we should be and we stand in shame before G-d:

To You, 0 G-d belongs righteousness, but to us shame of face. How can we complain? What can we say? What can we speak? Or how can we justify ourselves? Let us search and examine our ways and return to You for Your right hand is outstretched to those returning to You. Not with virtue, nor with good deeds, do we appear before You, but like the poor and the needy we knock at Your gates. We knock at Your gates, 0 merciful and gracious One. Please do not turn us away empty from Your presence. From Your presence, our King, turn us not away empty, for You hear our prayers. (from the Selichos prayers).

The Selichos Prayers are a warmup for the whole teshuva process that is getting more and more intense. We must ask ourselves: Are we humble before G-d? Do we realize where we really are holding? Do we really understand what we have really done during the past year? And don’t we really have to ask Him to truly forgive us? This is the purpose of the whole Selichos process.

The word ‘Selicha” means forgiveness. What frame of mind should one be in who asks forgiveness? What are the emotions involved? How does one proceed? The Rabbis have taken the answers to all these questions and formulated a set of prayers that are designed to bring us to a state of humility conducive to asking forgiveness and doing teshuva.

A ten year old boy stole ten shekels from his father to buy a toy that he wanted from the store. The toy costs twenty shekels so he figured he would go to his father to ask for the other ten shekels. He went to his father to ask for the other ten shekels. His father looked him in the eye and gave him a warm and loving smile and said, ‘You have been such a good boy, here is twenty shekels so you can buy the whole toy.” The little boy immediately burst into tears. (Story heard from a friend).

This story is an indication of how we should feel during Selichos if we truly understood how many things we have done to our Father-In-Heaven.

IMPORTANT ADVICE FOR SAYING SELICHOS

The Selichos prayers are approximately 30-40 minutes long. We will be saying them every day except for Shabbos until Yom Kippur (for a little more than two weeks). For someone experiencing his first or second High Holy Days cycle, the experience might be very overwhelming. Therefore, it is important to find an older student who will sit down with you and explain to you the basic structure of the prayers. Then spend five to ten minutes a day trying to understand the meaning of a section of the service. During the service try to have cavannah (mindful intention) specifically on that section.Those who have done no preparatory study of the Selichos Service usually find it to be quite painful and difficult.

CONCLUSION

The Selichos prayers have already begun. They are a tremendous opportunity for actualizing many of the feelings we want to express but don’t know how. For those who prepared and want to use this tremendous tool, the opportunity lies before you. Use this year to learn how to utilize the Selichos service, and you will feel the powerful difference it makes in your teshuva process.

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT STARTED PREPARING FOR THE UPCOMING DAYS OF AWE

There is another type of person who has a lot of pain when saying Selichos. They are the people who have not worked during the whole month of Elul. They approach Selichos with a remark such as ‘Now I better get to work.’ And now when it comes time to ask forgiveness they are not emotionally prepared. It is very hard to wrench oneself into the High Holy Day atmosphere immediately without preparation.

Even for this type of person, there is a solution. They should do teshuva on the fact that they haven’t prepared themselves during Elul. They should make a commitment from now on, for all the Elul months they will be having in the future to utilize them properly. Then G-d will surely grant them success this year in their Avodah.

Meanwhile, start getting to work. Try to come up with an approach how you can integrate the main points of the upcoming season into your life. Ask advice of a Rebbe or an older student as to what you can do in order to be effective. It is not too late. Do your best and you will see that your efforts reap rewards.

3.04 Week 3-Understanding Teshuva and Slichos; Understanding the 13 Attributes of Mercy

3.01 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: UNDERSTANDING THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY

INTRODUCTION

This Motsei Shabbos (Saturday night) at around 12 o’clock, wherever Orthodox Judaism is practiced, many Jews will be staying up to do the Selichos Service. During the service, there is a section that will be repeated over and over again in a very loud voice. It is called, ‘The 13 Attributes of Mercy which are the heart of the Selichos Service. Today’s sheet is dedicated to understanding what is the essence of the 13 Attributes.

WHAT ARE THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY?

The 13 Attributes of Mercy are the 13 ways that describe how G-d is merciful to us. In one case, G-d has mercy with love. In another case G-d has mercy by being slow to anger. In another case, G-d has mercy by forgiving sin. In every case, G-d is looking to give us a way out, so we can have another chance to grow close.

G-d, G-d, Omnipotent, merciful and kind, slow to anger, with tremendous (resources of) love and truth. He remembers deeds of love for thousands of generations, forgiving sin, rebellion and error. He does not clear (those who do not repent), but keeps in mind the sins of the fathers to their children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generation. (Shmos 34.6)

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE 13 ATTRIBUTES?

After the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe wanted to understand how G-d related with the world with His attributes of strict judgement and mercy. Moshe saw this as an opportunity to know G-d in a powerful way.

Moshe said to G-d, “Now, if You are indeed pleased with me, allow me to know Your ways, so that I will know how to (remain) pleasing to You. (Also), You must confirm that this nation Is Your people.”

“My presence will go and lead you,” replied G-d. “Since you have been pleasing to Me and I know you by name, I will also fulfill this request of yours (to know My ways).”

“Please let me have a vision of Your glory,” begged Moshe.

G-d replied, “I will make all My good pass before you, and reveal the Divine Name in your presence. . . You cannot have a vision of My presence. A man cannot have a vision of Me and still exist.”

G-d then said, “I have a special place where you can stand on the rocky mountain. When My glory passes by, I will place you in a crevice in the mountain, protecting you with My power until I pass by. I will then remove My protective power, and you will have a vision of what follows from my existence. My essence itself however, will not be seen.

G-d passed by before Moshe and proclaimed, G-d, G-d Omnipotent, merciful and kind, slow to anger, with tremendous (resources of) love and truth. He remembers deeds of love for thousands of generations, forgiving sin, rebellion and error. He does not clear (those who do not repent), but keeps in mind the sins of the fathers to their children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generation. (Shmos 33.12-34.7)

Moshe wanted to understand the underlying principles guiding Hashem’s behavior in the world. In the event of the Golden Calf, G-d had let Moshe see Him governing in a diversity of ways of which Moshe sought the key. He had desired to get this knowledge at its very source, by a direct sight of G-d Himself. By this direct sight he could gain an insight into the harmonious uniformity of the apparently diverse ways of G-d’s rule. This knowledge was denied him, but he was taught a certain degree of this knowledge. This was shown him and explained to him by the thirteen attributes. What he actually saw remains unknown to us, but the “Names”, that were explained to him were told to us. Those we can try stammeringly to follow and attempt some understanding of them.(Based on Hirsch 34.6)

The 13 Attributes are a limited explanation of the underlying principles guiding Hashem’s behavior in the world. Moshe wanted a complete explanation, but G-d would not grant his request. But what Moshe did see was the highest level of knowledge of G-d that a human being could hope to see. He saw the 13 Attributes.

UNDERSTANDING THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY

If you look carefully at the attributes in verse 6, you will see that each character trait is another aspect of G-d’s mercy. G-d looks to forgive us in all these different ways.

G-d looks for every possible way to give you a break. In His infinite wisdom he does so just at the right time. bbG-d loves you and is looking to forgive you, not hurt you.

Understanding the ways that G-d interacts in the world is, to a certain extent, understanding the essence of G-d. G-d is a loving and kind G-d. The 13 Attributes of Mercy teaches us that in every case G-d is looking to help you, and the bottom line is that he loves you very dearly. There are variations in this mercy and that is the basic understanding of the 13 Attributes.

UNDERSTANDING THE GEMORA IN ROSH HASHANAH 17B

And the L-rd passed before him and proclaimed (Shmos 34.6). Were it not written in the text, it would be impossible to say such a thing. This verse teaches us that the Holy One drew His tallis round Him like the reader of a congregation and showed Moshe the order (of the 13 Attributes). He said to him: Whenever Israel sins, let them carry out this service before Me, and I will forgive them. . . R. Yehuda said: A covenant has been made with the 13 attributes that they will not be turned away empty handed, as it says, Behold, I make a covenant. (Rosh HaShanah 17b)

Whenever the Jewish People sin and do teshuva they should recite these 13 Attributes. This will lead to forgiveness from G-d.
It says in the prayer,’G-d, the King Who Sits,” (El Melech Yoshev):

G-d, you taught us to say the Thirteen Attributes. Remember for us today the covenant of the Thirteen Attributes, as You taught the humble one long ago.

When we are in trouble, all we have to do is to say the 13 Attributes and that will lead to us being answered from G-d.

WHAT SHOULD BE THE EMOTIONAL EFFECT OF SAYING THE 13 ATTRIBUTES?

Many times after we do a transgression, it is very difficult to return to G-d. We feel we are low and far away. We feel that G-d would never want to accept us back.

On a certain level, when we have thoughts like these, we have forgotten G-d’s essence. Our emotions lead us to believe that G-d is a cruel and distant, and therefore, we can’t return to Him.

By saying the 13 Attributes we remember that G-d is a loving, kind and merciful G-d. He wants us back. It doesn’t matter how lowly we are. G-d doesn’t care. He looks for every angle to love us and help us even if we do something low. This is a tremendous motivation to do teshuva.

The emotional effect of saying the 13 Attributes should be to motivate us to return to G-d no matter what we have done. At this time of year, precisely when we are trying the hardest to return to G-d and gain His forgiveness, we need to review this principle over and over again: No matter what we have done, we can return to G-d.

THERE IS A COVENANT THAT IF WE SAY THE ATTRIBUTES WITH CONCENTRATION THEY WILL ALWAYS BE EFFECTIVE

Now we can understand the words of the Gemora, “A covenant has been made with the 13 attributes that they will not be turned away empty handed, as it says, ‘Behold, I make a covenant.” G-d has put special power in these words to allow people to come to these realizations about G-d loving us.

By saying the 13 Attributes with concentration, intention, and understanding, the covenant will take affect. This is symbolized in the Gemora by G-d wrapping the tallis over His head signifying concentration. This is to show us not to be distracted while reciting thel3 attributes. (Maharal)

MAKE A COMMITMENT TO UNDERSTAND THE 13 ATTRIBUTES THIS YEAR

Before the upcoming Selichos prayers, make a commitment to understand the 13 Attributes. By reciting them with understanding, we have the ability to transform the whole teshuva process. Keep in mind, that Hashem has made a covenant, that for someone who says it with understanding, he cannot go away empty handed.

May the understanding of the 13 Attributes and its effect on us spur us on to a powerful year where all our goals will be fulfilled.

3.03 Week 3-Understanding Teshuva and Slichos; The Famous Question

3.03 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: THE FAMOUS QUESTION

INTRODUCTION

As we mentioned, there are four steps to teshuva: 1. Regret 2. Abandonment 3. Confession 4. Commitment never to do the transgression again. There is a famous Gemora that talks about step 4 of the teshuva process.

One who has sinned and confesses his sin but does not commit not to do it again may be compared to a man holding a dead reptile in his hand, for although he may immerse himself in all the waters of the world; his immersion is of no avail unto him; but if he throws it away from his hand, then as soon as he immerses himself in forty se’ahs of water (the minimum requirement for ritual immersion), immediately his immersion becomes effective. (Taanis 16a)

An absolute prerequisite for teshuva is a commitment never to do the transgression again. Without that commitment, all the heart-pounding in the whole world doesn’t mean you did teshuva.

If we read through the Machzor of Yom Kippur, we see that there are two confessions that we make many times that day: The Ashamnu Confession and the Al Chet Confession. If you go through them, you will see an extensive list of sins. As a matter of fact, as one goes through the list, he will see that there is almost no category of sin left out.

Now comes the question. If we have such an extensive list that covers every angle of our life, how can we really do teshuva? Are we making a commitment never to do any sin ever again?

What is really happening when we do the Ashamnu and the Al Chet Confessions? Are we playing some sort of game? How can we realistically do teshuva on everything and commit never to transgress again? The purpose of this sheet is to bring several different approaches to these very important questions.

APPROACH #1-COMMITMENT TO CHANGE IN THE FUTURE IS ENOUGH

G-d doesn’t ask you to change in an area that is not feasible for you to change in yet. So how can you commit to change in such an area? The answer is that by making a commitment to change at the earliest possible moment is a commitment to step four of the teshuva process.

When one hears the reproof of the wise and of others who admonish him, he should listen and hear, and humble himself and repent, and accept all of the words of reproof, excluding none. Such a man, in a brief instant, goes from pitch darkness into great light; for when he listens. . . and takes upon himself to do all that he is taught by those who understand the Torah from that day forward . . . he has completed teshuva and becomes a different person. And from the time he makes this mental commitment and so resolves in his heart, he acquires for his soul merit and reward for all the mitzvos and ethical commandments: and he is indeed fortunate, for he has set his soul aright in a minimum of time. In this connection our Sages said, ‘And the children of lsraei went and did so’ (Shmos 12.28). Now did they do so immediately? Did they not do so only on the fourteenth of the month? But since they took it upon themselves to do so, the Torah accredits it to them as if they had done so immediately. (Shaare Teshuva-Gate 2:10-Heard from R. Yitzchak Berkowitz)

According to approach #1, the answer is not to attempt to change in an area that is not feasible. We are not commanded to be angels. We are commanded to be human beings and change according to the right pace. But when a person makes a serious commitment to change and to do the things necessary when the time will be right, it is considered as if he had already changed.

Another scenario might be the following: What do you do if you are in a situation where you don’t know halacha and Yom Kippur is coming? How can you do teshuva on sins that you don’t know exist?

Someone who is not an expert in the mitzvos will stumble many times. And he will do many sins all his days and not feel it. Therefore, a person needs to know the sins that he did. But how can he know? Only through the learning of the mitzvos and understanding what he did not fulfill. (The Orchat Tsaddikim quoted in Shaar Teshuva, R. Shaul Vagshall, Chapter 11, p.34)

But if one doesn’t know how he transgressed, how can he do teshuva? How is it possible in the small amount of time before Yom Kippur to learn information that takes many years? If this is so, is it impossible for such a person to do teshuva?

It appears also in such a situation that it is enough if a person takes upon himself to learn practical halacha from now on in order to fulfill the mitzvos in the proper way, and to learn what he is forbidden to do. (Shaar Teshuva, R. Shaul Vagshail, Chapter 11, p. 34)

In other words, when a person makes a commitment to do the things necessary to bring him to teshuva at the right time, it is considered as if he had done teshuva now.

This means that during Elul, an individual is supposed to take a good look at his life and come up with a plan that will make him as perfect as is possible as soon as possible. Then, when he does the confessions on Yom Kippur and says I will never do such and such ever again he will really mean it. (Next week we will have a series of sheets giving practical suggestions for making this plan).

APPROACH #2 – IF YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAY IT. YOU DID TESHUVA

The Beis Elokim asks the following question: if a person did teshuva and then went back and did the transgression again, does that mean that his teshuva was not considered teshuva?

It appears from the words of our Rabbis that if a man did teshuva and decided in his heart never to do it again, G-d forgives his sins with that teshuva. If afterwards he sins again, it was the Yetzer Hara that seduced him again anew to do what he sinned in. This does not mean that his first sin is recalled and considered by G-d since it was nullified in the first teshuva. And if he sins time after time, this is nothing other then the Yetzer Hara returning and seducing him again. (The Beis Elokim brought down in Shaar Teshuva, R. Shaul Vagshall, Chapter 16, p. 45)

A good analogy to explain this principle is the example of an ‘addicted smoker. After he understands that smoking is bad and harmful to his health, he decides to quit smoking once and for all. Now we all have witnessed smokers that have attempted to quit but didn’t succeed. And in some of these cases their commitment to refrain did not last more than one day. We would not say that when they made their commitment it was not sincere. Rather, after a day or two, their clarity weakened and as a result when their desire to smoke returned they did not have enough will power to resist.

This is the situation with us. At the time when we strengthen our clarity in an area, and as a result make a strong decision, we certainly are making a sincere decision. Our teshuva is considered real teshuva. It is only afterward that our Yetzer Hara renews itself against us and causes us to stumble. (ibid.)

APPROACH #3-YOU DO WHAT YOU CAN AND G-D WILL DO THE REST

The main point is to do your best and if you try as hard as you can, G-d will assist you and show you the way. If you sincerely takes the process as far as it can go, G-d will give you divine assistance to accomplish things you never dreamed possible.

And it is clear from the Torah that G-d assists the penitent when they are limited by nature and implants in them a spirit of purity whereby they may attain to the level of loving Him, as it is said, “And you shall return unto the L-rd, your G-d, and listen to His voice according to all that I command you this day and your children, with all your heart and all your soul” (Dvanm 30.2). And in the same connection it is said, And the L-rd your G-d will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed. (Ovarim 30.6) It also says, “Good and upright is the L-rd: Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.,, (Tehillim 25.8) (Shaarei Teshuva, Shaar Rishon)

APPROACH #4-SHOOT FOR THE SKY AND GO FOR GREATNESS

Some people hold that on Yom Kippur one should not let himself be held back from any constraints. One of the purposes of the whole list of sins in the confessions of Yom Kippur is to show us the opportunity for greatness.

The Rabbis say that we have the ability to be great and reach heights of potential beyond our wildest dreams:

There are those who acquire their World to Come in many years and there are those who acquire their World to Come in one hour. (Avodah Zara 17a)

So on Yom Kippur when we say the confessions we should not box ourselves into any past images. Forget your past, sharpen your free will muscles, and pray to G-d to give you the ability to commit to greatness in the most powerful way.

The crown of Torah is sitting and ready for every Jew. Whoever wants It, let him come and take It. (Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah)

It Is fitting for every man to be a Tsaddik like Moshe Rabeinu. (Rambam Hilchos Teshuva 5.1)

Every Jew Is required to ask, ‘When will my actions reach to the level of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?” (Tanna D’be Eliahu 102)

Every person has the ability to change and be great. Every person can do it a lot faster than he ever dreamed of. How is this accomplished? According to his approach pray from the bottom of your heart to receive the ability to be great. If you have true faith in Gd and total dedication to this goal, G-d will allow you to jump through time and space to achieve your goal. (See sheet number 2, Page 2 on Yaakov Avinu)

So here is Yom Kippur. This approach suggests to try to go for the ultimate. How do you commit to never do all of those sins again? Just pray to G-d for the ability to succeed and try your best. If you don’t succeed when you tried your hardest, G-d won’t hold you accountable.

APPROACH #5-DON’T LOOK AT THE PAST OR AT THE FUTURE. JUST LOOK AT THE PRESENT

When you do teshuva, keep as focused as possible on where you are right now in your commitment:

It can happen that a person will become discouraged from taking upon himself a commitment to teshuva because he will say, “I already committed not to do this many times in the past, and I failed, so, of course, in the future the same will also occur.” This is a very wrong approach to take to the teshuva process. For when a person does teshuva, he should not look at the past nor towards the future, but rather at the present; at what is in his mind at that moment (which is his real state). Therefore, someone who is returning should be very careful not to think about the future and cause himself doubts by dwelling too much on the past or mulling over the future. (Based on Shaar Teshuva, R. Shaul Vagshall, Chapter 17, p. 47)

APPROACH #6-IF YOU KNOW THAT YOU WILL SIN AGAIN NO MATTER WHAT, AT LEAST HAVE A DESIRE NOT TO

If you have really worked on yourself and tried as hard as you can not to do an aveira but you know that you will stumble again, what should you do? In your heart desire not to do the sin again. Make fences so you won’t transgress, and pray that you won’t come across that temptation again. This puts you In a different category. You are considered as one that has begun to do teshuva. Someone who has begun to do teshuva is In a totally different world than one who has done nothing at all. (Ibid.)

APPROACH #7-ANY PART OF THE TESHUVA PROCESS IS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Every step of the teshuva process is a step in the right direction even the desire to do teshuva itself.

The Beis Elokim in Chapter 12 stated that the matter of teshuva is not like the rest of the mitzvos. By other mitzvos if you are lacking a certain part of the process it is considered as if you didn’t do anything. With teshuva, even if it is not complete and you only did one of the elements involved, every step helps to take away G-d’s anger and save you from punishment. He continues in the name of the Teshuvas HaRan that even if someone decided that he wants to do teshuva and he didn’t even do one of the steps of the teshuva process, Hashem will mitigate his punishment slightly because every part of the teshuva process is considered important by itself. Therefore, everyone must do everything in his power and not say that any part of the teshuva process was in vain, G-d forbid. (Based on Ibid, p. 48)

SUMMARY

The purpose of this sheet was to explain what it means to make a commitment never to do a sin again. We have brought many approaches to answer this complicated question. May these answers inspire us to find the proper approach to these High Holy Days that will bring us to our greatest potential.

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