A Comprehensive Program to Maximize The High Holy Days

Category: Rosh Hashannah (Page 1 of 2)

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



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)


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 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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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



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 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)


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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?



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.


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.


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)


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.”


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.


“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



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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


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



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.


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).


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.)


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)


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.


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)


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.)


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)


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.

2.04 Week 2-Developing A Relationship With G-d: Pathways to G-d-Part 2



In yesterday’s Sheet, we discussed some pathways to G-d. Most of the pathways discussed in yesterday’s sheet dealt with ways to get close to G-d through the avenue of learning. Today’s suggestions focus mainly on pathways to G-d through tools in our daily life.


It is not beneficial to try all of the pathways at once. The purpose of all these options is to offer you a choice so that you can choose the pathway most suitable to your personality. So choose the one that motivates you the most and start experimenting to see if it works.


People seldom realize the power of the brachos (blessings) they say all day long. An Aish HaTorah student once went to HaRav Shach, zatsal, for some personal advice. At the end of their meeting the student asked HaRav Shach for a piece of advice on how to get close to G-d. The advice he received was simple and yet very true:

A very powerful way to grow closer to G-d is to utilize the tool of brachos. In the course of the day, we say many blessings thanking G-d for all the great pleasures in the world; think how much more powerful they would be if we focused and concentrated on them. Rav Shach emphasized that if one wants to develop a relationship with Hashem this is one of the most powerful tools in all of the Torah. In addition, it has the benefit of not being time consuming either.

Practical Suggestions – Before you say each blessing take a few seconds to focus on the reason why you are saying the blessing. Therefore, before you bite into that slice of bread take a moment to work on truly feeling gratitude for the gift that Hashem has placed before you. Then the blessings that you say will really be a blessing thanking G-d and not a rote, mechanical expression.


“The earlier Chassidim waited an hour before their prayer’ (Brachos 32b). Before praying, It is advantageous to consider the objectives of T’filah (Prayer)… One of the main purposes of prayer is the yearning of the soul to speak to Hashem; to make contact with the Soul of the Universe from which the individual soul originated; and to feel His reality as much as is possible for one to feel in his life. (Praise My Soul, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, p. 7)

Praying to G-d in the proper way can be one of the most powerful ways to get close to G-d. In yesterday’s sheet we spoke about the need to learn the siddur and know it well. Today’s pathway refers to actual prayer itself. This pathway suggests making prayer a major priority in one’s life. Make a commitment once and for all to do it right. No more hasty davening or mumbling words. Make a commitment to prepare for prayer. Learn techniques on how to pray in a successful way.

Practical Suggestions –1. Aryeh Kaplan has an excellent article in the Aryeh Kaplan Reader on how to have cavanah (mindful understanding) in prayer. It is very worthwhile to read and gives many excellent suggestions.

2. Start with one blessing a week in the Shmoneh Esrei or one section of the prayer service and really work on your cavannah. Take a new blessing or section every week and work on your cavanah with that section.

3. Come to davening 5 minutes early and clear out your mind before you begin to pray.

With proper effort one can, through prayer, rise to a very strong connection to the Al-mighty.


The Chofetz Chaim was known to separate himself from people for a few hours each day to be alone, in order to contemplate life and turn his gaze inward to take stock of himself. He was also known to talk to G-d during this period each day.

“At times, individuals managed to follow him surreptitiously, and from some place of hiding they were able to listen to his tearful words that could shake any soul to Its depths and evoke tears and thoughts of repentance.” He would speak In an audible voice, sharp and clear. . . He began as a rule by giving thanks and praise to the blessed Lord for the kindness He had bestowed on him; and he regarded everything as a great privilege and kindness that he did not deserve. So he expressed his gratitude for all the Divine goodness… (The Chofetz Chaim, Volume 2, Chapter 68, In the Attic, Artscroll Publications)

Of course, it goes without saying that we shouldn’t be taking a few hour a day out of our learning in order to talk to G-d. We are not the Chofetz Chaim who barely slept at all at night. Rather this pathway suggests taking out a few minutes everyday to talk to G-d from the depths of your heart.

Practical Suggestions –1. You can do this every day during the prayer service at the proper place in the service, you can go down to the Kotel once a week between seder hour to do this, or you take some of your free time also between seder hours to do this.

Talking to G-d for a few minutes a day can be a very powerful tool in helping develop a strong relationship with Him.


It was always a custom of great Rabbis to compose their own prayers to help open up their hearts. This pathway suggests that a person sit down and write out a prayer that will move his heart to be inspired in an area that he wants to grow in. For example, many yeshiva students have a custom of saying a prayer at the beginning and ending of their day’s studies. Let’s say you are working on an area you want to correct in your learning, like not talking so much during seder hours or learning stronger, why not write out a 2 or 3 line addition to that prayer asking G-d for the strength to learn harder and stronger without interruptions. Or maybe you are working on not speaking Loshon Hora, why not write out a prayer that will inspire you not to speak it and say it after every davening.

Practical Suggestions –1. Choose an area that you really want to improve in and are motivated to pray for.

2. Then sit down a write a prayer that will stir your emotions to conquer the thing you are trying to beat.

3. Figure out a proper time to say it when you know you will have cavanah (mindful intention).


How does one achieve love of the Creator and reverence for Him? When a person contemplates His great acts and wondrous creations, seeing In them an Infinite and timeless wisdom, he immediately loves, praises and glorifies the Creator, yearning eagerly to know His grandeur. (Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah 2.2)

The heavens relate the glory of G-d, and the firmament declares His handiwork (Tehillim 19.1).

Lift up your eyes on high and see Who created these Who brings you their host by number, Who calls them all by names.” (Isaiah 40.26)

The phenomena of the physical world are to be compared to lighted signs on the highway at night which constantly flash the message “Keep awake! Keep awake! This message is of such urgency that it must continuously be reiterated, or else the results would be disastrous. We too are urged not to fall asleep at the wheel on the highway of life; because the recognition of the Creator’s greatness is not merely an achievement in our lives, but is life itself and is the sole justification of life. Therefore the Creator fashioned the world in such a manner that the message Is being flashed to us from all sides. (Awake My Glory, Avigdor Miller, P. 283)

This pathway suggests spending a certain amount of time each week when you are not learning to contemplate the wondrous creations of G-d. If one learns how to see the amazing wonders of creation, this can be a tremendous inspiration to growing in your relationship to G-d.

Practical Suggestions –1. Read the works of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, which, in general, are filled with many examples of the wonders of creation. See “Awake My Glory”, Chapter 17 or ‘Sing You Righteous” Chapter 7 for just a few great examples.

2. Pay attention to startling natural phenomena, such as electrical storms, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. These powerful phenomena can lead one to powerful awe of the Al-mighty.

3. When you are taking a walk on Shabbat take the time to contemplate the wonderful natural world that surrounds you.


We are commanded to love G-d, as it is stated, “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d.” The substance of the precept Is that we should consider and reflect on His commandments . . . until we attain a concept of Him according to our ability, and we can then feel joy In perceiving Him with the utmost delight. (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 418)

Did you ever sometimes get the feeling that you are overwhelmed by doing so many mitzvos and not really doing any of them with excellence. This pathway suggests taking one mitzvah that you do frequently and become an expert in it. By learning about one mitzvah on a very deep level, and then really trying to perfect yourself in its service, you will come to appreciate the power of a mitzvah and the One that gave it.

Practical Suggestions – 1. Choose a mitzvah that you always wanted to perform and know well. Options might be shma, shmoneh esreh, t’fillin, birchat cohanim (if you are a cohen), mezuzah.

2. Learn the halachos of that mitzvah well. Really take the time to get clear on all its confusing aspects.

3. After you have learned the halachos start researching what the commentaries have to say about the meaning behind the mitzvah. Look up the verse associated with that mitzvah in the Chumash and start hunting down what the commentaries have to say about it. See if there is a book that comments on this subject in depth. Take good notes on the subject.

4. Make goals for improving your performance of the mitzvah. For example, if you are working on the mitzvah of saying the shma, then write down that you want to have deep cavannah initially on the first paragraph and then try to improve your performance.

5. After you have achieved your goal in the knowledge and performance of this mitzvah, take a moment to reflect how good you feel now that you have perfected aspects of the mitzvah. Reflect on the power of having a mitzvah known and performed well.

6. Finally, reflect on the goodness of G-d that gave you the mitzvah in the first place to grow and achieve your potential.

The amazing power of doing a mitzvah and perfecting your service in it, can show you the power of mitzvahs in general. When a person contemplates the wondrous aspects of a mitzvah that help him reach perfection, it will lead him to a powerful love of G-d.


Master of the World, Behold I forgive anyone that angered me or provoked me or that sinned against me whether to my body or my money or my honor or in anyway having to do anything with me… May It be your will L-rd my G-d and G-d of my fathers that I won’t sin again and that I won’t return to my sins. (The confession before Krias Shma Al HaMita)

It has always been a custom of the Jewish People to speak to G-d directly before we go to sleep telling
Him that we that forgive others and doing teshuva for anything that one has done wrong on that day. This is a perfect time to reflect and introspect on your relationship to G-d in general and to see if you have fulfilled your purpose on this earth. This is the time to evaluate if you have fulfilled your goals in relating to


Everyone has their own way to get close to G-d. And everyone has a different pathway. The purpose of this set of suggestions is for someone to choose a direction or two in his Avodas Hashem (Service of G-d), and start to actively work on doing something that will bring him closeto G-d in a very practical and substantial way. So now is the time. Take a pathway and choose the direction in which you want to go.


We have almost completed the second week of the month of Elul. And now we have to ask ourselves:Where are we holding with respect to the overall purpose of Elul?

Are we waking up to the power of the High Holy Days?

Are we preparing for the upcoming days of judgement?

Do we feel that we are waking up to what life is supposed to be all about?

If you find that the answer is no to all or most of the above questions, the time has come to get to work.

Any intelligent person who is scheduled for trial before a mortal king of flesh and blood will surely spend sleepless nights and days preparing his case. He will seek the advice of every knowledgeable person he knows that can help him prepare his case. He will go to great lengths to attain a favorable verdict, even if all that is at stake is but a small part of his fortune and he faces no personal risk. Should he not do so as well when he is brought to judgement before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy Blessed One, when he himself, his children, and his fortune all hang in the balance?…Therefore, it is important to begin preparing for Rosh HaShana at least thirty days earlier, from Rosh Chodesh of the month of Elul. This is the minimum time required to rouse oneself fully from one’s yearlong stupor. (Menoras HaMeor-The Ten Days of Teshuva, Rabbeinu Yitchak Abohav)

If you haven’t yet begun to get started on the work of Elul, then now is the time to get to work. There is not too much time left.

Next week, with the help of G-d, we will be exploring the world of teshuva and Slichos.

2.03 Week 2-Developing A Relationship With G-d: Pathways to G-d-Part 1



Yesterday we spoke about the need to make G-d the major priority in our lives. We also spoke about the importance of studying every day the things that will bring us close to Him. The following are a few suggestions for long and short term projects that one can undertake to develop a greater relationship to G-d.


When trying to build a relationship with G-d it is essential to realize that your soul is a complicated puzzle. Your goal is to try to solve it. No one knows the way to get you close to G-d. Only you can discover the secret. It requires a certain amount of experimentation on your part. It also requires a realization that it might take a few unsuccessful attempts until you find a methodology that works. So take one of these pathways and get to work. Choose the one that is most appropriate to who you are and get started.


It must be clearly understood that these projects should not interfere with any of your other Yeshiva obligations. They should be done in the unscheduled free time of your day. Please consult with your Rebbe or Program Director on any decisions that you make.


The Sefer HaChinuch, the famous work on the 613 mitzvos, wrote in his “Author’s Note” about the different types of mitzvos that we are required to fulfill. He writes about a series of mitzvos that are different from all the other ones:

The obligation to observe most of the other mitzvos does not apply constantly, but only for certain times of the year or day. The following six precepts, though, are an exception; their obligation is constant; it is not interrupted or removed from a person for even one moment in all his days. These are:

1. To believe in G-d
2. Not to believe in anything other than Him
3. To Know He is One
4. To Love Him
5. To Fear Him
6. Not to turn after the thoughts of the heart or the sight of the eyes

The Six Constant Mitzvos are the backbone of all of Judaism. Without a proper awareness of what they are and how to do them, one is truly missing the most powerful tools that exist to get to G-d. If one hasn’t had a class on them or hasn’t studied them, now is the time to resolve to understand them once and for all.

Practical Suggestions — 1. Find an older student who has learned the material and ask him to teach them to you.

2. Aish HaTorah has a pamphlet called ‘The Six Constant Mitzvos.” It can be very helpful for a beginner to the subject.

3. Study the Six Constant Mitzvos in the Sefer HaChinuch. For those who can’t read about them in Hebrew, Feldheim Publishers has an excellent English translation.

4. Listen to some of the tapes in the library on the subject.

With the High Holy Days fast approaching, and people making various resolutions to become close to G-d, make a commitment to learn this very important topic.


The Siddur, constitutes a major Torah compendium which includes a large portion of the Holy Scriptures. It includes also the compositions of Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly, including a number of the last prophets, who were the authors of the Brachos (including the Shmoneh Esrei). The use of the Siddur is therefore a means of learning and it is the study of the fundamentals of Torah ideology in their most abstract and generalized form. By proper use of the regular prayers they can serve as a table of contents and an index to almost all of the general principles of the Torah and the duties of the Heart and the ways of Love and Fear of Hashem. Thus the study of the siddur is an important form of Torah learning, and is also a major method of gaining greatness of soul and acquiring the True Knowledge. (Praise My Soul, R. Avigdor Miller, p. 8)

R. Avigdor Miller is telling us about a second pathway to G-d. When one considers that he spends close to two hours a day in prayer, the obvious conclusion should be that one should know its meaning. R. Avigdor Miller is emphasizing that the Siddur can add for us tremendous insights about how to get close to G-d.

Practical Suggestions  1. Since we are now in the month of Elul, the obvious place to begin is to learn the Machzor of the High Holy Days. Look at an Artscroll or Metzudah Machzor and begin to study the Shmoneh Esrei of the Shacharis and Musaf Services.

2. For those who know Hebrew, try Sifse Chaim by R. Chaim Freidlander. In the back of the sefer there is an excellent supplement called Rinas Chaim which gives beautiful explanations of the holiday prayers. You can also try the Otser HaTfillos . For those who need an English text, try The Shemoneh Esrei: Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur by R. Aaron Werner. Another possibility is the Hirsch Siddur or the World of Prayer by Rabbi Munk.

3. For the rest of the year, try to make a commitment to study the meanings of the prayers. For practical suggestions on how to do this, see the Tisha B’av Series, Sheet number 15, page 2.


One of the greatest ways to get close to is from the study of the Agadic literature is spread out all over the Torah:

Is it your desire to know the One that spoke and the world came into being? Learn Agada. (Sifre, Ekev 49.11.22)

The Sifre is telling us that the Agada as a form of learning has the power to bring us to know G-d in a very powerful way.

Practical Suggestions — Unfortunately, Agada can be very difficult. It is not always easy to understand its true meaning. Therefore one should study it with someone who is knowledgeable enough in Torah to give you the correct understanding.

1. Remember all those fascinating Agadas that when you studied in your Gemora Shiur you studied the “Pshat” (the basic meaning) and you always wanted to go back to understand them more in depth? Hunt around during Bein HaZman (yeshiva intercession) for a Rav that has some spare time. Then have him teach it to you. See in a deeper way what the piece is trying to tell you. Pull out an Ein Yaakov (the classic set of commentaries on the Agada) and try to gain even deeper insights into it.

2. For those who don’t have access to a Ray, try to find a book that will take the place of the Ray so that you won’t make a mistake in understanding its meaning. An excellent example of this is The Juggler and the King by Rabbi Aaron Feldman.

If you do this over a period of time, you will realize the power of the Agada to bring a greater and more powerful understanding of who G-d is and how to get close to Him.


It is stated, “You shall Love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and all your soul and your might.” While it is stated, “and you shall love” this does not tell me how a man is to love G-d. Therefore the Torah states, “And these words which I command you today shall be on your heart (Dvarim 6.6): for as a result of this you- will “recognize” the One who spoke and the world came into existence. (Sifre, Dvarim #33)~ In other words, by reflecting (hitbonneut) on the Torah, the love of G-d settles in your heart.(The Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 418):

This pathway suggests that you take a topic that has always interested you in Torah and then study it on a very deep level. Take a topic, verse, or mitzvah and study it from many different angles. Research it as deep as you can, and just when you think you have gone as deep as you possibly can, go even a little more in depth. When you do this you will see the beauty of the Torah. If you enjoy this, just imagine the tens of thousands of other topics like this in the Torah.

Now take a moment to reflect on the beauty and genius of the Torah. In every area of life, there are so many ingenious and wonderful things that the Torah has to offer. This is precisely the moment to sit down and realize the greatness of G-d who gave you such a present. It is also the time to realize that the giving of the Torah is a sign of G-d’s total love for us. With these thoughts according to the Sefer HaChinuch you will come to ”recognize” G-d.


The 613 Mitzvos seem like a vast and endless ocean and many times we don’t understand how they relate to a greater understanding of G-d and life. What does the Beis HaMikdash teach me about G-d? What does Tuma and Tahara (purity and impurity) teach me about G-d? Why not explore the world of the 613 and see how they enable you to reach and understand G-d in a powerful and exciting way.

Practical Suggestions — Take a piece of paper or an index card and write down on the top the mitzvah name and number. Research the meaning of each mitvah in the various different mitvahs books and develop a workable pshat as to how each mitvah brings you closer to G-d or teaches about G-d in one fashion or another. This method has been proven successful to help people to see G-d and how He relates to everything in every aspect of one’s life.


Every holiday is a phenomenal opportunity to get closer to G-d. Each of the mitzvahs of the holiday period is a tool to accomplish what is the purpose of the holiday. This pathway suggest to have a set time in understanding the holidays all year round, for a half hour a day. Start at the most upcoming holiday and spend a month on researching all the pertinent aspects of the Holiday including the mitvahs, the scroll relating to the Holiday (i.e. Eichah, Ruth, Shir HaShirim), the customs, the halachos etc.

If a person does this all year around, he will find that he will be prepared for all the holidays that come around. One won’t have that sinking feeling of having to cram in all the aspect of a holiday just a few days before it begins.


Now is the time to take practical steps to get close to G-d. Try one of the options presented, then refine it and make it more powerful to you. If it doesn’t work, then choose another and try again. The main thing is to – make the attempt and then Hashem will surely open up the avenues to help you find the answer. Tommorow we will be discuss ing more Pathways to grow to a relationship to G-d.

2.02 Developing A Relationship With G-d : The Greatest Priority


When Elul and the High Holy Days come around, we normally make very deep and profound resolutions that this year will be different and we will truly work on getting close to G-d. Then the year zooms past us and we somehow don’t seem to achieve what we claimed was our top priority.

Why does that happen? And what can we do in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal, (1707-1746) in the introduction to his classic work the “Mesilas Yesharim’ (The Path of the Just) deals with this question extensively.

The following sheet is a condensed presentation of the Introduction to the “Mesillas Yesharim.” It offers no novel insights. But there is no greater and more powerful message for the month of Elul than to get into one’s heart what the Ramchal wrote in his Introduction over 250 years ago to the people of his generation.


The most important goal of our lives should be to develop a deep relationship with G-d:

And now Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you, but that you fear the L-rd your G-d to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and serve the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and all your soul, to observe the mitzvos of G-d and His statutes…(Devarim 10.12)


The Ramchal wrote that in his generation the majority of capable individuals were not involved in the pursuit of a relationship with G-d:

A consideration of the general state of affairs will reveal that the majority of men of quick intelligence and keen mentality devote most of their thought and speculation to the subtleties of wisdom and the depths of analysis each according to the Inclination of his intelligence and his natural bent. There are some who expend a great deal of effort in studying the creation and nature. Others devote all of their thoughts to astronomy and mathematics, and others to the arts. There are those who go more deeply into sacred studies, into the study of the holy Torah, some occupying themselves with Halachic discussions, others with Midrash and others with legal decisions. There are few, however, who devote thought and study to perfections of Divine service — to love of G-d. fear of G-d. cleaving to G-d and all of the other aspects of piety.

This Elul we have to ask ourselves which of these groups do we belong to: to those who devote their time and energy to perfecting their relationship to C­d, or to those who do not.(see Note Below)


What happens when you ask people why they don’t spend the proper amount of time on the study of how to get close to G-d? The Ramchal answers this question:

It is not that they consider this knowledge unessential; if questioned each one will maintain that it is of para­mount importance and that one who is not clearly versed in it cannot be deemed truly wise.

Their failure to devote more attention to it stems rather from it being so manifest and so obvious to them that they see no need for spending much time upon it.

Now we have the answer as to why people neglect this subject. It is too obvious to them. And since it is so simple to them, they move on to more complicated matters and then totally forget about this important subject:


As a result of the fact that people don’t spend much time learning about G-d, their minds are not occupied with the service of G-d.

The real, desired piety that we are looking for, is very far from our mind for It Is obvious that a person does not concern himself with what does not occupy a place In his mind.


As a result of not having the service of G-d in our minds, we miss many opportunities to draw close to Him:

And though the beginnings and foundations of piety are implanted in every person’s heart, if he does not occupy himself with them, he will witness details of piety without recognizing them, and he will pass them up without feeling or perceiving that he is doing so.


The conclusion that we should draw this Elul is that our biggest priority for the upcoming year must be the study of how to draw close to G-d. Nothing should budge us from this resolution:(see Note Below)

How, then, is it conceivable that is not be necessary to expend time upon this study in order to know these truths and the manner in which they may be acquired and fulfilled? How will this wisdom enter a person’s heart if he will not seek It… What will we answer in the day of reproof If we weaken In this study and forsake that which Is so incumbent upon us as to be the very essence of what the L-rd our G-d asks of us? Is it fitting that our Intelligence exert itself and labor in speculations which are not binding upon us, in fruitless argumentation, In laws which have no application to us, while we leave to habit and abandon to mechanical observance our great debt to our Creator … If we analyzed the matter honestly, would we not extract the truth and thereby benefit ourselves, and also be of benefit to others by Instructing them In it.


When you study this subject, the only way to really integrate it is to study it slowly and in depth:

Fear of G-d and only Fear of G-d is considered wisdom. And there is no doubt that what entails no analysis is not considered wisdom. The truth of the matter is that all these things require deep study If they are to be known In truth and not through imagination and false logic. How much more so if they are to be acquired and attained.


One of the best ways to judge to what extent you should be motivated in this area is to ask yourself what you have done for money in the past and then apply that knowledge to your pursuit of G-d:

As stated by Shlomo, (Mishle 2.4), If you seek it as silver and search for it as a treasure, then you will understand the fear of G-d.” He does not say, ‘Then you will understand philosophy; then you will understand astronomy; then you will understand medicine; then you will understand legal judgements and decisions. We see, then, that for fear of G-d to be understood, it must be sought after as silver and searched for as a treasure. All this is part of our heritage and is accepted in substance by every devout individual.

The only way to succeed is to go after the pursuit of G-d the same way the rest of the world goes after money.


Now is the time to commit for the rest of the year to set aside time every day to work on how to get close to G-d:

Is it conceivable that we should find time for all other branches of study and none for thIs study? Why should a man not at least set aside for himself certain times for this speculation if he is obliged In the remainder of his time to turn to other studies and undertakings… That which the earthliness of nature seeks to remove from our hearts, reading and contemplation will summon to our consciousness and will awaken us to what is incumbent upon us.

*NOTE: It must be clearly understood that just because something is the major priority in your life, you don’t necessarily spend all of your day on it. Past experi­ence has shown that it just isn’t productive. The pur­pose of this sheet is to encourage setting the proper time aside to work on these subjects, not to reject all other priorities in learning. We mentioned in sheet three, that the Rosh Yeshiva suggested spending be­tween 30-60 minutes a day on these subjects, de­pending on your personality.

2.01 Week 2 – Developing A Relationship With G-d: Cleaving to G-d



According to the Harav Noach Weinberg, the purpose of the first week of Elul, was to do the things that would wake us up to the responsibiiities of the upcoming High Holy Days. Those who followed the advice should be feeling more energized and motivated to approach the coming weeks of Elul.

If you haven’t seen a copy of Sheet 1, or even if you have, but haven’t done the things suggested in it, please take a minute to read it. It is very important to realize that the sheets in the upcoming weeks are based on the assumption that you have done some of the suggestions from Sheet 1.

The theme of the second week according the Rosh Yeshiva’s system is called “Developing and Streng­thening Your Relationship With G-d.” After a one week period of waking ourselves up, the next priority is to do the things that will inspire and strengthen a true relationship with G-d. Often when we begin to examine our relationship with G-d we seem to get stuck. Where do we begin and what do we shoot for? Today’s general introduction is designed to help us examine aspects of our life that might need improve­ment in our relationship to G-d. At the end of the week we will be bringing practical tools on how to achieve many of the ideas suggested.


One of the major purposes of Elul should be to ex­amine where our hearts are at. It is the time of the year that we must get to the very root of our souls. Are we living for the right reason or are we living for the false illusions of life? Now is the time to examine and correct any difficulties that we see. And of course, the main area to examine is our relationship with G-d.

G-d said, (Mishle 23.26), “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe My ways. “ If you give Me your heart and eyes, I will know that you are Mine.” (Yerushalml Brachos)

Where is your heart? Is it dedicated to being with the Al-mighty? And are your eyes open to see His ways? These are some of the most basic questions to begin to ask at the beginning of the Elul season.


One of the true ways to measure our dedication to Hashem is to examine our prayers. Prayer is one of the most powerful expressions of our love and com­mitment. Now that Elul has arrived we should serious­ly and honestly ask ourselves, “If I really cared about G-d with all my heart, then why do I often think about so many other things during prayer other than Him?”

The verse states (Devarim 26.16), ‘You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” At the time that you pray be­fore the Holy One, you should not divide your heart, giving one part to the Holy One, and one part to other matters. (Tanchuma Tavo, Ot Aleph)


The purpose of Elul is to gain an awareness of the areas that are holding us back from complete dedica­tion to G-d and to rededicate ourselves in that area. It is important to realize that each individual has their own special areas to rededicate in their Avodas Ha­shem and one persons path may be unlike anyone else’s. From the following Gemora we can see that there are different paths to get to a single goal.

‘You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Devar­im 26.16), “R. Eliezar says: “If the Torah already states ‘with all your soul,’ why was It necessary to state ‘with all your might’? And if It stated ‘with all your might,’ why was it necessary to state ‘with all your soul’? But this Is to teach you that if there is a man to whom his existence (I.e. soul) Is more pre­cious to him than his money (might), we are told (that one must love G-d) “with all your soul.’ On the other hand, if there Is a man whose money is more precious than his existence, we are told, (that one must love G­-d) ‘with all your might.”’ (Pesachim 25a)

Certain people need to dedicate to G-d with their money and certain people need to dedicate with their willingness to die for G-d. No one can reach levels of love in the same way. Everyone must sit down and re­dedicate in Elul to conquering those things that are particularly holding him back.


One of the objectives of Elul is to examine our mo­tivation even for the good things we do during the day:

We find that whoever studies Torah out of love (of G-d) and performs the commandments of his Creator out of love, will eventually reach the level of (Devarim 30.6) “to cleave to Him.” We have learned: What is meant by (Devarim 30.6) “To love the L-rd your G-d, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave to Him?” This teaches us that a person should not say, “I will study so that I will be called a Torah scholar,” “I will learn so that I will be called “Rabbi,” “I will learn so that I will be considered an elder and have a seat in the study hall” (among the elders). Instead, study out of love (for G-d), and honor will come in the end. (Nedarim 62a)

Even the good things we do in life should be done with the proper motivation. Even though we are told to learn torah even if it isn’t necessarily with the highest motivations, the goal is ultimately to to correct it. One of the purposes of Elul is to examine the motives even behind the good things that we do and slowly start to begin to correct it.


Another goal of Elul is to examine how much your life is integrated with a true perspective of the Al­mighty. The most powerful example of this is from King David, one of the most successful men of all time, whose life was always a shining example of knowing his place in relation to G-d:

What Is meant by (Mishle 3.6), “In all your ways, you shall know Him (G-d)?.” It means place Him in your heart wherever you may go, Just as David would do: He was a king, yet he said, “I am not a king. Only He is the King, and He anointed me.”… King David was a mighty man, and yet he said “I am not mighty.” He was rich, and yet he said,” I am not rich,” as in the verse (Tehillim 102.1), “A prayer of the destitute.” So too did he proclaim ‘Yours, 0 L-rd, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty.” He went to war and emerged victorious, and claimed, “It was not because of my valor that I was victorious, but because G-d helped me and made me emerge victorious, and it was He who taught me how to wage war.” (Midrash Shochar Tov-Mizmor 144)


If you are with G-d in all your endeavors in life, things will run smoothly for you:

Shlomo exclaimed (Mishle 3.6), “In all your ways, you shall know Him.” If you recognize the Holy One in all your actions, He will make straight the way for you in life. (Midrash Shochar Toy, Appendix Mizmor 119.5)

Not only does being with G-d make things run more smoothly, but you will be protected from harm.

Happy are the righteous and those who cling to them! What does it say about Hananiah, Mishael and Azari­ah? … (When they came out of the fiery furnace) “The fire had no power over their bodies, nor was a hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor had the smell of fire passed them” (Dan. 3.27). Why were their clothes not harmed? It is be­cause they were attached to them. And If the clothes which were attached to the righteous passed through fire without being harmed, then how much more will those who cleave to the Righteous One of the Uni­verse remain unharmed, as it states (Devarim 4.4), “And you, who have cleaved to the L-rd, are all alive today.” (Yalkut Shmone, Vaeschanan 824)


Here we are in Elul, struggling to get clarity as to our future direction in life. But before we do anything we must ask ourselves the most basic question in life.  Where am I holding with my relationship to G-d? This is the time of year to get clear and focused on this issue. If we could figure out how to fully commit to Him and His ways, then everything else would fall into line. May we gain the courage and strength to fully dedicate ourselves to a relationship with G-d before the Day of Judgement comes around.

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