A Comprehensive Program to Maximize The High Holy Days

Category: Slichos

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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

4.01 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.

3.02 Week 3-Understanding Teshuva and Slichos; Questions On The Four Steps Of Teshuva



In yesterdays sheet we discussed The four steps of teshuva. Today’s sheet will focus primarily on providing answers to the most frequently asked questions about these steps.


Regret is the acknowledgement that you have lost an opportunity to become greater or that you have not lived up to your potential. Guilt is the negative emotion saying that you are bad. How do you know The difference between the two? The criteria for judging such feelings is how you behave and feel later. Guilt breeds feeling of depression. Regret leads to feelings of joy.

How is this? No matter what you do, you are a good person. You are a soul. Your essence is good. When you do something bad, your Yetzer Hara got the befter of you. It made you confused. You are still a good person.

Your essence is G-dly. You are made in the image of G-d. Therefore, when you have made a mistake and you see it clearly and you feel regret over it, your relationship with the Al-mighty becomes more elevated. You are not a bad person. On the contrary, precisely because you feel regret over it, that is a sign you are a good person. You are trying to improve. Would an evil person feel regret over a sin?

Let’s say, for example, you are running to catch a bus. Just as you are turning the corner to catch it, you don’t see a hole in the street and you trip, fall and miss the bus. You regret the fact that you didn’t see the hole and missed the bus. You regret the fact that you now have to wait 15 minutes until the next one. But are you a bad person for tripping? Did you put a hole in the street?

The same is true with a sin. The Yetzer Hara has tripped you up. Are you to be blamed for that?

In general, learning how to avoid guilt when trying to improve is a skill that takes some time to acquire. If you find That you are constantly feeling guilty whenever you approach self-growth, consult your Rav about this.


The Chovos HaLevavos in Shaar Teshuva, Chapter Three writes of a few prerequisites in order for teshuva to be successful:

Prerequisites #1-The returnee must clearly recognize the negativity of what he has done. If it is not clear to him and he is in doubt about it there cannot be any repentance, nor seeking of forgiveness for it. (#1)

If you have committed a transgression and you don’t feel any regret, on a certain level, you are missing clarity as to why the sin was negative. It might be that you don’t fully understand the power of the mitzvos to bring you to greatness. It might be that you have a block with this particular mitzvah. But it all stems from a lack of understanding. The best advice is to ask someone that you can talk to why this particular transgression so serious.

Prerequisites #2 -It might also be that you are not sure about the halacha.

He must be aware that his specific act was legally wrong… For if it is not clear to him that his deed was wrong and his action was not good, he will neither feel remorse for it nor accept the conditions necessary for teshuva. (Ibid #2)

It is very important to make sure that you are clear that you did in fact do something wrong. Without That total clarity on this point, feeling regret will be hard.

Prerequisite #3 -The Last piece of advice That might help you to feel regret Is the following;

He must consciously reflect upon the good things the Creator has bestowed upon him and how he had rebelled against G-d instead of being grateful to Him. (Ibid. #6)

If you would sit down and write out a list of all the great things that G-d has done for you in your lifetime, most likely it would lead you to have gratitude. If you would Then contemplate that instead of paying G-d back for all the wonderful things that He did for you, you went against Him, This might lead you to regret what you have done.


The Rambam writes in his Mishnah Torah:

How is the confession done? You say, Hashem, I have made a mistake transgressed, rebelled before you, I did such and such. Behold I feel regret and am ashamed of my actions. I will never ever return to them forever. This is the essence of the confession. Whoever increases his confession and lengthens the matter, behold this is praiseworthy. (Hilchos Teshuva 1.1.’)

We see here that the Rambams confession includes all the steps of teshuva, therefore, it is very important to make sure before you get there to cornplete all of the previous steps.

But what should your attitude be when you say the confession? How exactly do you relate to G-d when you talk to Hirn? There is a very interesting piece in the Mishnah Brurah that might give us an indication. The piece discusses whether scholars should subject themselves to a lot of fasts. The Chofetz Chaim wrote that if you want to do teshuva, do not do anything that will weaken you physically. Since the greatest form of purification is learning Torah, there is no greater teshuva than increasing your learning of Torah. Then he speaks about how to how to talk to G-d:

Connect your thoughts to Him as if you already stand before Him on the Day of Judgement. Speak to Him like a slave speaks to his master or a son to his father. (Mishnah Brurah, Beur Halacha, Chapter 571, Talmid Chochom)

This gives us a little bit of an indication of what our attitude should be when doing The viduy.


Some people have found that if they write out the steps first, and then say them out loud, that this can be helpful. This helps one to have one’s thoughts clearly spelled out (especially during the Ten Days of Teshuva when the main mitzvah of the time period is teshuva).

Some people take the steps, memorize them, and at the end of one specific davening everyday take something through the steps. This is a great tool for gaining familiarity with the steps and learning how to use them.


Sometimes a person sits down and starts to do teshuva using the steps and he finds that they just don’t work for him. He finds that whenever he starts to use them, he gets overwhelmed or confused. He knows that when he sat down and did teshuva last year when he didn’t know the steps, he grew a lot. But now that he knows the steps, it just isn’t working for him. The Rosh Yeshiva once gave a. very important Shmooze on this topic and mentioned that if this is your situation, that the steps are getting in the way of your ability to do teshuva, then “just change”. You’ll get The hang of the steps next year.


Doing teshuva properly s a process that takes some practice. The month of Elul is a good time to work on it. Take a small area that is easy for you to change in and start doing The four steps. Try it. Learn what is holding you back. By working on these steps over a period of time, you will find your relationship to G-d will improve drastically.

Tomorrow we will be answering the most important question of alt, how does one do the fourth step ot teshuva, the commitment never to do a transgression again.

3.01 Week 3-Understanding Teshuva and Slichos; Teshuva-A Restoration of Relationship



We are now beginning the third week of the month of Elul. Two of your four weeks of preparation should now be completed. This third week is dedicated to understanding the principles behind the teshuva process and the Selichos process.


You are 16 years old and your father has told you to take out the garbage. This is the job you hate most in the world. So you acknowledge that you heard what he said, and then you walk out of the house to go to school without doing it. When you arrive home, your father calls you into the room and asks you why you didn’t take out the garbage. You reply that you forgot and you will do it. But then you start thinking about the smelly garbage room and the bugs. You go to sleep without taking it out.

The next morning your father asks again why you didn’t take out the garbage. You apologize profusely and then go to school without taking it out.

When you arrive home, your father calls you again and asks you why you didn’t take out the garbage. This time you know that you are in trouble, ”Son, I want you to know that you have done something really wrong. The issue is not that you haven’t taken the garbage out for these three times. The issue is that you have hurt our relationship. Three times you told me that you would do it and each time you promised me. Now I know one thing; I cannot trust your word anymore. This shows that, on a certain level, you don’t respect me or value our relationship. I want you to think over what you have done and decide what you need to do to rectify the wrong you have done.

Your father’s words really make an impression. Now you really feel bad. It finally hit you what you have done. You want to return to your father and tell him you are sorry. It is not so simple in this case to just say you are sorry. There is something more serious involved here. You have damaged your credibility with your father. Just saying you are sorry is not enough to repair the damage.

So you decide to make a plan. After thinking about what you did, you decided to take the following steps:

Step One-You sincerely feel regret for what you have done. You will not try to push away these feelings of regret over what you have done but rather you will let yourself use them in order to spur you to take the steps necessary to change.

Step Two-You will listen to your father. Until you get forgiveness from him you will make sure to listen to everything else that he asks of you.

Step Three-You will go to him and ask forgiveness for what you have done. You will tell him that you are sorry.

Step Four– You will tell him that you have made a decision to listen to his instructions and will not procrastinate any longer.

The next day you go to your father and explain how sorry you are, and that in the future you promise to listen to him immediately when asked to do something. You pour out your heart to him and beseech him to forgive you. Upon seeing your great sincerity and change in attitude, your father wholeheartedly forgives you and warmly welcomes you back into his good graces.

What has occurred here? You have restored your relationship with your father. You have taken a situation of a wounded relationship with him and turned it around. Because you took the time to think it out and sincerely change, you were accepted back by him with joy.


When someone does a transgression against G-d he is, in effect, harming the relationship between himself and his Father-in-Heaven. Therefore, he needs to repair the damage to the relationship. The methodology of this repair is known as the process of teshuva. The Chovos HaLevavos (The Duties of the Heart)’ Shaar Teshuva, in Chapter 4 explains this process in depth. (All text in bold print is from the Duties of the Heart):


The essential steps of teshuva are four:

  1. Regret-That the returnee should regret the sins already committed;
  2. Abandonment-That he should renounce and abandon them;
  3. That he should confess them and beseech forgiveness for having committed them.
  4. That he should firmly pledge with all his heart and soul not to repeat them.


Regret Is a sign that his evil deed is repulsive In his eyes.

How does regret enhance the ability to restore your relationship with someone?

We observe among people that the exhibition of regret for a wrong one has done to his neighbor is a strong ground for granting forgiveness.

Strong regret is often enough to stimulate the whole process of teshuva. When someone is trying to repair a relationship, if the offending party has no regret for what he did, it is very hard to fully forgive him.


Without abandoning the sin during the teshuva process, the process won’t work. Can you imagine trying to ask forgiveness from someone while you are wronging him at the same time.

We observe among people that if one has wronged his neighbor and, after expressing regret, ceases to wrong him, it is proper to forgive and overlook the transgression.


Beseeching forgiveness is a sign of the sinner’s humility and submissiveness before G-d and confession of iniquity is a ground for forgiveness.

How exactly does this restore one’s relationship with someone?

We observe among people that if one sinned against his neighbor, and then humbles himself before him, openly confesses that he sinned, and wronged him, and beseeches forgiveness, and the neighbor realizes that the sinner regrets his sin he had committed, he will not withhold his pardon and will overlook the transgression, and the grudge in his heart will be removed.


Finally, pledging not to repeat the offense Is a sign that he realizes the negativity of his conduct and the enormity of his sin.

How does this restore one’s relationship with someone?

We observe among people that when one who sinned against his neighbor pledges himself not to wrong the latter again, and shows that he regrets and abandons his sin, and confesses it, this will complete the grounds for forgiveness and secure removal of his transgression and remission of his punishment.


It is clear from the Chovos HaLevavos that returning to the Al-mighty involves the same process as making up with a person that you have wronged. In each of these four steps of teshuva we see it parallels the same steps that one would use to restore a human relationship. Teshuva is returning to G-d in the same way as you fix up a relationship with a person.


Many people are confused as to what teshuva really is. They think the word teshuva means change. So when they say, “I did teshuva they really mean “I have changed.” But we see from Chovos HaLevavos that it is not so simple. You might have changed, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have done complete teshuva. When you do a transgression against G-d, your relationship with Him suffers a setback. You push Him farther away with every negative act. So teshuva means bringing back your relationship to where it was prior to the transgression.

So obviously the questions you have to ask yourself are: Where is your relationship with G-d now? Do you have one? Do you feel His presence? Do you’ love Him? Do you feel far away from Him? By working through the steps of teshuva regularly, one will find that his relationship with the Al-mighty will be radical­ly improved and brought to a new level of connection and oneness.

In tomorrow’s sheet, we will be exploring some of the most frequently asked questions about the four steps of teshuva.

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