5.02 THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVA: RESTORING YOUR LOST INNOCENCE
WE ARE FOUR DAYS INTO THE TEN DAYS OF TESHUVA. HOW MUCH TESHUVA HAVE YOU DONE?
We are now four days into the Ten Days of Teshuva. The obvious priority for these days is teshuva. There is no greater opportunity to get close to G-d, than the next six days of the year. The time for preparation is over. The time for teshuva is now. The most important question to ask at this time is how much teshuva have you done over the past few days?And if the answer is not as much as you should, then now is the time to change.
INTRODUCTION TO LESSON 20
The Gemora points out a fascinating aspect of human psychology:
R. Huna said, ‘Once a man does wrong and repeats it, it is permitted to him.
“It is permitted to him!” Can you really think such a thing?
Rather it becomes to him as if it is permitted. (Kiddushin 40a)
When a man does a transgression and then he does it again, it no longer appears to him as a transgression. It becomes as if it is permitted. As a matter of fact, the Baali Mussar (Masters of Self-Perfection) point out that the third time you do it, not only does it become as if it is permitted to him, but it-even becomes a mitzvah!
People lose spiritual sensitivities by repeating a transgression. A holocaust survivor was once heard saying, ‘The first time I ate treif (non-kosher food), I thought I was going to die; the second time, I felt a little pain; and the third time, something snapped and I didn’t feel any guilt.”
The school of R. Yishmael taught: Sin dulls the heart of man, as It is said: Neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled thereby (Vayikra 11.43). Do not read ve-nitmasem (that you should be unclean) but u-netmosem (that you should become dull-hearted).n (Yoma 39a)
The blunting of man’s finer perceptions which make him unable to distinguish between right and wrong is the outcome of continual sin. This spiritual insensitivity will not only lead you to transgress in the future, but it will remove you from G-d in a very deep way.
When a person does teshuva the reverse occurs. Teshuva sharpens your spiritual nerves. You are now saying to G-d, “I feel it is wrong. I feel regret.” You restore your spiritual being back to sensitivity. To give you an example of spiritual sensitivity imagine this: the Chofetz Chaim fainted when he first saw a Jew driving on Shabbos.
During this very important time period this is exactly what we have to do. Our goal is to try to resensitize ourselves away from sin. The purpose of this sheet is to try to awaken some of the old sensitivities that we might have lost over the past few years, while we were pushing ahead in other areas of our lives.
We must resensitize ourselves to the time prior to when we committed that first transgression. This restoration of innocence is hard work but a very necessary and productive step during the Ten Days of Teshuva.
PART ONE-THE POWER OF THE FIRST TIME
1. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU LEARNED THE LAWS OF LOSHON HARA?
Remember many years ago you walked into the yeshiva and you heard that there was a mitzvah not to speak Loshon Hara? You were fascinated. You thought to yourself, ‘What an amazing thing. I am going to learn those laws. You found a copy of Guard Your Tongue, and you spent a whole day learning the laws. For the next week, you were a changed person. Every word out of your mouth was carefully weighed out and measured. But then something happened. You noticed that other people were not so particular as you. As a matter of fact, when you were very careful, you made people nervous. So, for whatever reason, you stopped being so careful. You wanted to be more “normal’ and accepted. After all, who were you to be acting so frum anyway?
Now, it is many years later, and you look back when you were a “new guy in the beginners program” with a little envy. Why not try to catch a little bit of the old spirit and get back these old sensitivities?
2. START FROM SCRATCH
If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do differently? You have probably learned a lot about yourself these past few years. You have missed a few things along the way that are probably difficult to go back and get. And why is it difficult? Because you think you are so far along in the process that it is an embarrassment to go back and learn it.
So what if you have been here for four years and still don’t understand fully what is written in the siddur. That shouldn’t hold you back from still learning it. Maybe you realize that you don’t understand at all the meanings behind the main holidays. So why not go back and get it now?
Try this exercise. Imagine in your mind’s eye that you are arriving at the yeshiva today for the first time as the person you are, at the level you are on now, and no one knows you and you have never been in any classes in the yeshiva. You now have the opportunity to set up any schedule that you want. What would you do differently? What changes would you make in your life, if no one knew you?
The purpose of this exercise is to focus a person on that part of himself that might have gotten lost over the years. Many people subconsciously judge themselves by the number of years that they are observant. This unfortunately causes a person who needs to go back and learn something he missed to not do so for fear of being embarrassed. As a result he might lose touch with certain essential ingredients that are needed to make up the recipe of his personality.
So ask yourself. How would I start from scratch if nobody knew me? This might bring you to startling realizations about certain areas that might need correcting because you have lost touch with the deepest parts of your soul.
3. THE FIRST TIME SHE EVER PRAYED
At one of the branches of Aish HaTorah in America, I witnessed the following story:
There was a man who wanted to get ahead in life. One of the things that he felt was holding him back was the fact that he was Jewish. So he decided to run away from his Jewishness. He went to Iowa, changed his name, and disappeared into the heart of Christian America.
There was a woman, whose Jewish mother intermarried into a “fine” Baptist family. She was raised as a “fine” Christian girl in the heart of Iowa. One day, this “escaping’ Jew met this “fine” Christian girl and they were married. They had a daughter who they raised as a non-Jew.
The daughter grew up, left Iowa and moved to the “Big City” where she got a job as a secretary for an organization called “Aish HaTorah.” During this time period, for the first time, her father revealed to her mother that he was Jewish. He expected his wife to be angry, but instead she replied, “Oh, my mother was Jewish also.” They both laughed at the irony of the whole situation.
That day the father spoke to his daughter. He told his daughter the story in a laughing way. “Do you know that according to Jewish law you are considered to be a full fledged Jew? Now isn’t that the funniest thing you ever heard?” The girl didn’t laugh. She was extremely impressed with the people at Aish HaTorah and could not understand why she felt so connected to what they were doing.
That night she went to daven for the first time. It was Friday night. I saw her bewildered expression when she left the Beit Knesset for the first time in her life after having found out she was Jewish. She said the following, “How can it be in a place of G-d, people don’t pay attention during their prayers to G-d? Don’t they realize they are talking to G-d? Is there something I don’t understand here? There were even people talking about business.”
Remember the first time you prayed in your life? Do you remember the anticipation? Do you remember how you closed your eyes and spoke to G-d from the depths of your heart? Do you remember how shocked you were when you saw people not acting in a proper way during the service? Are we these same people many years later?
If we daven three times a day for a year, that is over 1000 Shemoneh Esreis. How many Shemoneh Esreis have you prayed so far? 5000? 10,000? Now remember how hard you tried to concentrate during Shemoneh Esrei #1-10?
Take one prayer and pretend it is the very beginning. Put yourself back into those first few days of prayer and just let go. You might find it to be a very powerful experience.
PART TWO-THE POWER OF CRYING OUT
1. CRY OUT TO G-D DURING DAVENING THAT HE SHOULD HELP YOU TO RETURN TO THE PROPER WAY
Here you are in the Ten Days of Teshuva and the tension is on. And you so badly want to figure out a way to open up your heart. But you just don’t know how to do it. Feel the pain of how far you are away from G-d. Feel how close you want to be.
The Gemora in Brachos (16a) talks about the different prayers that the Rabbis used to say at the end of the Amidah prayer. One of the prayers mentioned there adequately expresses this frustration : Sovereign of the Universe, it is revealed and known to You that our will is to perform Your will, and what prevents us? The yeast in the dough and the subjugation to the foreign powers. May it be Your will to deliver us from their hand, so that we may return to perform the statutes of Your will with a full heart.
The yeast in the dough symbolizes the Yetzer Hara (evil impulse) which causes negativity to ferment in our heart. The subjugation to the foreign powers symbolizes the exile with its attendant value system and social pressures to “conform,” which drain our energy and ability to serve G-d.
The message of the prayer is a powerful one. We are saying, G-d, we totally want to be with You. But the Yetzer Hara and the exile just drain and sap our energy. Help us out so we can return to You. This is our deepest desire.
One way to bring us back to a state of sensitivity to sin is to express our deepest desire not to be in sin. At the end of the Shmoneh Esrei prayer, cry out to G-d (in a quiet voice, of course) that your deepest desire is not to be in sin. This is a tremendous form of teshuva in and of itself.
2.THE SHOFAR OF ROSH HASHANAH TEACHES US TO CRY OUT
One of the meanings behind the blowing of the Shofar is to precisely give us this message. Deep down in the bottom of our soul there is a pure part that is smothered by all the insanities of the day. That part is blocked out by our Yetzer Hara. When the Shofar is blown on Rosh HaShanah, the Yetzer Hara is confused. That gives us an opportunity to get in touch with the deepest parts of our essence that we do not have the ability to reach during the year.
It is precisely at that moment, when the Shofar is blown, that people are known to cry out to G-d from the bottom of their soul, “G-d, You are all that we want.’ It is exactly at that time, when their souls are exposed to the Al-mighty without any barriers, that they let go. (It is interesting to note that the Shofar is blown with different types of sounds to symbolize the different ways that a Jew cries. This is to show us that our heart should cry out to G-d when the Shofar is blown no matter who we are or what situation we are in.)
PART THREE-THE POWER OF CONTEMPLATION
1. WATCH AN EXPERT DO IT RIGHT
One of the ways to get back a lost sensitivity to sin is to watch an expert at a certain mitzvah do it right. This can often have the effect of causing us to see how far we have strayed from a certain mitzvah.
Choose a mitvzah you want to reawaken yourself to. Then think of who is the person that is the best at doing this mitzvah. For example, lets say you are trying to work on not saying Loshon Hara. And there is one guy in the yeshiva who is the great at maneuvering conversations away from Loshon Hara. Arrange to spend a Shabbos with him. Watch how he works. Learn his tools. And most of all, be inspired by his amazing qualities.
Once a Rabbi was sitting in Shul and someone approached him and started to speak Loshon Hara to him. He turned to the person with a warm and loving voice and said, “I have so many negative qualities of my own. Why do I have to hear about anyone else’s?” (Heard from a Rabbi in Aish Hatorah)
Once a student watched a Rabbi who was visibly late for a very important appointment take the time to say the Birchas HaMazon word for word with deep concentration. After the blessing the Rabbi said, “Just because I am clumsy enough to be late, should my prayers suffer? The student was deeply moved.
So find the experts in various mitzvahs and watch them do it right. Use this as a tool to inspire yourself to grow to where you should be.
2. EXAMINE YOUR FOUNDATIONS
One way to restore your sensitivities is to examine the foundations of your life. Take some time off between seder hours. Ask yourself the most basic questions:
What am I living for?
What am I doing and why am I doing it?
How much do I know that there is a G-d?
Do I really believe that Torah is true?
Do I really understand the power of Torah?
Why am I not as serious asI used to be? etc.
Many times during the year we work so hard that we lose sight of our priorities. We need to go back and ask ourselves why are we doing what we are doing. Many people have felt that one of the most powerful ways to return to that lost part of themselves is to examine their foundations. This sets apart those who fall into traps and those who don’t.
Don’t be scared to ask those questions that have been piling up inside you over the past twelve months or so. There is nothing wrong with working out issues. Find out where the holes are in your foundations and you will feel much better after you have filled them in. This is the time of the year to do such a cheshbon. This is the time to rededicate to get back to the basics of life and its purpose
3.GET IN TOUCH WITH YOURSELF EVERY DAY
The reason we lose touch with ourselves and allow ourselves to sin is because we don’t take time every day to reconnect with our deepest desires and essence. Therefore, the solution to the problem is the obvious: We have to spend time alone everyday and make it a habit to keep in touch with what we want and what we are doing here on earth. This will never allow us to drift very far from good.
The foundations of piety and the root of perfection in the service of G-d lies in a man’s coming to see clearly and recognizing as a truth the nature of his duty in the world and the end towards which he should direct his vision and aspiration in all of his labors all the days of his life. (The Mesillas Yesharim, Perek 1)
Hopefully, the previous ideas will serve to inspire us to find the deepest parts of ourselves that are lost and return them to where they should be during these very important Ten Days of Teshuva.