A Comprehensive Program to Maximize The High Holy Days

Category: Week Three

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

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

INTRODUCTION

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

WHAT ARE THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY?

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

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

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE 13 ATTRIBUTES?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNDERSTANDING THE 13 ATTRIBUTES OF MERCY

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

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

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

UNDERSTANDING THE GEMORA IN ROSH HASHANAH 17B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAKE A COMMITMENT TO UNDERSTAND THE 13 ATTRIBUTES THIS YEAR

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

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

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

3.03 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: THE FAMOUS QUESTION

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

3.02 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: QUESTIONS ON THE FOUR STEPS OF TESHUVA

INTRODUCTION

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

QUESTION 1-WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REGRET AND GUILT? EVERY TIME I START HAVING REGRET. I JUST FEEL BAD AND HATE MYSELF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION 2-WHAT HAPPENS IF I KNOW SOMETHING IS WRONG BUT I DON’T FEEL ANY REGRET OVER IT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION NUMBER 3-HOW DO I DO THE CONFESSION?

The Rambam writes in his Mishnah Torah:

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION NUMBER 4-WHAT IS SOME GOOD ADVICE FOR HOW TO MAKE USING THE FOUR STEPS MORE PRODUCTIVE?

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

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

QUESTION NUMBER 5-WHAT HAPPENS IF I USE THE STEPS AND I FIND THAT THEY CONFUSE AND OVERWHELM ME?

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

NOW IS THE TIME TO TRY THE WHOLE PROCESS

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

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

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

3.01 UNDERSTANDING TESHUVA AND SLICHOS: TESHUVA – A RESTORATION OF RELATIONSHIP

INTRODUCTION TO THE THIRD WEEK

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.

AN ANALOGY

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.

AN EXPLANATION OF THE ANALOGY

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 FOUR STEPS OF TESHUVA

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.

1 REGRET

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.

2 ABANDONMENT

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.

3 CONFESSION AND BESEECHING FORGIVENESS

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.

4 PLEDGING NOT TO REPEAT THE OFFENSE

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.

TESHUVA IS A RESTORATION OF RELATIONSHIP WITH THE AL-MIGHTY

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.

THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE ESSENCE OF TESHUVA

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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