Listen NowTitleSponsor

How is Succos a continuation of the deep levels of teshuvah that we reached on Yom Kippur?

During Elul and the High Holidays we focused on change — on becoming a different person than we were before.

We worked to develop a new attitude and greater sensitivity towards an area of life that had been previously neglected.

On Yom Kippur we committed to a small action in the direction of change. Implementing such an enormous shift in the way we think can be quite difficult.

To let go of previous assumptions and adopt new perspectives challenges the essence of who we are and forces us out of our comfort zone.

How are we to combat this innate resistance to change? With the succah!

The Sages (Sukkah 2a) tell us that for the seven days of Succos one is to leave his permanent dwelling and reside in a temporary one.

Feeling safe and snug at home makes it difficult to truly consider new options.

To solidify the new direction we began on Yom Kippur we leave the safety of our home and enter a reality with less stability.

And amidst the instability it becomes possible to reveal the “new me” and live accordingly. This is the gift of the succah!

This Succos, as you sit in your succah away from the comfort indoors, ask yourself: What’s one thing I can do to further implement the new direction I’ve committed to?

Chag Sameach,

Rabbi L.


Accessing the New Me

How is Succos a continuation of the deep levels of teshuvah that we reached on Yom Kippur? During Elul and the High Holidays we focused on change — on becoming …

For the past number of weeks we have been trying to become an ish acher, a different person than we were previously.

Becoming a different person means viewing life and avodah (the service of Hashem) from a different perspective. We’ve been working on shifting the mindset that brought us to where we are today.

Now we reach the finale of our work – Yom Kippur!

What can we do on Yom Kippur to “complete” the teshuvah process?

The Talmud (Yoma 85b) tells us that Yom Kippur atones for one’s sins on the condition that he engages in teshuvah.

What’s the nature of this teshuvah? Must we rectify every aveirah (sin) we’ve committed in order to receive atonement?

Rav Yisrael Salanter zt”l (Michtav 7) writes that to be regarded as having engaged in teshuvah on Yom Kippur, all one needs to do is correct an easy aspect of an aveirah he has transgressed.

For example, when it comes to lashon harah, there are situations of greater difficulty and of lesser difficulty.

It’s more difficult to refrain from lashon harah in instances where there’s peer pressure involved. But refraining from lashon harah in the absence of peer pressure would still be considered engaging in teshuvah.

What’s the point of this small action if it doesn’t address the entire scope of the aveirah? Moreover, how does a small act absolve us from doing teshuvah for the rest of our mistakes?

Certainly Rav Yisrael never meant to say that one fulfills his teshuvah “quota” by correcting one small action.

Rather, Rav Yisrael saw a small action as the key to solidifying the teshuvah process. How is this so?

We think that actions are simply about doing the right thing. The Sefer HaChinuch (Book of Mitzvos), however, writes that a person’s heart and thoughts are influenced by the actions he performs. Actions are more than an end goal; they are the means to alter our inner world.

If actions are all about getting the job done, each act stands on its own. Refraining from lashon harah when there’s less of a challenge won’t necessarily lead to refraining from lashon harahwhen there’s a greater challenge.

But if actions are a means to affect our hearts and change our internal world, then a small success can lead to even greater successes because we’ve chiseled away at the mindset that brought us to sin.

But what about people who’ve done actions for many years without experiencing any significant internal change?

The simple answer is alluded to by the Chinuch himself: it all depends on our intent.

For example, a person who wants to improve his shalom bayis (marriage) may commit himself to greeting his wife cheerfully every morning.

The morning greeting can go in two directions:

An end unto itself – he now says something nice to his wife every morning

or

A means to break the self-centered mindset that brought on their shalom bayis issues in the first place.

Taking on a small action isn’t the end of the teshuvah process, but rather the means to solidifying the new mindset we have worked to instill within ourselves.

With the right intent behind our actions, the sky’s the limit as to what we can accomplish.

Exercise:

You’ve decided to do teshuvah in a specific area of life. You’ve recognized the perspective that led to your current behavior and the new perspective you want to adopt.

  • Identify an easy aspect of an aveirah you want to repair and commit to acting on it.
  • As you implement the new change, pay attention to the internal struggle going on and fulfill the mitzvah with the intent of letting go of the old perspective and establishing the new one.

Have a easy and meaningful fast,

Rabbi L.

P.S. Hit REPLY to share your thoughts and experiences on this step of the teshuvah process.

Teshuvah Step 7: Taking Action

For the past number of weeks we have been trying to become an ish acher, a different person than we were previously. Becoming a different person means viewing life and …

Many ask why Rosh Hashanah precedes Yom Kippur.

Wouldn’t it make sense to first cleanse ourselves of sin and then coronate Hashem as King?

The answer is that doing teshuvah on Yom Kippur requires us to experience Rosh Hashanah and the message included therein.

Why?

We have seen that the essence of teshuvah is a shift in one’s heart, not just in one’s actions. The goal is to become an ish acher, a different person, not just one who does things differently than before.

This internal shift challenges some of our most basic assumptions about life.

We thought life was all about being right, and now we see there’s more to life than just that. We thought we could do everything, and now we realize that we can’t. We thought we knew what prayer, Shabbos, and Torah study were all about, but now it’s apparent that we don’t.

These new revelations are difficult to face and certainly to accept. What gives us the strength to overcome our natural resistance to giving up such deeply-rooted assumptions?

This is where Rosh Hashanah comes in.

Throughout the year, in the Amidah, we focus on OUR needs — our health, our wisdom, ourprosperity.

On Rosh Hashanah, for two days of the year, we make no mention of our personal needs in the Amidah. Rather, we use this opportunity to speak to the Master of the World about HIS “needs.” We ask that He reveal Himself in the world and that all of creation come to recognize His Kingdom.

The difficulty with letting go of our prior assumptions is that they’re our assumptions. It’s the reality we’ve created that’s so difficult to give up.

But what if we realized that it’s not our world, but Hashem’s world? What if we recognized that there is more to life than our desires? Would that make it easier to accept other perspectives? Of course it would, and this is the gift of Rosh Hashanah!

Once a year we get an opportunity to “burst the bubble” of our existence. To step out of our worldview and step into Hashem’s worldview. To see the world from an objective perpsective.

By putting our needs aside and appreciating Hashem’s “bigger picture,” we begin to consider other ways of viewing life.

Many people feel that a “successful” Rosh Hashanah is reaching a level of total and complete submission to the will of Hashem. Such images of greatness are impractical at best, and may even be counterproductive.

Rosh Hashanah need not be a day of great intensity, but rather a day to achieve calm and clarity.

We approach the davening with the simple goal of opening our ears to the words, allowing them to chisel away at the stone in our hearts that so desires to hold onto old beliefs.

Exercise:

For the two days of Rosh Hashanah, let’s take a break from ourselves and focus on a world bigger than we are. Appreciate Hashem’s “needs” and that we play a role in His “bigger picture.”

  • During each Amidah on Rosh Hashanah pick one section to read more slowly, while contemplating the message that the world belongs to Hashem and not everything is the way we see it.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, sweet and prosperous new year,

Rabbi L.

 

P.S. please email Lebovits2@gmail.com to  REPLY to share your thoughts and experiences on this fourth step of the teshuvahprocess.

 

Teshuvah Step 6: Shifting the Focus

Many ask why Rosh Hashanah precedes Yom Kippur. Wouldn’t it make sense to first cleanse ourselves of sin and then coronate Hashem as King? The answer is that doing teshuvah …

We’ve recognized the necessity to change. We’ve deemed it worthwhile to change. And we’ve made a decision to change. Now we need to open ourselves up to perspectives we haven’t considered before.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 26b) explains that on Rosh Hashanah we use a curved shofar to symbolize that “the more a person bends his mind, the better off he is.” Based on this passage, Rav Yisrael Salanter (Michtav 7) explains that shivron lev, a broken heart, is the key to merit a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah.

A broken heart — that sounds pretty depressing!

A whole, undivided heart reflects confidence in one’s existing beliefs, whereas a broken heart signifies uncertainty, allowing for a reevaluation of prior assumptions.

In the parsha (Torah portion) of tzitzis (Numbers 15:39), Rashi explains that an aveirah (sin) arises from one’s heart. In every area where we sense a chisaron (a void or lack), there’s a mindset that preceded it. We need to reconsider our assumptions in order to turn the situation around.

  • A tenuous relationship may be reborn if we reconsider the importance of “being right” and open our hearts to “being a source of strength or positivity.”
  • A lifestyle that’s too busy for Torah study may suddenly allow for learning if we rethink the “all or nothing” premise and appreciate small opportunities instead.
  • Davening may stop being a boring chore if we realize that we make a difference in the world through prayer.

This can be extremely difficult. We so deeply identify with our beliefs that we define ourselves by them. Letting go of them feels almost like letting go of life itself!

It’s at this point of tremendous tension that true Torah growth emerges. This moment of vulnerability is the shivron lev, the broken heart, that Rav Yisrael is referring to.

The teshuvah process requires us to reach the point of a broken heart, a readiness to reconsider our present stance — the one that brought us to where we are today — and ask the simple yet profound question, “But maybe not?”

Exercise:

Let’s stop for a moment and open our hearts (and minds) to the following questions:

  • What are our underlying assumptions — the “voices” within us — that have brought us to where we are today?

Remembering the bent shofar, let’s ask ourselves: “But maybe not?”

P.S.Email Lebovits2@gmail.com your REPLY to share your thoughts and experiences on this fourth step of the teshuvahprocess.

 

Teshuvah Step 5: Readiness to Reconsider

We’ve recognized the necessity to change. We’ve deemed it worthwhile to change. And we’ve made a decision to change. Now we need to open ourselves up to perspectives we haven’t …

We’ve explained that for teshuvah to last, we must take ownership of the process. This begins by recognizing that we’re missing something, and that life is not the way we’d like it to be. We then make a conscious decision to change ourselves in the area of life/avodah (personal work/self-development) that we want to repair.

To choose teshuvah means to honestly consider the different options and their consequences and then firmly accept the path of teshuvah and any challenges that may arise along the way.

Now, let’s be honest: isn’t that a tough decision to make? Why would we be willing to take on the unknown?

The truth is that we take risks and invest in unknown outcomes all the time, but only when we deem them worthwhile.

The Sages (Bava Basra 78b) instruct us to make the cheshbono shel olam (accounting of the world) – weigh the cost of a mitzvah against its benefit and the benefit of an aveirah (sin) against its cost. Why the need for a “cost-benefit analysis” of each mitzvah or aveirah? Aren’t we supposed to perform the mitzvos simply because Hashem told us to?

The Sages understood that there’s more to our actions than just keeping mitzvos – there’s being responsible for mitzvos, and that we are willing to take responsibility for something only when we deem it worthwhile.

Being told something is worthwhile does not make it worthwhile. We must come to that recognition on our own. The Sages therefore didn’t just tell us that the benefit of a mitzvah is greater than its cost and that the cost of an aveirah is greater than its benefit.

Rather, they instructed us to take stock and weigh the pros and cons of each mitzvah and aveirahaccording to the way we see them. Because commitment and dedication come from within, not from without.

The same holds true when it comes to teshuvah. The key to taking responsibility for our teshuvahand accepting the unknowns along the way is feeling that it’s an endeavor worth pursuing. How to determine that it’s worth the potential costs? By making the same evaluation the Sages instruct us to make about each mitzvah or aveirah: is the benefit worth the cost, or not?

When we put all our cards on the table and come to a true awareness that the benefit of making the change outweighs the cost involved, we’ll be ready to move forward with confidence and certainty that we can achieve the change we desire.

Exercise:

After having identified an area of chisaron, a void in our lives that requires our attention, ponder the following:

  • What are the pros and cons of continuing in this process?
  • Why is this specific area of life/avodah so important to me? What about it speaks to me on a deep level? How do I see this change enhancing my life?
  • What may I lose by making this shift in my life? What will I be giving up? How much effort will I need to exert in order to succeed?
  • All in all, do I feel confident taking on this challenge?

Note: Don’t make a quick, shallow assessment of the situation. Take some time to be creative and delve deeper to identify the costs and benefits and to listen to your own deep intuition about the situation.

Much success!

Rabbi L.

P.S.please email  lebovits2@gmail.com to share your thoughts and experiences on this fourth step of the teshuvahprocess.


Teshuvah Step 4: Doing the Math

We’ve explained that for teshuvah to last, we must take ownership of the process. This begins by recognizing that we’re missing something, and that life is not the way we’d …

We’ve identified a chisaron, an area of life that isn’t working the way we’d like. Now what do we do? We make a choice.

Often we begin a project with gusto, only to bail out when things don’t go as we planned. Why? Because we took it on under duress, not by choice.

Along the path of teshuvah — the process of becoming an ish acher, a different person — we will encounter unexpected challenges. The natural response would be to throw in the towel; this isn’t what we signed up for!

Making a choice, though, means considering the options and their consequences, and then deciding which package to accept. When the choice is ours, the consequences are on us. The Torah refers to this as taking responsibility: accepting the consequences of our decisions.

A lasting teshuvah begins with a personal resolve to make a change. Fiery sermons and impassioned pleas may inspire us, but in the end it has to be our independent decision to engage in teshuvah.

So the next step of teshuvah is to recognize that we stand at a crossroads and must choose between ignoring our shortcomings and committing to a process of lasting change.

This step of teshuvah challenges many of us who struggle with decision-making. We think that it’s possible to avoid decisions, but the truth is that not making a decision is in itself a de facto decision! This comes to a head in the area of teshuvah, where any lasting results depend on it.

Remember: Our teshuvah will be what we make of it!

Exercise:

We’ve identified an area of Torah and mitzvos that requires our attention, and we’re poised to do teshuvah. Before moving forward, let’s ask ourselves the following:

  • Have I considered the possibility of not doing teshuvah?
  • Why am I doing teshuvah? Because I want to or because I feel that I have to?
  • Have I chosen to do teshuvah, or has the decision been made for me?
  • Do I recognize that challenges that may arise along the way are my responsibility, no one else’s?
  • Am I prepared to navigate through the difficulties and remain in the game?

Much success,

Rabbi L.

 

Teshuvah Step 3: Making a Choice

We’ve identified a chisaron, an area of life that isn’t working the way we’d like. Now what do we do? We make a choice. Often we begin a project with …

In last week’s email, we explored the idea of teshuvah being a process whose aim is becoming an ish acher, a different person.

Where do we begin such an endeavor?

Rav Yisrael Salanter (Michtav 30) writes that teshuvah begins from a sense of chisaron, recognizing that something is missing in our lives.

We are unlikely to change as long as the status quo is an acceptable option. Rav Yisrael prompts us to appreciate the void, because then and only then will we be motivated to make a lasting change.

We want to engage in the teshuvah process but often get stuck at the point of choosing what to work on.

The focus should be where we feel the greatest need, because it is there that we will make the most meaningful change.

How do we pinpoint a void in our lives?

Think of teshuvah as one would a business.

Just as a business owner takes stock of his company to assess what’s working and what isn’t, teshuvah requires us to take stock of our lives and assess what’s working and what isn’t.

Step back and observe how life is going:

  • Which areas are operating as we would like, and which are not?
  • How is our Torah study? Have we found a healthy balance between learning, personal/family life, and career, or does learning take a backseat to the day-in-day-out grind?
  • How is our prayer? Do we look forward to davening, or is it simply a task we must complete before we can get on with our day?
  • How is our Shabbos? Is it a day of uplifting holiness, or a day of indulgence, empty and hollow?
  • How is our marriage? Are we a thriving unit, or are we just “getting by” with minimal fulfillment?
  • How are our relationships with others? Do we care about others, or see them as a burden? Is there someone in particular that we struggle with?

There are many reasons to resist this step of the teshuvah process.

  • Life is fine the way it is — why rock the boat?
  • Why make problems where there aren’t any?
  • Don’t focus on the negative — be positive!
  • And if we actually did pinpoint a void in our lives, what we would do about it anyway?

Certainly these are all valid reasons not to engage in introspection. Lasting change, however, will not come about without the recognition of a need that spurs the process.

Teshuvah requires us to be honest about ourselves, and to have the courage to confront our challenges.

We derive strength from knowing that we’re bigger than our deficiencies. We aren’t defined by “right” or “wrong” actions or thoughts, but by our willingness to embrace change and by the effort we put into bringing it about.

Exercise:

  • Take five minutes to observe your own life — your Torah study, your mitzvos, your relationships — what’s working well for you and what isn’t.
  • Write down the top three areas where you sense the need to change.
  • Of those three areas, choose one to focus on as we proceed through the teshuvahprocess.

Much success,

Rabbi L.

Teshuvah Step 2: What’s Missing?

In last week’s email, we explored the idea of teshuvah being a process whose aim is becoming an ish acher, a different person. Where do we begin such an endeavor? …

With the summer coming to an end, Elul and the High Holidays are right around the corner.

If you’re like me, you’re feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement. The days ahead are full of promise and, at the same time, heavy with responsibility.

I’m asking myself: Where am I holding? Have I advanced my avodah (personal work/self-development) since last year? I invite you to explore these questions for yourself as I share my process and suggest exercises that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Is there something we can do to make more productive use of our time and experiences, to implement lasting change?

This time of year, with its emphasis on teshuvah, presents us with a special opportunity to examine our lives and improve ourselves. It all begins with a shift in mindset.

What do we want to accomplish through the teshuvah process? Do we want to focus on specific behaviors — such as davening with more kavanah (intent) or not speaking lashon harah (ill speech)?

Or do we want to address something deeper?

The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 2:4) writes that the point of teshuvah is to become an ish acher – a different person.

A different person isn’t just one who does things differently, but one who thinks differently as well.

A different person doesn’t just daven with kavanah, but loves davening. A different person doesn’t just refrain from lashon harah, but recognizes the importance of other people and instinctively acts on their right to privacy and respect.

In the parsha of tzitzis (Bamidbar 15:39), Rashi explains that one’s heart and eyes are “spies” for the body: the eye sees, the heart desires, and the body commits the aveirah (sin).

Rashi teaches us that an aveirah is so much more than just an action. It is a process that begins with thoughts, drives, and perceptions and culminates in sin.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin (Nefesh Hachaim 1:17-21) explains that teshuvah is the process of realigning one’s internal makeup with the will of Hashem.

The goal-oriented, results-based environment we live in, however, has us thinking almost as if life were a game, with our focus on actions as if they were the runs and outs of our personal scorecards.

It’s whether we keep Shabbos, not whether we enjoy our special gift. It’s whether we do chesed, not what the other person means to us.

Focusing on actions or inactions without considering the entire scope of an aveirah is ill-fated. It’s no wonder our efforts fall short year after year!

It’s time we adopt a new approach to teshuvah, one that focuses on the root, not just the symptoms. The Mesillas Yesharim (Perek 4) writes that one’s ratzon (will) is the “playing field” of teshuvah. Ratzon is much deeper than action; it is at the root, and everything else is an expression of its state.

Pruning the branches of a tree is a superficial adjustment; reaching down to the roots and making deep change affects the trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Exercise:

As we embark upon the path of teshuvah, let us ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish through the teshuvah process? Where do I want to be  the day after Yom Kippur?
  • What is the underlying deficiency behind the actions I am looking to repair?

Much success,

Rabbi L.

Teshuvah Step 1 – Defining Change

With the summer coming to an end, Elul and the High Holidays are right around the corner. If you’re like me, you’re feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement. The …