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?
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.
- 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.