Yom Hadin is almost here and this time of year brings with it a range of emotions. Some people are excited – a new year, the start of school, new clothing. For others, Rosh Hashanah instills fear – the need to correct wrongdoings, to beg for forgiveness and make promises to be better. For still others, there is a feeling of being overwhelmed – either by the awe of the Yom Hadin or perhaps the reality of so many days of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Shabbos (that’s a lot of cooking and baking). We are often so busy taking care of all the “things” that need to be done, that we don’t have enough time for spiritual and emotional preparation. It feels like most years I come to Selichos feeling as if I haven’t done enough to prepare.
We are about to stand before Hashem and celebrate the creation of His world in which we are privileged to live. We are ready to honor Hashem’s Malchus and to ask for another year in which to do good and live in a proper way.
Aneivus (humbleness), self-dignity and teshuvah – three ideas that at first glance might not seem to belong together. In reality they are directly intertwined and each depends on the other. Think about this: A person cannot do teshuvah without first accepting and loving themselves and a person cannot accept and love themselves without turning to Hashem.
What is humbleness? Growing up many of us were taught to have aneivus. It was not considered fine to think highly of oneself – that was gaiva (haughtiness). It was not proper to give too much credit to one’s own accomplishments. Many people and especially women have learned these lessons all too well. I respectfully suggest that many have thought of as gaiva is actually what aneivus should be.
In order to understand what humbleness is it is important to know what is isn’t.
1. Being self-deprecating in speech or thoughts.
2. Putting yourself last.
3. Denying your own needs (eating right, exercise, sleep).
4. Denying your own feelings, achievements, accomplishments.
5. Always doing for others and never doing for yourself.
6. Denying your hopes and dreams.
The above is actually the life of a slave. It is what we left behind in Mitzrayim, in order to be able to become Bnei Yisroel and be able to serve Hashem. Unfortunately, too many people think that slave mentality is the way to be humble. However, not only isn’t that not the way to serve Hashem, it also makes real teshuvah very difficult.
We are each created b’tzelem Elokim – with a responsibility to live our lives with dignity — to treat ourselves with dignity, to treat others with dignity and to expect others to treat us with dignity. Imagine a beautiful lake. Above the lake is clean, cool air. It is fresh and feels right. Below the lake is the slimy, muddy yuck that you don’t want to put your feet in to. It is dark and murky.
We need to live above the lake in the clean, cool air – serving Hashem b’simcha, knowing when we have given too much of ourselves and need to say no, living our lives with honesty and dignity. Living below the lake means living with sadness, negativity, martyrdom, machlokes, abuse, and a disconnect with Torah and Hashem.
We need to recognize when people are trying to pull us into the murky waters and learn how to pull ourselves back up. Teshuvah and closeness to Hashem is the most powerful way to do this.
Many of us may believe that it is not proper to think highly of ourselves – but if we do and we recognize our self-worth, we won’t look for kavod from others. We don’t need approval from others if we give it to ourselves. Too often we judge ourselves by how others see us; we think we have to measure up to another’s idea of success in order to be worth anything. However, if that is our recipe for self-respect – most of us will NEVER get there, and we risk losing a real relationship with Hashem in the process. With self-dignity we can be emotionally complete and truly serve Hashem.
What does all of this have to do with teshuvah? True humbleness and self-dignity are keys to a certain pathway to teshuvah. I would like to share with you a way to return Hashem and do a complete teshuvah – but I warn you that it is deeply emotional and requires you to believe you are special and deserve a complete relationship with Hashem.
There are five steps to this teshuvah process – change is not easy, but it can be exciting and rewarding – and life changing.
1. The first step is to set aside time for just YOU and Hashem. Turn off your phone, leave your computer, get a babysitter and take a walk or go for a drive – ALONE. Take time away from everyone (this takes humbleness and self-dignity). Be sure to take a pen, paper and tissues with you — you will need it.
2. Divide your paper into three columns. Column one — what I did right this year, column two — what I did wrong this year, column three — what I want to change this year. Look deep and honestly inside yourself and be sure to write things in each column. Often we struggle with the same issues year after year and this is a way to change that. While you write, talk to Hashem about your list. Be proud of what you have done right and ask for help with the things you want to change. This list making and conversation takes time and privacy — give it to yourself — you deserve it.
3. Charata (remorse) – Talk to Hashem and write how you feel about what you have done wrong. If you feel sad about your aveiros — say so. If you feel guilty — say so. If you feel shame, embarrassed, frustrated — say so. So often our well-meaning teshuva doesn’t seem to last because we haven’t faced our feelings honestly. Don’t be afraid to tell Hashem how sorry you are; don’t be afraid to take responsibility for what you have done wrong. Don’t blame others or make excuses. Review this real charata every month — so it will last. Then move forward in your relationship with Hashem and yourself.
4. Work every day to remember how much Hashem loves us and how much He wants us to love ourselves. Write down 10-20 positive affirmations about yourself. This is hard and you may feel silly, awkward or uncomfortable doing this. Teshuva and growth are not always comfortable, however, acknowledging the positive attributed we have will keep us from doing those things which we know are wrong. Review these affirmations every day (it is helpful to do right after davening Shacharis).
5. Make a choice to turn aveiros into mitzvos. Look at the specific issues you listed in your “want to change” column and turn those challenges into mitzvos. For example, if you have trouble remembering to make brachos, pick a specific bracha to concentrate on. If you are having trouble with shalom bayis, commit to complimenting and being positive with your spouse. Be as specific as possible — that is a key to real change. Don’t take on more than you can. Teshuvah is a journey we need to travel on slowly.
Teshuvah is the ability to have enough self-respect and love for Hashem and the Torah to leave behind what is wrong and move to an emotional and spiritual place where we like who we are, where we know Hashem is proud of who we are becoming, and where we do more of what we know is right.
The most famous acronym for Elul is Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li. The two beloveds are Hashem and Bnai Yisroel. I contend that another interpretation is that the two beloveds are us and ourselves. Aveiros pull us apart — Teshuvah brings us together. May this be a year of growth and kindness to ourselves and others, and may we each reach a state of complete teshuvah, feeling positive and proud of who we are and our relationship with Hashem.
Rachel Pill is a therapist in private practice in the Five Towns. She can be reached at Rachelcsw@aol.com.
About the Author: Rachel Pill is a therapist in private practice in the Five Towns. She can be reached at Rachelcsw@aol.com.
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