With Rosh Hashana behind us and Yom Kippur fast approaching, the time period in which we currently find ourselves continues to help keep us focused on the important matters at hand. The ten days from Rosh Hashana, Day One through and including Yom Kippur are known as the עשרת ימי תשובה or the Ten Days of Repentance. In spite of the moniker, the idea of repenting and trying to better ourselves, our relationship with G-d and with our fellow human beings, is actually something we must work on 365 days a year.
However, given the gravity of this particular 10 day period, things are more concentrated and hyper-focused, than any other time of the year. While there are dozens of things one can read to help one focus on self-improvement, I wish to present a few practical suggestions that can be put into practice immediately. Some are things to do and others are things to NOT do, at this or any other time.
- Do Not Plan to Be Perfect! If you strive for perfection–if you plan that the day after Yom Kippur you will be the Perfect Jew and not sin, then you are setting yourself up for a big fail. Instead…..
- Set Attainable Goals: Take specific areas in which you may need improvement and make a PLAN. If you need to work on Lashon Hara, for example, think about people with whom you may want to lessen your contact, since your conversations stray to Lashon Hara. Or perhaps, if you are not good at making Brachot, decide that anything you have to eat before noon, you will make a Bracha on those items, then branch out from there. This list could be a mile long with examples, so these few will suffice.
- Be familiar with the Machzor: Instead of taking the special Yom Kippur prayer book off the shelf as you dash out of the house for Kol Nidre, take some time to sit down and look over the main prayers. Perhaps, read some of the liturgy and find areas in which you will focus during the Tefilla. Go on line and find the dozens of resources to help you understand the prayers you are saying. Make them relevant. Counting pages or daydreaming about what you will eat when the fast ends does not contribute much to the power of the day.
- Pray for OTHERS: While this is one of those ideas that some of you do all of the time, it is not so clear to many. While you are praying to G-d for health, parnassa, peace for yourself and your family, do take into account your circle of friends. There are always people that you know who need better income, housing, shalom bayit, a shiduch/spouse, etc. Do not leave it to memory! Take a few minutes before Yom Kippur and jot down names. Pray just as hard for them, as you do for yourself.
- Commit to Learning More: One can NEVER learn too much Torah or have too much knowledge. Perhaps your time is spent on work, leisure, sports, movies, etc which SEEMS to leave you little time for Torah. There are very few people on planet Earth who can say (with a straight face) that they have NO time to learn Torah. Imagine how much you can accomplish over the course of YEARS by committing now to learn just a few minutes more a day than you do already. Hashem seeks a connection with us. We make that connection through His Torah!
- Fall in Love…with G-d: What is it that we have to be grateful to Hashem for? There is merely a one-word answer to that question: EVERYTHING! There is nothing we have; nothing we accomplish; nothing we achieve or that we own or do that we can not attribute to G-d. G-d is the source of EVERYTHING in our lives. How can you NOT love the Supreme Being, Who out of His love for you, gives you what you need!?
- Teshuva, Tefilla and Tzedaka: As we say in the prayers of the Yamim Noraim (the Days of Awe), these three things can affect any bad “decrees” in Heaven. Repenting, Prayer and Giving Charity have that power. But why? Are we “bribing” G-d so He will changer His mind? Maybe if we give ten more shekel to charity, then we will be saved from any malady? While this topic/question can be a post unto itself, the short version is as follows: If, in Hashem’s world, He has determined that Person A is deserving of a certain “test” in his life, then that is what will happen. But, what happens when Person A engages in prayer; sincerely makes efforts to change who he is; gives charity to enrich others–then Person A is no longer the “same” person! His actions and prayers change who he is…he is now Person B! The original decree on Person A is now nullified by dint of the fact Person A no longer “exists” in the same sphere any longer! This idea is so helpful as we make sincere efforts to make changes in our lives.
- Finally, Never Give Up! There is a very simple reason for this: G-d NEVER gives up on you! When you wake up in the morning, you say a brief prayer called Modeh Ani. In it, you acknowledge that Hashem has given you back your neshama/your soul and thank Hashem for that. Then, in the last couple of words you say: “רבה אמונתך” which means “your faith is so great.” Hmmmm….whose faith is so great? We are saying that HASHEM’S faith in US is so great that he returns our soul to us to serve Him, yet another day.
We are humans. We have failings. We make mistakes. It is how Hashem created us. But, we have also been given a wonderful gift: Teshuva/repentance. Use any of these ideas; come up with your own or do more reading. But do not just “get by” by sitting in the synagogue with making no effort on your part. Trying to improve yourself is very hard work. But, in life, those things that are more important always require more work, effort and time. Use your time wisely. Make this time period count. Be PRESENT and in the moment. Be aware of what you need to change. And, at the same time, think of those things you are doing well –and give yourself chizuk and allow yourself to continue to do them well..
I wish you all a G’mar Chatima Tova. May 5777 be the best year of your life, so far!Rav Zev Shandalov