Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us in Sichos HaRan (#10) the following:
“The wicked are filled with regrets (Shevat Mussar #25; cf. Nedarim 9b), but they never really know what regret is. Any sorrow they may feel results only in their strengthening their wickedness. As soon as a thought of remorse enters their minds, they fight it by making themselves more determined in their evil.”
The Rebbe continues, “It is like two men fighting. As soon as one begins to win, the other fights all the harder. As soon as evil detects that good is beginning to stir in a person, it fights extra hard. Understand this (see Sichot VeSipurim, p. 78).”
Rebbe Nachman then adds, “This is an important principle in serving G-d. The more you want to serve G-d, the more the Evil Inclination strives against you (Likutey Moharan I, 72). If you realize this, you can fight him with strategy (Proverbs 20:18, 24:6) and continually defeat him. With G-d’s help, you will be worthy of emerging victorious.”
As we enter into the new year, we all wish to become better people. Typically we make “new year’s resolutions” on Rosh Hashana in the hope that this year we’ll be better than last. Rebbe Nachman is telling us that we should know the evil Inclination will be just as determined as ever to thwart our plans at bettering ourselves. So what’s the solution?
The advice I’ve received from my teachers is to commit to something small. Forget about those grandiose plans of becoming a world renowned tzaddik. It’s not likely to happen. But you know what could happen if we truly commit ourselves? Small positive changes that get us going in a better direction.
A story is told about the great Torah sage Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, zt”l, that in his later years, his resolution for Rosh Hashana was to say birchas hamazon from a bentcher. In the past he had, on occasion, said birchas hamazon by heart. In order to increase his concentration he resolved to use a bentcher. This hardly seems like a big undertaking for a world renowned Torah scholar with thousands of followers throughout the world. Why not take on a bigger “new year’s resolution” on Rosh Hashana?
The answer is, as Rebbe Nachman explained, because the evil Inclination is likely to fight back that much harder when he sees that we are making great strides in our spiritual growth. In order to make resolutions that we’ll actually stick to throughout the year, we need to choose something relatively easy. In this way we’ll have made lasting spiritual gains without inciting the yetzer hara against us. May we all be zoche to a sweet new year full of positive spiritual growth.