Some Thoughts Before the Opening Day of the Teshuva Season

Tonight begins Rosh Chodesh Elul, opening day of the Teshuva season. Even for BTs who have made amazing changes in the past, real Teshuva is a challenge. A major problem is that after the initial BT phase we fall into unhealthy habits in our observance, and habits take time and effort to break. This is why it makes sense to start our Teshuva program on Rosh Chodesh, because it takes between 30 and 40 days to effect a change in habit. Here are some ideas to help in the areas of Torah, Chesed and Avodah.

In Torah, we often feel comfortable with the amount of Torah we learn each week. Deep down we know that we should be learning more, but we have very good execuses: we have such busy schedules, we have many other responsibilities, Hashem doesn’t expect us to know everything and since we already know less then everything – we’re fulfilling our learning requirements. An idea here is to take on a little more learning by adding a 5-10 minutes seder in a new sefer everyday. Pick something you really want to learn. The key is to make this a regular practice, each and every day.

In chesed (lovingkindness), we often fail to appreciate the divinity and greatness inherent in every human being. This manifests itself in thinking negatively about people, speaking loshon hora and hurting people with words. A way of changing this is to approach each person with two questions, “What can I learn from this person?” and “What can I give to this person?”. It also helps to keep in mind that giving can be easily accomplished through a compliment, a supportive word or a true show of concern.

In Avodah such as prayer and performing mitzvos. the major impediment is lack of kavanna which results in us rushing through our mitzvos and not achieving the full benefits of their performance. A key here is to stop a second before the prayer, brocha or the mitzvah and think about what we’re doing. Three things to have in mind:

1) Hashem has commanded the performance of the mitzvah
2) We are the subject of the command
3) We are performing this mitzvah in fulfillment of the command

It’s a simple formula to keep in mind and it can make a tremendous change in our performance in prayer, brochas and mitzvos.

May we all be successful in our Teshuva efforts, and may our collective efforts help bring the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.

4 comments on “Some Thoughts Before the Opening Day of the Teshuva Season

  1. Last night I was listening to an Aishaudio shiur by R. Yitzchak Berkovits on Elul & Teshuva. He spoke about the original lunar year of creation, and how that year was self-perpetuating; therefore the anniversary of each day in successive years retained the spiritual energy of its original day of creation.

    Rosh Hashana corresponds to the day man was created, and therefore we are able to “re-create” ourselves on that day.

    I think this may be helpful in achieving the connection that is sometimes so elusive, between the Jew and the designated time of Teshuva. This is not an arbitrary calendar date, but a time which Hashem designated as being conducive for the reception and success of our efforts to change.

  2. Great post! I especially like the idea of starting now, because it takes between 30 and 40 days to effect a change in habit. The month of Elul is a time to show Hashem (and ourselves!) that we’re sincere in our new commitments, that we’re already making changes and following up on them.
    It’s completely the opposite idea of the secular New Year, when people will set diet plans and other goals, only to break them a few days later. If you have a month to work on the new behavior and show that it’s sticking, it will be easier to continue it once the year begins.
    It’s also crucial to take little steps and make small commitments, like learning 5-10 minutes more per day instead of saying you’ll learn all of Shas next year. It’s incredible what you can accomplish by doing something for just a few minutes a day!

  3. Mark,

    Good points, all of them. In fact, in regards to learning a new sefer 5-10 minutes a day, I was thinking of Berachos Book #1, in addition to learning Sukkot book #2 with the Gemera Shiur @ TBT.

    Another thing to do is try to not to lose your temper if at all possible, if you are prone to doing that.

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