It’s been ages that I’ve written here, so here’s something for Elul.
The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation has an excellent tape series called “Grasp the Gift of Teshuva.” One of the tapes contains the following true story which is also an amazing mashal for teshuva.
During World War II, the Rov of a certain town managed to smuggle a knife with him into the cattle car when he and his kehila were captured by the Nazis. Using the knife, he broke a hole into the cattle car and urged everyone to jump through it.
“It’s your chance at life!” he told the people. “You know where we’re going.”
But the cattle car was speeding along the tracks, and taking the jump meant risking serious injury and possibly death. The people were too scared, so only the Rov took the jump. And he was the only person from his town to survive the war.
The speaker on the tape applied the Rov’s lesson to abandoning the path of sin. We know where sin leads us, and sometimes, we have to take one big jump to get away from it. Doing it might be scary, but not doing it is certain doom. In the long run, the wiser thing is to take the jump.
Of course, every BT in the world knows what it is to take a big jump. We’ve redefined our whole lives. But every BT has also received the advice to go slow, not to take on too much too fast, because that often leads to backsliding. The same principle applies when we’re already frum. Teshuva lasts when taken on in small increments. Instead of working on kavannah in davening overall, we concentrate on one particular tefilla. Instead of going cold turkey on some pet aveira, we gradually wean ourselves from it.
I want to share with you my Elul of two years ago. I had a part-time secretarial job and was spending much of every work day online. When I started, it was just during the down times, but later, it became an addiction. I knew it was wrong, and I felt guilty about it, but I felt I was incapable of going cold turkey. So I decided that for Elul, I would resist any online activity at the office for 15 minutes a day. Very soon, I worked it up to 2 hours a day. And then, instead of visiting my favorite social sites, I began listening to online shiurim.
I’ve often said that Cheshvan is when we get our post-Yom Tov cheshbon. (Leave it to a BT with rudimentary Hebrew to come up with a vort like that.) That Cheshvan, despite these efforts at self-improvement, I was fired. It came as quite a blow because it felt like Hashem hadn’t accepted my little steps toward teshuva.
But teshuva is never worthless. The next job I got was ad writing for Rabbi Berel Wein’s Destiny Foundation. I actually got to earn my living by listening to shiurim – the very thing I was doing illegally at my previous job!
Of course, I still had further to go. I’d made little steps, but the big leap was still to come. And as many of you know, it came about six months later, during Sefirah, with Rabbi Solomon’s anti-Internet drasha. I needed a gadol to give me the push. I was too weak to do it on my own. But the entire experience has taught me a little about how Hashem runs the world. We make changes in Elul, daven for our future in Tishrei, and feel the effects of both the rest of the year. Those little steps toward teshuva in Elul sealed my fate for the big jump I was to make in May. Those little steps build up momentum toward one big, running leap.
May Hashem bless each of us with the strength we need for small steps and big jumps.