Jump Starting The Teshuva Batteries

We are taught that although there were Seven Days of Genesis, still all of Creation is constantly being re-created. If at any moment, chas v’sholom [Heaven forfend], Hashem should so much as cease affirmatively desiring His ongoing Divine regeneration of the whole universe, all of it would immediately revert to tohu u’vohu — the primordial state of total entropy. All of it, all of us, and any thought, memory or mark of us, would simply vanish; the best metaphor is that the plug would be pulled on an entirely electric Universe. And yet in His ongoing kindness Hashem does will our ongoing existence and that of the world around it, because it matters to Him; because this world has purpose; because He loves it and he loves us. So for these reasons, which amount to no tangible benefit to Him (“benefit” as typically understood being, to the Omnipresent, axiomatically impossible), Hashem goes through the “trouble” of powering all existence, from the Leviathan to the tiniest mote, from the hidden saints to the most wretched vermin, from the crashing waves to the smallest, stillest voice, continually into being.

And we can barely sustain kavonah [concentration] for the first three brochos [benedictions] of Shemona Esrei [our daily prayers]!

But it is only human nature to forget gratitude and enthusiasm, isn’t it? Most of us are not able to imitate Hashem and constantly burn with spiritual energy. In the Tefillah Zakah [the prayer of forgiveness] we will all be saying in about a month, we confess: “My strength was insufficient to stand up [to the Evil Inclination]; the burden of earning a livelihood to support my household, and the weight of Time and its vicissitudes have befouled me…” Who thought when he began the journey toward religious observance that factors as mundane as punching the clock would blow a fuse on our zeal to go and to grow as new Jews? Yet who among us, who has felt the press of that weight extended over time for years and decades now since first turning that corner, doubts that these seeming trivialities can ground a potentially soaring spirit down low, and hard? As we get older and this pressure only increases, we begin to appreciate the magnitude of achievement of the spiritual giants of our people who lit of up the world of the spirit even as their own material existences flickered?

Still, shouldn’t “balei teshuva” be different? Shouldn’t we have something, somewhere, that we can draw upon to uncover that burning Jewish spark that fired our motors and got us on this road in the first place? Where can I go, then, to plug in, for a fresh infusion of energizing electrons from the spiritual grid?

The answer came for me this week. I followed my nose.

The time had come to freshen up my supply of tzitzis, and I bought three new pairs of round-neck cotton ones — two “regular,” and one with the heavy strings to wear “out” on Shabbos. I dutifully, which is to say rather thoughtlessly, removed the labels, and placed two of them in my drawer. Then I opened up one of the new ones and prepared to say the brocho which those of who wear a tallis godol usually do not say; but here I was putting on a new pair of tzitzis in the middle of the day. And then it hit me.

The smell of a new set of tzitzis, which for some reason I had not remembered though I had bought and buried scores of sets of them over the last 22 years, hit me right in the face. It was the smell of that moment when I crossed the line to becoming a Torah observant Jew. For a yarmulke is almost meaningless, or was for me — I used to wear them when I went to shul, and wearing one all day, though qualitatively different, was not a shock. But putting on tzitzis — now that was different. That was something that, simply, only orthodox Jewish men did. And once I put these on, I would be one. Forever — this I knew. It was frightening. Electric.

And the smell now, 22 years later, was the same. And I put them on again, not with a thumping heart and a cold, sweaty brow, no; but at least with a vivid and visceral recollection — a personal besomim whiff — of that moment, when I crossed that line, made the commitment, acknowledged the truth, and began creating my world and participating consciously in the spiritual sustenance of the Universe as a whole. It was the electrons that jumped off that cotton cloth, via the simple expedient of static charges, that plugged me in then to the direct current of Creation. And if in light of the burdens of worldly obligation and the taut pull of Time I have not spent the last two days in a spiritually electrified state, I think now at least I remember where the outlet is.

With God’s ongoing help, and with the reminder of the fringes I carry around like a battery pack, I hope I can increase the voltage over the coming weeks of introspection, and that I can do my part to break free of it all and that I can ask for God’s continuing generation of all Creation, and of blessing for us and all of Israel, as we approach the Birthday of Creation. I know I need a jump start, and I know I’m not alone.

Originally Published Aug 22, 2007

15 comments on “Jump Starting The Teshuva Batteries

  1. Ron Coleman wrote the following in response to my query:
    “Steve, if you change your tzitzis from the ones you put on in the morning (and which were exempted by the brocha on the Talis Gadol), of course (I think!) you say a new brocha. This is also the case if you took them off and did not have an intention to put them back on, fell asleep, tarried too long, etc.

    I think in this case I was changing into the Shabbos Talis Katan for that extra-thick-string charge — better conductivity, after all!”

    WADR, can you quote me a Mesorah of such a Psak or a Posek who actually has ruled in that manner?

  2. Thanks, Neil.

    I don’t have an articulate answer to your question. I hadn’t even remembered the post until Mark told me it was going up in reruns (from the title I thought it was another, really bad post I didn’t want to see again!) I can’t even believe it’s been two years since then.

  3. Great post, Ron. I’m curious, how do you feel now (two years later) reading this? I know that I constantly feel a need for a jump start (oddly my car engine just caught fire and died two days ago, I’m sure there’s a message in that for me).

  4. Steve, if you change your tzitzis from the ones you put on in the morning (and which were exempted by the brocha on the Talis Gadol), of course (I think!) you say a new brocha. This is also the case if you took them off and did not have an intention to put them back on, fell asleep, tarried too long, etc.

    I think in this case I was changing into the Shabbos Talis Katan for that extra-thick-string charge — better conductivity, after all!

  5. Ron-just curious-if one is married, IIRC, the only bracha is on a Talis Gadol, as opposed to a Talis Katan. Is there any Mesorah or accepted Psak that a new Talid Katan for a married man entails any bracha other than possibly a Shecheyanu?

    I also remember purchasing my first pair of Tzitis at an NCSY National Convention, beginning to wear them at home and to public school. Wearing Tzitis , davening three time a day, keeping Shabbos and Kashrus were all major milestones in my own trajectory.

  6. It’s a machlokes (difference of opinion) between the Rambam (Hashem set nature in motion at creation) and Ramban (Hashem is continuously behind the natural process). Here’s a decent article to start with, but as you investigate the subject, you’ll find discussion on what is the view of each proponent.

    In my experience, and from what others have taught me, the hashkafah of the Modern Orthodox world lines up more often behind the Rambam while the Yeshivish world is more in line with the Ramban on these issues.

  7. I was always under the impression that the appropriate metaphor for God’s creation was a battery-powered device, not something plugged in to an electric circuit. My rabbis always taught me that the view of the Rishonim — ha-olam k-minhago noheig — that the world operates according to fixed rules — meant that God created the universe and was involved in it via Divine providence for certain meritorious individuals, but that most of us and most of creation were subjected to the rules of nature and our instantaneous existence was in no way miraculous or a constant “effort” on God’s part (what I think you refer to as “continuing generation”) .

    I am curious why so much of what I read on the internet tends to disagree with this view, which again was articulated to me by very mainstream Orthodox rabbis. Do most people really believe in a “continuous involvement” by God? Or do they believe that God only enters the picture on behalf of certain tzadikim (providence) or on certain temporary occasions (miracles)?

  8. Well said!
    This is a great piece. I would be interested in also hearing the female perspective. Ladies, what is your “battery pack”?

    I wonder if mine is my siddur…If so, it definitely needs to be recharged.

  9. So speaking of recharging battery packs, just yesterday I found myself in barnes n noble unintentionally part of a poetry reading loving audience redirected from bryant park’s reading room corner due to the incessent rain, listening to newly appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, Charles Simic. As I listened along with the captured and enraptured audience and took out my camera to photograph this noble poet my camera flashed “change battery pack”.
    Having just charged the thing, I knew it was mixed signals the camera was tryin to confuse me with.
    I fiddled around with battery changed its position a few times and then she was good to go, having given up blinking messages and excuses why she can’t function and photograph.

    The euphoric spiritual scent of new fringe garments aside, sometimes changing positions and perspectives is all one really needs to be able to photograph life in 8.1 megapixel crystal clear clarity again.
    I’m not so sure that’s its the fringe benefit of fringe garment purchases or other judaica decor that’s necessarily needed for picture perfect spiritual living and loving. Though I am sure that judaica stores across america strongly suggest and feel otherwise.

    Walking through the garment district in the morning and taking in the sequins and sparkle material offerings in the windows gives me the same spiritual oh my gd I’m so lucky to be alive and thank you gd for creating sequins glitter and sparkle in the windows for merry morning musing before work thing.

    Its perspective mostly.

  10. Ron,

    For me, that feeling came last year. I eventually bought a 2nd one, and my feeling was this: “What took me so long?”


  11. I picked up a very interesting sefer that was published by the Talmidim of R Wolbe ZTL entitled “HaMitzvos HaShekulos” which seems to be a series of Mussar Shmussen on a number of mitzvos that are considered to be very important in a sense that they are “shakul kneged Kol HaTorah”. AZ, Shabbos, Torah, Bris Milah,and EY are a few of the Mitvos which R Wolbe ZTL discusses therein.

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