The Power of Teshuvah – Day 30
Strategy 7: Focus on the Negative
Eli was his own best friend. He forgave every mistake he made. He believed his own myriad excuses for his failures, lapses, and impulsive actions. He believed in his own innate goodness; if only the world would cooperate, he knew he would be a far better, more productive person. But what could he do? He was surrounded by difficult people and extenuating circumstances. He did the best he could, he told himself, and that was all that could be expected.
Most people are similarly generous in their self-judgment, offering themselves ample excuses for their misdeeds. The person who is capable of cutting though his justifications, reaching into his own heart and objectively assessing what he finds there, has ascended to a level of personal greatness. “I have sinned” may be the three most difficult words to state with complete sincerity.
To some extent, most of us content ourselves with excuses and rationalizations. If we are able to predict them and recognize them when they occur, like warning signs along the road, teshuvah can begin.
The way to break through our self-justifications and find the roots of our spiritual challenges is to focus on the negative. In other words, to list all the faulty reasoning that keeps us from teshuvah, and then, to challenge each one with the unvarnished reality of the situation. In the next few days, we will address the thoughts that take up space in our minds, and learn how to discard them to make room for a powerful new reality.
Rationale: Teshuvah requires an unhealthy focus on guilt and shame. This is unnecessary for me, for “I am basically a good Jew.”
Reality: Teshuvah is like a medical imaging test designed to expose dangerous health conditions. A person might prefer to think of himself as healthy, but avoiding the test will lead him in the opposite direction. He has to recognize his problem before he can cure it.
Rationale: To err is human. If God expected perfection, He would have made me perfect.
Reality: The Rambam utterly rejects such moral avoidance. “Free will is bestowed on every human being … there is no one who can prevent him from doing that which is good or that which is evil.” Being “only” human is not a viable excuse for mistakes. Rather, the opposite is true; being human means we are capable of, and therefore responsible for, making the right moral choice.
The Torah urges us to realize that teshuvah is “in your mouth … to perform.” The teshuvah process begins “in your mouth,” by confessing and thereby accepting responsibility for having sinned. That is where the new era — both for ourselves personally, and for the world — begins.
Points to Ponder:
- One cannot begin to correct what is wrong, until he looks at himself honestly.
- Every rationale used to justify wrongdoing has an opposing reality.
- By recognizing these realities, we can clear the path to teshuvah.