The Power of Teshuvah – Day 35

Day 35

Strategy 10: ASAP: The Future Is Now

When a task perceived to be difficult lies ahead, the common human response is to procrastinate. “I’ll start tomorrow, when I’m refreshed.” “I’ll pay next month, when I have more money.” “I’ll do better when the children get older and I have more peace and quiet.”

Concerning teshuvah, the Chofetz Chaim paints a clear picture of the error in this strategy with the following allegory about a servant who has fled from his master:

The servant meets a man who advises him to return of his own accord, show remorse for leaving, and promise to serve his master faithfully from then on. With that approach, the man guarantees that the master will forgive him. If, instead, he waits to be found and brought back against his will, he will no doubt have to fully account for his decision to flee from his obligations.

Postponing teshuvah has many negative ramifications. By delaying our effort to change, we leave ourselves in a situation of repeating the sin, which begins to seem less and less like a sin, and more like a permissible option. At that point, we might completely lose the impetus to do teshuvah.

How does the impermissible become permissible? It ceases to arouse guilt. If we no longer feel that we are doing wrong, we no longer feel the need to apologize or change.

At Congregation Kol Peh, chazaras hashatz was considered the perfect time for the men to catch up on one another’s news. When Boruch first moved into the community, he tried not to become involved in the talk, but he soon realized that his new neighbors considered him “holier than thou.” The first time he spoke during chazaras hashatz, he felt a burning guilt. But by the end of the first month of partaking in the chatter, he was initiating conversations himself. He had inured himself to a sin described in the Shulchan Aruch:

“One should refrain from speaking during the time the chazan repeats Shemoneh Esrei. And if one spoke, it is a sin.”

The period of Elul through Yom Kippur is especially equipped for teshuvah to succeed. Nevertheless, the optimal time to do teshuvah is immediately after having sinned.

In any case, when we view our efforts to do teshuvah as solidifying our relationship with Hashem, our resolve to do teshuvah is most effective.

A newlywed husband sits down to a dinner his young wife has prepared. He takes a bite of chicken coated in an unusual sauce, and says, “Hmmm, this is kind of interesting.”

Immediately, his wife’s smile collapses and her eyes seem a little moist. “Oh, no! I’ve insulted her!” the man thinks. On the spot, he looks her in the eye and says, “That was a foolish thing for me to say. This is delicious. That’s what I meant … I just never ate it before.”

When a person’s heart is devoted to another, he responds instantaneously to anything he thinks might cloud the relationship. By hastening to do teshuvah immediately after a sin, we show God that we are His devoted, beloved people, and that we cannot endure — even for a moment — any distance between us.

Points to Ponder:

      • Tefillah and teshuvah are both driven by the desire to come close to God.
      • When we pray for forgiveness and Divine assistance, we are considered to be doing teshuvah.
      • When a person delays teshuvah, he repeats his misdeeds, which then seem permissible to him.
      • Once a misdeed seems permissible, it no longer stirs the guilt that motivates teshuvah.
      • Doing teshuvah immediately shows God that we cannot endure, even for a moment, a breach between Him and us.

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