The Power of Teshuvah – Day 37

Day 37

Technique 1: Treat Causes, Not Symptoms

Rivka was depressed. Her children’s antics grated on her nerves, her husband’s conversation made her eyelids droop, her friend’s simchas had her sitting at a table, annoyed by the music and longing for a place to nap. Nothing really touched her heart.

The parenting adviser said she should teach her children to be more cooperative. The marriage counselor said her husband should discuss things that interest her. Her rabbi said she should love her fellow Jews and feel their simchah. Each suggestion had merit, however it was her doctor who provided the strategy that solved all her problems: Get more sleep.

Most ongoing, recurring problems can be solved by seeking out their root cause. Treating the symptoms may provide temporary relief, but until the root cause is addressed, the problem will continue to resurface in new ways.

In teshuvah, the first step is to identify with crystal clarity the areas in our lives that require change. This is often no mystery to us, but even so, we tend to focus on the symptoms rather than the underlying causes.

We do so because it is easier. Quick, pragmatic results that deal with the immediate problem provide relief for the moment. Yet, when we opt for the expedient approach and deal with the symptom, rather than the cause, we can be almost certain that the situation will, in time, recur and need to be dealt with again.

That is why the laws of teshuvah require that a person must forsake his “evil ways” and resolve with all his heart not to return to them again. It is not his evil act that he forsakes, but his ways — the underlying traits that lead to his wrongful acts. If he does not uproot the cause of the sin, he can be sure that, when faced with the same nisayon, he will act as he did before.

For example, at the root of lashon hara there may be a tendency to judge others negatively. Until a person learns to see others in a more positive light, the lashon hara will continue to materialize in his mind. With time, it is bound to leap from there to his tongue and out into the world.

At times, because our lives are jam-packed with events, we do not discern the pattern in our situations. Without that awareness, we do not seek out a root cause. For example, if a person does not realize that he is continually getting into disputes regarding money, he will not stop to analyze his attitude toward money to see if that is at the root of his problems.

In fact, sometimes people are fooled into thinking that the wrong direction is right for them. That is why we are commanded to choose the path of goodness and life. As the Torah states, “See I have given you today life and goodness, death and evil … and you shall choose life so that you and your children may live.”

It’s never about quick fixes, whether for nonspiritual issues such as weight loss or spiritual issues such as teshuvah. Doing teshuvah by dealing with the genesis of our misdeeds pushes us to recognize behavior patterns that do not work in our favor, to make a focused effort to relinquish those patterns, and to fill ourselves with good character traits that will leave no space for bad habits to re-emerge. Ultimately, doing teshuvah for even one sin has the power to transform the way in which we relate to ourselves, to others, and to Hashem.

Points to Ponder:

      • Greatness arises from one’s response to his spiritual setbacks.
      • For teshuvah to be considered successful, one’s future behavior must change.
      • Techniques support our effort to make a lasting transformation.
      • Recurring problems are often due to an unaddressed root cause.
      • The time spent getting to the root and eradicating it is repaid in lasting change and complete teshuvah.

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