The Power of Teshuvah – Day 38
Technique 2: The Power of Resolutions
After years of promising himself that he would stop speaking lashon hara, Chaim gave up. “What’s the point?” he thought. “I can make resolutions from here to tomorrow, but nothing ever changes.”
Chaim may be correct, if his resolutions are mere lip service. However, if they are the result of a real awakening of his heart, accompanied by a real determination to turn over a new leaf, his resolutions are meritorious. Rabbeinu Yonah explains:
When a person hears mussar, he should listen attentively and accept in his heart all the admonition … in a brief moment, he can go from darkness to a great light because when he hears and accepts all the admonition, his heart understands that he must do teshuvah and it is as if he actually did that which he undertakes in his heart.
A resolution is a reality in itself. Regarding the korban pesach, a verse states, “The Children of Israel went and did just as Hashem commanded Moshe and Aaron, so did they do.” Rashi questions how they could have already done the mitzvah when it was commanded to them on Rosh Chodesh, two weeks before the korban was to be brought. He explains that as soon as the Jews accepted the obligation, Hashem considered it done.
Offering the korban pesach, however, was a once-a-year mitzvah. It was possible for the Jews to rally their determination at that time. Does the same dynamic hold true for resolutions that require long-term, sustained effort such as teshuvah?
Sustaining a kabbalah requires special strength. That strength is exemplified by those who keep shemittah, a mitzvah that demands tremendous restraint and faith over the course of an entire year.
Those who observe shemittah are praised for having the strength of angels, because they make themselves impervious to the yetzer hara. In fact, they are greater than angels because angels are not even subject to the yetzer hara’s appeal. Those who keep shemittah, on the other hand, must master their natural fears and doubts as they watch their land — their livelihood — sit untended for an entire year.
This superhuman strength comes from the potency imbued by the primal kabbalah made by the entire Jewish people as they stood at Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah with the words “We shall do and we shall listen.” It is this willingness to commit ourselves to God’s will, even when we are not quite sure what it will entail, that infuses our efforts with the strength of angels.
This is the “strength” we can apply to consistently practicing new behavior and thereby maintaining teshuvah over an extended period of time. A kabbalah — to attend a shiur, or to count to 10 to restrain his temper, or carefully taking maaser from each influx of income into his household — can keep a person on track day after day.
Kabbalos are effective because they impart new levels of strength to a person. When one makes a definite commitment, Hashem eases his path to assist him. These resolutions should, however, be employed carefully — only for flaws we are truly motivated to repair — and wisely, with realistic resolutions that we have the capacity to keep.