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Helpful Tips in the Process of Teshuva – New and Revised

Dear Chana

I know you are very good with real hands- on ideas / tips and tools in facilitating life/ Torah truths.

I have a question about teshuva. If a person is trying to do teshuva and gets caught and stuck on one of the stages of it [ ie: has stopped the sin – but can’t bring oneself to regret it enough or doesn’t feel that they can declare for the future that they won’t do it again, etc.] what are some practical ways to motivate oneself to continue in the teshuva. Also if one in fact accomplished teshuva, how can one really stay in it and stick to it?

Thanking you in advance for this important info that I have been grappling with. Name and Seminary withheld by request

Dear JemSem Reader

Thank you for asking such vital questions! Teshuva is something that is one of the most special gifts that Hashem has given us in this world. To have messed up and be given the opportunity to erase the wrong or even to turn it into a zechus for ourselves – is almost beyond our imagination, it is such a gorgeous example of Hashems’ chesed and rachamim!

I want to quote from the Me’eri:

“From the time that one commits to repent, even if the actual realization of that commitment is a long and difficult process, his status immediately changes upon the commitment and he is already called a Chassid”

Doing teshuva is a privilege and one should be b’simcha when going through the process because one can get closer to Hashem!

It is also clear from the sefarim, that if a person did teshuva [honest and real teshuva] – but eventually ended up sinning again, their 1st teshuva is not ‘taken away’ – it still stands for them and is a zechus for them in some way, but, of course, they must start over and do teshuva again. They must go the the process fully and completely and work hard to really make it stick this time. The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva tells us that teshuva helps for absolutely everything, anytime, not only during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippor, but at any point of the year. So a person should never feel disheartened that they have sunk so low as to never be able to accomplish it. They can do teshuva at any point in their life, and it will always help on a myriad of levels, no matter what they have done, to bring them back closer and connected to Hashem.

Here are some pointers for both trying to actualize and continue on with the process of teshuva and also how to stick with it and not repeat the sin:

• Learn about it. See the sin in black on white – of what the Torah says about the aveira. Not only Torah sources – but get English Judaica books on the subject, as well as download shiurim on the subject. The more you see and hear about it, the more of an impression it will make on you.

• Think!! Doing teshuva takes an intellectual honesty and an emotional maturity. Try to bring home to yourself the importance of life in this world, what we are doing here, the concept of sechar v’onesh, and following Hashem’s Will.

• Daven: Hashem wants us to turn to Him, right? We can’t ‘pull the wool over His eyes’ – He knows exactly where we are at. So ask Him for help in whatever stage you are up to. [to stop the sin, regret, or to not repeat the sin, etc] We actually can’t accomplish teshuva or anything for that matter without Hashem’s help. Formal – in shemona esria or Tehillim [ specifically 32, 39, 51, 90, 146] and informal tefillah – talk to Him.

• Make boundaries: You had a weakness in this area, so don’t tempt yourself. Build fences around it. This takes thought. You may want to reconsider who you hang out with, where you go, things that you are doing. Like with dieting, teshuva is not a quick fix, but it is a change in lifestyle. Things that help teshuva to be accepted:

1. Seek out ways to increase your acts of chesed and help others.

2. Become an even bigger seeker of truth, and to live your life in a straight and directional way.

3. Really go for mitzvos asai, accomplish them them with great simcha and kavana, work hard to stay away from mitzvos lo sa’asei.

4. Give Tzekaka. It saves a person on many levels.

5. Help motivate others to the ways of teshuva.

6. Say omein in kaddish and answering Yehai shmei Rabba – in a voice with kavanah, is a really big deal and creates many zechuyos for a person. Always.

7. Learn the specifics of hilchos Shabbos. Keep is meticulously. Become a person who is knowledgeable and careful in this.

8. Kol ha’ma’aveir al midosov, mochlin lo al kol p’sha’aav. Whoever was wronged and chooses to overlook it – and not be bothered by it, Hashem forgives them for all of their sins. [a biggy!]

This is a worthy topic indeed! Teshuva can be achieved at any point during the year it does not have to be only connected to the Yamim Noraim.

Hatzlacha Rabba!!




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Lights Lessons

Lights Lessons

Lights Lessons Lights Lessons
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein



There is a well known machlokes between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel when it comes to the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles. Beis Shammai holds that we begin with eight candles on the first night and proceed throughout the rest of Chanukah in a descending order. Each subsequent night, one less candle is lit until on the final night of Chanukah, according to Beis Shammai, a single candle is lit. Beis Hillel maintains that we do the opposite, lighting in an ascending order night by night. Of course, this is our practice and BE”H we will be lighting one candle on the first night of Chanukah this coming Motzei Shabbat. The Gemara discusses the rationale behind these two opinions.

One explanation of the machlokes is presented as follows: Beis Shammai looks to the Karbanos of Succos as a source for why we would light the candles in a descending order each night. Just like the “Parei HaChag,” the special Korban brought only on Succos, which followed a descending order. With thirteen brought on the first day, twelve on the second, etc. the number of cows sacrificed each day decreases by one. Over the course of Succos we count down from thirteen cows down to seven on the last day of Succos (before Shmini Atzeres). Based on this, Beis Shammai says that on Chanukah too we should decrease a candle each night. Beis Hillel responds with a famous dictum from Chazal, “maalin bakodesh vi aim moridin” – when it comes to matters of kedusha, we only move in an ascending order.

There seem to be several difficulties with this understanding of the machlokes. For starters, while it is true that we see that the sacrificial cows on Succos proceeded in a descending order, what does that have to do with Chanukah? Why would that override the standard “maalin bakodesh” that Beis Hillel points out? Furthermore, it would seem that Beis Hillel does not really address the main point raised by Beis Shammai – if there is some connection between Chanukah and Parei HaChag, so then we see that “maalin bakodesh” does not necessarily always hold true – so why would it “override” the example of the karbanos that Beis Shammai put forward? In short, neither side appears to be addressing the central point raised by the other.

We could try to understand the machlokes in the following manner. Meforshim explain that at least one element of the Avodah of the Parei HaChag in the Beis HaMikdash was to “wean” Klal Yisroel off of the high level of spirituality we had attained through the avodah of Rosh HaShana, the Aseres Yemei Teshuva and Yom Kippur. Following Succos, there are six long months of waiting until the next Yom Tov of Pesach comes around. While we reached great heights during the Yamim Noraim, we have to be able to take what we gained with us into the winter. So the Avodah of Succos was in part to have us internalize the inspiration and lessons of those powerful days and do less avodah on the outside – signified by the bringing of one less korban each day. [Why the numbers go from thirteen down to seven on the last day is certainly of great significance, but not for right now.] This procedure continues until, following Succos, we have Shmini Atzeres, with its single korban to signify our last time spent alone with Hashem in his palace. Right after Yom Tov, hopefully after we have built ourselves sufficiently, we are sent off to try keep what we gained, use it to grow more and make it through the winter. This avodah is to guide us from our high spiritual level through re-entry back into “regular life,” when inspiration is not so apparent and easy to come by. Keep this in mind for a moment as we talk about miracles.

There is a fascinating discussion in the Gemara (Shabbos 53b) about a man for whom a true, nature-changing miracle was performed by Hashem. The Gemara records a disagreement about this event. There were those who maintained that this illustrated what a great man this person must have been, seeing as Hashem Himself made a miracle occur on his behalf. Strange as it may sound at first, the other opinion held that on the contrary – this exhibited a detriment in the man’s character, seeing as in order to save him, Hashem had to change the normal order of nature. How can we understand this? The Acharonim explain that an open miracle from Hashem really has two sides to it. On the one hand, as the Ramban explains at the end of Parshas Bo, when Hashem makes open miracles, He shows in an incontrovertible way His command over all of nature. When a person feels he or she has experienced an open miracle, it is certainly a wonderful thing that can give tremendous chizuk to a person’s emunah. On the other hand, there is an element of a deficiency in emunah exhibited here as well. The fact that Hashem “had to” make an open miracle and change the laws of nature in order to strengthen our emunah means that we were not seeing Hashem’s Hand in nature enough before that! As the Ramban explains, the “big” miracles are only to help us recognize all the “little” ones; the ones that surround us day in day out throughout our experience of life. With this in mind, we can appreciate why the Gemara would be critical of a person who was saved by Hashem changing nature. Ultimately, a person should not “need” miracles to believe in God and His Providence over everything that happens.

Just like the numbers of the Parei HaChag are set up to help wean us from a high level of spirituality, the Chanukah candles are representative of this same concept as well. While we thank Hashem and celebrate the open miracle of the Menorah burning for eight days, at the same time, according to Beis Shammai, we should not have “needed” it, and the fact that Hashem “had” to do it shows that there was some element of emunah lacking. According to Beis Shammai, we appreciate the miracle and the boost it gave to our emunah, but our avodah of Chanuah is to wean ourselves off the need for open miracles and to work on internalizing the message of seeing Hashem’s Hand in everything that happens. So we light one candle less each night until by the last night we barely need to remember the open miracle of the Menorah. We have internalized the message.

(As is often explained in their disagreements,) Beis Hillel can agree with Beis Shammai in principal but in practice argue that we are not ready for that yet. The fact of the matter is, we are still at the point that we need to be building up our emunah, and if a miracle comes our way and we can use it to be michazek ourselves, we will maximize the opportunity. Maalin bakodesh vi ain moridin! If we can grow in our emunah by focusing on the miracle of the Menorah, we want to increase our appreciation of the neis as much as we can. Each day we light another candle, building up our appreciation the miracle of Chanukah. Each day we say a full Hallel to try and focus on thanking Hashem for interceding on our behalf and giving us the opportunity to openly see His involvement in our lives.

Our practice follows Beis Hillel. Part of our avodah during this time is to strengthen our emunah in Hashem’s nissim. We should be thinking about the miracles that we are familiar with that have shaped the world and our lives. The nitzchiyus of Klal Yisroel, the wars fought by Israel, the fact that after so many thousands of years, with all of our problems past and present, we are still thriving! And the miracles that we know of in our own lives, or the lives of our friends. Those clear messages that Hashem sends to show us He is involved. We have to draw emunah from those experiences. And then work hard to take that clarity and spread it to all areas of our lives.

It is true that ultimately we have to see Hashem in everything, all the time – but the essence of Chanukah is building up our appreciation of Hashem’s interest in our lives and His ability to directly involve Himself in everything we experience. His ability and interest to change the world as He sees fit, to move us all towards the ultimate miracle of the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding and rededicating of the Beis HaMikdash for the final time, bimheira biyameinu, amen!