Rosh HaShanah : Easy Steps to Start Teshuvah

My wife was speaking to a lady (note: non-religious) who moved here from South America 30  years ago.  My wife commented on how there are more and more Jews moving from South America to Israel recently.  She scoffed and remarked, “they’re converts; they’re not Jewish.”  My wife was a bit puzzled about that and remarked that there are a few converts within the religious community here, and they are certainly Jewish!  “I’m not talking about THOSE.”  She went on to explain that people making Aliyah from certain countries in Central and South America, and Russia of course, go on these “conversion programs” to become Jewish in order to escape where they are living.  They have no intention of keeping Torah and Mitzvos, but the Israeli government considers them Jewish, and helps set them up in Israel.  And now you have a whole situation set up, where you have all these non-Jews, either thinking that they are Jewish, and who are not, or openly knowing that they are not-Jewish, marrying Jews in Israel!  “Thank G-d my kids went through the school system BEFORE this became big,” she said.


And you see it a lot.  On Shavuos, I needed to find somebody not Jewish for something, and I was being directed left, right, and center to people who are intermarried.  We have elections for mayor coming up.  All but one candidate are Russian, and most likely are not Jewish.


They come here, go to school, integrate, serve in the army, some go on these quickie "conversion" programs, and the next thing you know . . . it’s the same problem America faces.


Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have issues with non-Jews.  Or even non-Jews living here.  I have issues with people telling these non-Jews that they are “Jewish enough,” yet are not Jewish at all.  And THIS causes a lot of problems down the line (which of course, gets blamed on the religious for not being "tolerant" enough by not changing halachah).


My wife said to me this morning that the original Zionists thought that by creating their own independent state they would, by default, be able to protect and keep the Jewish people, yet, their policies and those of their ideological children are now causing a huge intermarriage within that very State.


Well . . . nothing I can do about it.


On to more important things: How to do Teshuva without leaving your couch!


My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Asher Rubenstein, once gave a talk about doing teshuvah.  In fact, he gave a whole talk on how to do (a good part of) teshuvah, without actually having to do anything!  While, he always liked to call himself a fanatic, and wanting fanatics as his students ("I don't want ‘yeshivish’!!! I want FANATICS!!!"), he was also very big into not falling into depression over ones past or present.  He always believed in looking to the future and moving forward.


He started off explaining that everybody is given a horse when they are born.  It’s called "the body." And the person’s neshama, his soul, is the owner of the horse.  And like all horse owners, we are obligated to take care of the horse.  However, many times in our lives, the horse looks us in the eyes and says, “Hey boss!  I’ve decided there are going to be a few changes around here. Instead of the hose-bath, I want a bubble-bath!  And the hay?  No more.  I want strawberry shortcake!  With whipped cream!”


Now, most horse-owners under such circumstances would simply hold up the whip to Mr. Ed’s face and say, “I’m sorry, horse, what did you say?”  And that is something that the neshama needs to do, once in a while, to the body.  It needs to show the body who is in charge.


Sins can be broken down into two categories.  The first category is the sins that are committed by the horse owner.  This is the most serious.  It’s comparable to an owner of an apple orchard.  He sees, one day, that his neighbor is taking a nap, and the neighbor’s horse is eating some of his apples.  Okay, he thinks, the guy fell asleep.  Just a few apples.  Not the end of the world.  However, the next day, he sees the neighbor, BRING HIS HORSE over to his orchard and start feeding him the apples!  Obviously, he’s not going to let THIS go so easily!


So, those sins that a person commits, knowingly and wittingly, is a big problem.  He can’t blame his horse.  He’s the one leading the horse to the sin!  For such things, a person can be punished by Heaven or by a Rabbinic Court, and in some cases can execute him.  That’s pretty bad.


My Rosh Yeshivah said that a person needs to "downgrade" his sin. By learning about this sin, and really thinking about it, a person can reach the level, where he can honestly say, “You know what, this IS bad, what I’m doing, and it’s something I don’t WANT to do, but I’m already so entrenched . . . .”


At this point, his sin has been downgraded from intentional to non-intentional.  He knows that he doesn’t want to do the sin, but his "horse" keeps on leading him in the direction, since that’s how the horse was trained.  And that downgrade will save him from even the death penalty.


The second category is that of the sins that the horse commits.


These are the sins that a person does NOT want to commit, but he doesn’t have the necessary control over the horse.  It’s a BIG horse after all.


So here we have two sub-categories.  Those sins that the horse does, but, let’s be honest, he still gets enjoyment from ("psik reisha v’nicha lay," for those who like halalcha), and those that he really doesn’t enjoy when he does it, but he still can’t control himself.


So again, by learning about the sin, and having a desire, a person can take the first, more serious, sub-category, and downgrade it.  When he learns and contemplates the power of the sin, he will come to the point, that he might still commit it, but he won't enjoy it as much or at all.


Finally, we are at the second sub-category, those sins that his horse makes him do and he doesn’t like it.  Here, a person needs to work on "breaking the horse" so he finally can get control over it.  And slowly, but surely, he will.


But, Rav Rubenstein said, it’s important to know something, so he should not fall into depression, even on the last stage.  Just when a person does a mitzvah, purely by rote, without any life to it, he WILL get reward for that mitzvah.  But, only the "base amount," and nothing more.  So too, when a person does a sin, purely by rote, without any life to it, its severity is severely diminished, "by 90%."


So, right here, we were given advice on how to mentally downgrade our sins, and to begin to cover a great amount of teshuvah! And all without falling into depression! J


Have a wonderful Shabbos!


Michael Winner