Shavous : How to Change Our Behavior

I saw a very interesting piece by Rav Reuven Leuchter, which is appropriate for Shavous.  However, and unfortunately, for brevity's sake, I need to be very selective on what I write.

The Gemara (Menachos 29b) writes: "Why was this world created with the letter 'hei'?  Because a hei resembles a pavilion [it is open at the bottom], in order that anyone who wants to leave, can leave.  And what is the reason that the leg of the hei is suspended (there is a space on the top)? So that if he returns in teshuva, they can bring him back through that upper opening.  But let them bring him back through the same, lower opening?  This will not happen … If one comes to purify himself, he is given assistance from Above.  But if one comes to defile himself, an opening is provided for him."

This is a very deep Gemara, however, as mentioned, we'll stick to the subject.  First of all, we see that a person does not leave the world of Torah by force.  Nor does he come back by force.  He has a choice and where his will leads him, he will go.

Secondly, we see that when a person decides to do teshuva, he could not come back from the opening he left (on the bottom), rather, he enters from the top.  Perhaps we can discuss this in more detail in a few months.  But, in the meantime, we see that a person needs to return through a higher realm than when he left.  Interesting, no?  So, how exactly does one do that?

We hear advice, that if somebody wants to do teshuva, the first thing he needs to do is learn Torah.  We hear this from giants such as the Vilna Gaon and Rav Yisroel Salanter.  So, even before attempting to fix the behaviour, we're told, "go learn!"

To understand this, we turn to the Nefesh HaChaim.  In section 1, chapters 17-19, he explains that there are three levels to the soul:

The highest is called the Neshama, which is associated with thought.  For a person living on this level, his life is determined by abstract thought and concepts.  It's a high level that most of us don't attain.

The middle is called the Ruach, which relates to speech.  For somebody who mainly operates on this level, to him words have meaning and significance.  For him learning Torah and Tefillah (both speech) are central to his life.

The lowest is called the Nefesh, which relates to action.  This is where most of us tend to live.  Our lives are based on our actions.  Yes, there is thought and speech involved, but they all lead us to action, whether for good or bad.

Therefore, if we cannot return via the same route we left, we must return from a higher position.  Therefore, if we commit an aveira with our actions, and defile our Nefesh, we cannot correct it via actions.  We need to correct it via our Ruach.  By working on our higher level of Ruach, we can change the lower level of Nefesh.

So, let's take a businessman, for example. He has a bad habit of "accidentally" stealing money from his clients.  One would think that he should take some action to make sure he doesn't steal, for example, give his clients' money to somebody else to watch over.  That might keep him from stealing THAT money, but it will NOT uproot the underlying issue!  Rather, says Rav Salanter, let him start learning the halachos of business, not on a superficial level, but on a deeper level.  Let him "learn from the beginning," from the psukim in the Torah, to the Gemara, to the commentaries, to the halachic works such as the Tur, Beis Yosef, Shulchan Aruch.  Let his entire learning life be focused on that.  When he learns these halachos in depth, every day, they will become a part of him to the point he will be forced not to treat them lightly.  Anybody who has learned halacha in depth can testify to this phenomenon.

By working on this higher level, one's Ruach is changed, and his Nefesh will be forced to follow.

This is applicable to men and women equally.  By learning Torah in depth, our higher Ruach will make a correction in our lower Neshama, which will change our behaviour.

This is why we celebrate Shavuos.  On Shavuos we were/are given the ultimate "game-changer" in life.  We don't need psychological tricks from self-help books or online speakers.  Perhaps they can help keep our behavior in check in the short run, but in the end, the Yetzer Horah will renew his attack and reconquer.  But, by using Torah, we can affect not just our behaviour, but our inner motivations as well.

Have a wonderful Shavous & Shabbos!