Friday, August 20, 2010

TESHUBA: Waking up Pinocchio’s cricket

Today is the 10th of Elul, 5770

Our conscience is an integral part of the makeup of our Neshama (human soul). Like Pinocchio’s cricket, it warns us whenever we are about to do something wrong. Conscience, moral awareness, is the most effective mental mechanism preventing us from bad behavior. For instance: If we are about to say something negative about a colleague (lashon haRa) ideally, our conscience will scream at us and tell us to stop: ‘Don’t do it. This is very wrong!Then, we hopefully stop.

But, what if we don’t listen to our conscience and we still do it? How many times our conscience will keep warning us?

As a rule, our conscience would scream very loud the first time or two. However, each time we repeat doing the same thing, our conscience’s voice becomes weaker and lower. To the point that if we persist, it probably becomes mute. Our rabbis, and very specially Maimonides (Teshuba, 3,4) describe this state as ‘the lethargy of our conscience’.

The Torah’s cure? The Shofar.

The Shofar has (should have!) a shocking effect on us. The Shofar, ‘a loud voice’ represents/replaces our own ‘dormant conscience’.

In the words of Maimonides the Shofar yields:

‘Wake up you sleepy ones from your lethargy, and you who slumber, wake up! Inspect your deeds, repent and remember your Creator…Look at your souls. Improve your ways and deeds, and abandon your evil paths and bad thoughts’

Shabbat Shalom!

WATCH: ‘Always let your conscience be your guide’

Thursday, August 19, 2010

TESHUBA: Being your own judge… and declaring yourself guilty

Today is the 9th of Elul, 5770

Taking responsibility for our mistakes -hakarat haChet- is the first, and probably the hardest step in the process of Teshuba. Naturally, we tend to justify our actions and act as our advocates rather than as our prosecutors.

Illustration: David haMelekh committed a terrible sin, taking Bat Sheba, a married woman. Natan the prophet had to admonish David, and help him realize that he had sinned. Natan presented David with a fictitious case: A rich man owned thousands of animals. His neighbor, very poor, only had one lamb. One day, the rich man received a guest. In order to not “waste” one of his own sheep, the rich man decided to steal and slaughter his neighbor’s sole lamb, which he dearly loved. Nathan presented the case to the King an—as he had expected—the King reacted angrily. David said: “That man, the rich guy, deserves to die!” Nathan haNabi turned to David and said: atta haish…. “You are that man!” Faced now with the facts, and in light of the sentence that he had himself issued acting as an impartial judge, David haMelekh repented ‘chattati laHashem…’ he said, ‘I have sinned to God’.

David was not permitted to build the Bet haMikdash because of this sin, but God accepted his Teshuba. Part of the credit goes to Nathan who opened the Kings eyes helping him to evaluate his actions objectively allowing him to repent sincerely.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

TESHUBA: Admitting that we don’t know…

Today is the 8th day of Elul, 5770

Hakarat haChet, acknowledging our mistakes, is the first step of the process of Teshuba (repentance and change).

One of the reasons admitting our mistakes becomes so challenging is because we usually act as our own judges… and we don't know any better!

Let me offer you a personal illustration:

I've been writing the Halakha of the Day for a few months. English is my third language. My English grammar skills are not that strong. While writing I make many mistakes, but I'm not aware of most of them. Once I wrote “If you're seating...” instead of "sitting”... Before I send the group email I always check the spelling. Nothing was wrong! I read it a second and a third time. Everything looked fine 'to me'… The truth is that I had no chance to correct myself because I didn’t know the difference between writing ‘seating’ and ‘sitting’! My ignorance –voluntary ignorance to certain extent- prevented any improvement in my actions!

So, what is the solution?

Improve your ‘knowledge’! Learning more English will help me to be more perceptive and will empower me to detect future mistakes.

The same is true with Judaism. I want to do Teshuba. I want to become a better Jew. Then, first: I’ve to learn more about Judaism. Otherwise it's a catch 22: I think I know and I don’t know any better, how am I supposed to improve myself?

Learning Torah is a prerequisite to detect our flaws and improve ourselves.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hakarat haChet and the Jewish version of the ‘original’ sin.

Today is the 7th day of Elul, 5770

The first step in the process of Teshuba, repentance, is hakarat haChet-- taking responsibility for our mistakes and misdeeds.

It is not an easy task. it has never been…

Everyone knows that God punished Adam and Eve and expulsed them from Paradise. But why?

If you put on a table all kind of candies, sweets, and cakes in front of child and in the middle of the table you put a tomato, a normal child is not going to eat or want the tomato... But what if you tell the child: ‘You can eat whatever you want except for the tomato’. It will be only a matter of time until the child disobeys and eats the tomato, since the “forbidden fruit” syndrome triggers curiosity and desire. According to Rabbi Yosef Albo, Adam and Eve’s sin was not that they ate the fruit. God knew they will succumb! He wanted to teach them to take responsibility and repent for their wrong actions!!

Adam’s real sin happened when God approached him and asked him: ‘What did you do?’ instead of admitting his fault, Adam ‘transferred’ the blame to Eve: haisha shenatata imadi… ‘the woman You put next to me, she offered me the fruit’. Then, God approached Eve and she said: ‘It wasn’t me! The serpent made me do it'.

‘Displacing blame’ is probably the main obstacle for repentance, or at least the oldest one.

Monday, August 16, 2010

TESHUBA: What’s in a word?

Today is the 6th day of Elul, 5770

The concept of Teshuba cannot be translated into English with a single word.

The literal meaning of the Hebrew word Teshuba is ‘return’, in the sense of returning to God Almighty. Whenever we break one of God’s commandments we are deviating from the path which gets us closer to God. Teshuba takes place when we stop, realize that we are going away from God and we make a ‘U turn’ back to Him.

In a more practical sense Teshuba means ‘repentance’, in the sense of looking back, acknowledge our fault and flaws, deeply regret and taking the steps to repair what could be repaired.

Teshuba also means ‘reconciliation’. Our Rabbis insist that once we reconcile with haShem our ‘bond’ with Him becomes stronger. Similar to what happens to a loving couple, if they fight and sincerely reconcile their relationship now might be stronger than what it was before they fought.

Teshuba is one of the 613 'commandments'. This implies that our Torah acknowledges that we can’t be saints and infallible but inevitably we will fail and sin.

Teshuba is a process that comprises 3 basic steps: 1. hakarat hachet, admitting that I have done something wrong. 2. vidui: confession, oral articulation of my sins. 3. azibat hachet: changing my behavior. Abandoning my wrong habits.

If I sinned against another human being, the process of Teshuba includes a fourth step: ‘reparation’.