Thursday, August 23, 2012

HILKHOT TESHUBA 1:1. To be or not to be specific?

According to Maimonides, the commandment of Teshuba is fulfilled when we recite the Viduy.  Viduy consists in  verbally articulating our transgressions, admitting our responsibility and feeling regret and shame for the wrong things we have done.

The Viduy/confession is done privately. We do not disclose our sins in front of other people or a minister, but right in front of God. Whispering the confession to ourselves.

There is a discussion in the Talmud (Rabbi Yehuda ben Baba vs. Rabbi Aqiba) if one has to specify his wrongdoings or one can just state in general terms that he has acted wrongly. (It is similar to the situation we face when we want to apologize to someone else with whom we often interact: should we apologize mentioning the specifics of our wrongdoing or should we just say a general "I'm sorry"?)

According to the Shulchan Arukh, there is no need to mention every specific sin that one has committed. This leniency aims at not discouraging a person who wants to repent but is not capable--or courageous enough--of recalling the specifics of his bad behavior.

Maimonides, however, rules like the first opinion and indicates that one has to aim to mention in his private confession everything wrong he has done, H. Teshuba 1:1, "and then one shall confess, I have done so and so...".

To follow Maimonides opinion, one will need to apply himself to a deep introspection, exercising greatly his memory, struggling against his own denial, reviewing actions, and perhaps, writing down all misdeeds he can remember.

In this context, the text of the Viduy --the one we say for Selichot for example-- should be seen as a reminder of the subjects we should review, repent for, and hopefully correct.

This challenging spiritual/ethical activity cannot be done overnight. We dedicate to it forty days, from the beginning of Elul until Yom Kippur: the day we devote ourselves entirely and exclusively to Teshuba/Viduy.


 from Prager University

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

HILKHOT TESHUBA 1:1: Teshuba and Chutzpa

The rabbis considered 'shame' (busha) as one of the three components of the Jewish ethico-ethnical makeup. Together with the practice of benevolence (gemilut chasadim) and compassion (rachmanut). The Rabbis went as far as to say that whoever does not posses the trait of shame, could be presumed that "his ancestors did not stand at Mt. Sinai" (an euphemism to say that he might not be ethnically Jewish).

Besides seeing shame as an innate condition of the Jewish character--in complete contradiction with the alleged Jewish 'chuptza'-- the Rabbis explained that 'shame' is a prerequisite for a perfect Teshuba (repentance).

Maimonides writes that when a man or a woman commits a sin... "they shall confess the sin they have done... by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned, transgressed and rebelled in front of You; I have done such- and-such, and I am ashamed of my actions and will never do it again'."

The feeling of shame is a critical step for a sincere process of Teshuba.


Because unlike guilt--which is a private feeling-- shame consist in the uncomfortable sensation of facing our flaws or misdeeds in front of others.  

God is invisible. It is extremely challenging for a Jew to be aware of His constant presence. Therefore, we are not easily ashamed of doing something wrong privately (= "just" in front of God), as we are naturally ashamed of doing something wrong in front of other people. 

Now, feeling embarrassed while confessing our transgressions to God would mean that we have achieved this elevated level of closeness to God: The realization and awareness of God's presence.  The higher our state of awareness of God's presence, the higher the feeling of shame we feel in front of God,  and vise-versa.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

HILKHOT TESHUBA: 1:1. The ultimate regret

In his monumental book, Mishne Tora, Maimonides dedicates ten chapters to the subject of Teshuba (repentance). In those chapters he describes and explains the technical issues involved in the process of repentance. He also deals in length with the idea of freedom of choice and how it relates to Teshuba. In the eighth Chapter he clarifies the Jewish view on the afterlife ('olam-habba) and in the last chapter he elaborates on the proper way to serve God: if we should serve God expecting a reward or out of our unconditional love for Him. 

In this month, Elul, B'H I will try to cover some of these important issues. 

Hilkhot Teshuba 1: 1:

"All the commandments of the Tora, when a person transgress a prohibition or when he fails to perform a positive commandment... when he regrets....". 

Normally, we think of Teshuba/repentance as regretting our mistakes, flaws, misdeeds, etc. But according to Maimonides' statement we also, or primarily, need to regret what we have notdone. We are accountable not just for our actions but also for our inaction and idleness. For not doing all the good and right things we should have done. 

Many times, when I've visited in the Hospital patients who knew they will die soon (and they were conscious) I've seen that they do not focus their regret on the mistakes they might have made. Rather, at those most sacred last moments, when their whole life lies in front of them and there is not more time to change anything, invariably, I found out, people regret the good things they should have done and they didn't do. The many opportunities they've missed to make a change. Big or small. At these moments, when they realize more than ever the preciousness of time, they regret to have waisted so much of it in material-fruitless efforts instead of giving more, helping more, fighting for what is right and getting closer to God.  People regret they have missed their full potential.  The greater the person or the highest position or the power that person had, the bigger the feeling of frustration for having missed so many opportunities to impact positively his own life and the life of others. 

Following this simple idea, Teshuba implies, first of all, the realization of our talents. Taking charge and being responsible for maximizing our potential to make a change, to give, to inspire and to come closer to God. 


How much life are you choosing?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Selichot and the NYC Marathon

From the second day of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur the Sepharadic custom is to recite the Selichot prayer.

Selichot is a special Tefila which inspires us to introspect, reflect on our actions and ask forgiveness from the Almighty for our mistakes and wrongdoings. Selichot is traditionally said before the morning prayer (Shacharit) although, technically, Selichot could be said also during nighttime or even during the day. Following an ancient custom  in our community we don't say Selichot in between sunset and midnight. That is why those Minyanim in which Selichot is said at night will always start after (Halakhic) midnight. 

The Ashkenazi Minhag is to start Selichot services the last Sunday before Rosh haShana. However, when Rosh haShana falls on a Monday or Tuesday (it can never fall on a Sunday) Selichot will begin two Sundays before Rosh haShana.

During the entire month of Elul the Ashkenazim and most Sepharadim have the custom to blow the Shofar. The Ashkenazim blow the Shofar at the end of Shacharit. Our custom is to blow the Shofar at the end of Selichot prayers, right before Shacharit . Many Sephardim (Moroccans, and North african communities) blow the Shofar while reciting the 13 attributes of mercy (vaya'abor... ).

The goal of Selichot is to prepare ourselves spiritually for the process of Teshuba (introspection, repentance) which will culminate in Yom Kippur.  Imagine Yom Kippur as a spiritual marathon: a whole day consecrated exclusively to Teshuba. No one will run the marathon without a previous training.  You have to prepare months in advance to be in a good shape and endure the tremendous physical effort required in the 26.2 miles NYC Marathon.  Similarly, if we want to be able to focus in the sophisticated mental and spiritual process of Teshuba for a whole day we cannot come unprepared. We need an intense training, for which the Selichot is the essential part.   

READ ABC's of Elul  The last month of the Jewish calendar is actually the most important - serving as preparation for the High Holidays.  by Rabbi Shraga Simmons, from Aish.