STEP BY STEP
Rabbi Gideon Shloush
Our sages teach us that although the heavenly Gates of Prayer (Sha'arei Tefillah) were closed upon the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Gates of Tears (Sha'arei Dim'ah) remain open. On Rosh Hashanah we want to pour out our tears.
Our sages teach us that although the heavenly Gates of Prayer (Sha'arei Tefillah) were closed upon the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Gates of Tears (Sha'arei Dim'ah) remain open. On Rosh Hashanah we want to pour out our tears. We want to analyze our deeds and promise ourselves that once and for all we will truly relinquish that which causes us to stray. And then, we must go a step further.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for change. While it represents the end of one year, it also signals the beginning of a new one. Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection. It is a time when we must examine our lives and make necessary improvements.
Seemingly, during the High Holiday season we try to accomplish two important things. First, we want to repent for the wrong which we have done. We show charata (regret) for our transgressions and we accept upon ourselves not to do those things again. We also recite viduy, verbalizing our transgressions. Thus, the first side to our task on Rosh Hashanah is to make a change in which we leave the sins of our past.
In addition, we make commitments for the future. This second side to Rosh Hashanah is to change for the positive, a change in which we decide to do something new, something different. A change in which we perfect, or take upon ourselves a new mitzvah.
But we all know that change is very difficult. There are so many things which we know that we must stop doing, and so many things which we long to start anew. All too often we find ourselves committing to total change, to turning over a new leaf. Yet, just a few days after Yom Kippur, we find ourselves right back where we began. Clearly, change is the most difficult thing to do. No one likes to move to a new city or to change schools. People like to wake up in the morning knowing that their supermarket is where it was yesterday. Change can be very disconcerting.
There are so many things in our life which we know need change, need improvement. But we often despair for we are overwhelmed. Let's make this a realistic Rosh Hashanah in which we finally do make a difference in our lives. At the same time, we must be sure not to take on an unrealistic load. Human nature can only be changed gradually. Body builders begin with light weights and slowly increase. We, too, must build our way up - 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 20 pounds.
We cannot expect ourselves to wake up totally new people tomorrow. But we can ask of ourselves to make some small adjustments. On Rosh Hashanah we need to begin a process - a methodical process of character correction.
Let's decide, once and for all, that we will no longer come late to services; that I will designate one hour every day in which I will be especially careful not to speak lashon hara (evil speech or slander); that we will spend time with our children each week studying Torah; that I will try to instill a renewed spirit into my home on Shabbat; that I will make a commitment to attend a class in Torah study on a regular basis. Let us choose one thing that we will stop doing, and at the same time choose one thing that we will start doing. Decide to take on just one small mitzvah.
The Midrash on Song of Songs states that Hashem tells us, "Open for Me an opening like the point of a needle, and I will open for you gates like the gates of a great palace." If a person tries to the best of his abilities to do G-d's will, then Hashem will help him. All we must do is show genuine effort. Our sages state emphatically that, in G-d's book, the only thing for which we are held accountable is our effort.
Rosh Hashanah has special powers. The hour is at hand. G-d is listening to us with earnest. Let's seize this opportunity and be inspired to change - one step at a time.
Rabbi Gideon Shloush, a native Atlantan, is the assistant rabbi of Congregation Adereth El in midtown Manhattan.
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