(Courtesy: Rabbi Moshe Re’em)
In the evening, prior to the High Holidays, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev would reflect upon his day and upon his life and would note areas that he could improve on. He would say to himself, “I promise that I will not do this again.” The next day would dawn and Levi Yitzchak would find himself doing exactly what he had promised not to do. When evening came Levi Yitzchak repeated the process of introspection and again vowed, “I promise to not do this again.” Later that evening he dreamed and in that dream an angel came to him and said, “Levi Yitzchak, you made the exact same promise yesterday and were not able to keep it!” “I know,” responded Levi Yitzchak, “but this time I really mean it!”
Teshuva, in order to be effective, is something that we must truly mean. We may get upset with ourselves and regret certain behavior, but change does not come easily. This phenomenon is different from the one cited by the rabbis in the Mishnah when they say, “One who says, ‘I will sin and repent, sin and repent’ – is not forgiven for his sins.” (Yoma 8:9) This case in the Mishnah involves abuse of the process, knowing full well at the outset that you plan on going back on your word. What I am speaking of is something different. It is the case when a person is sincere, wants to change, but somehow finds him/herself slipping back into the same patterns of behavior. To do Teshuva successfully requires hope and trust in ourselves that we can do it, that we can behave differently. That is what the rabbis meant when they said: “Let no person say, ‘I have sinned and there is no hope for me,’ but let him put his confidence in the Holy One, who is blessed, and he will be received.” Having hope and great faith in our potential is a psychological necessity for Teshuva. Too often we sell ourselves short thinking that we are not truly capable of change. The Levi Yitzchak story reminds us that if we truly mean it we are halfway there. Sure, there will be moments of weakness but we should never lose faith in the power that we have to transform our lives.
May we find strength in this notion of Teshuva and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy and healthy New Year! Adina, Yochai, Shai, Hadar and I wish all of you a Shanna Tova!