The Gemora in Masechtas Menachos teaches us that this world was created with the letter ‘Hei,’ as the verse states, “Eila toldos shamayim v’aretz b’hibarom – These are the accountings of heaven and earth when they were created.” The word b’hibarom can also be read, “b’Hei barom,” which gives us a rendering of the verse, “With the letter Hei, the heaven and earth were created.” The Gemora explains that the ‘Hei’ is open at the bottom to signify that if we lead a life of sin, we will plummet – G-d forbid – to the abyss. The opening at the left side of the ‘Hei’ represents a special entranceway for those who do tshuva, repentance, to reenter. Thus we see the letter that made creation possible has, as one of its main components, the mission of tshuva.
While tshuva is important throughout the year, at no time is it as urgent and as effective as during the Ten Days of Repentance – for at that time, Hashem stretches out His hand, welcoming our overtures of repentance. It is this that the posuk attests when it says, “Dirshu Hashem b’hi matza’oh – Seek out Hashem when He can be found,” which refers to the Ten Days of Repentance.
But, when one seriously initiates a campaign to do tshuva, he is overwhelmed by where to start. Should he work on gossip? On anger? On business ethics? Or should he turn his attention to prayer, learning the many words that he doesn’t understand, working on his concentration and focus to better his talking to G-d? Should he perhaps concentrate on finding time to learn, or spending more time honoring his parents? Should he work on charity and acts of kindness? Perhaps he should hone his skills at displaying more sensitivity in his inter-personal relationships. Or maybe one should put full focus on bettering his or her marriage. Whew! The list goes on and on and we can almost hear the Yeitzer Hora sarcastically saying in the background, “Forget it! You’re a lost cause!”
Of course, while all of the above are ripe fields for self-improvement, it is foolhardy to try to improve everything at once. So, where do we begin? Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, in his inspiring sefer on Elul, quotes and interesting Gemora in Masechtas Menachos [43b]. The Gemora teaches us, “Kasha onshon shel tzitzis yoser mei’onshon shel t’cheles – The penalty for not wearing white tzitzis is more severe than the sin of leaving out the blue thread.” The fundamental theme of this Gemora is that, since the white thread was easier to procure, the sin of not having it is more serious for the easier the mitzvah the greater is the sin for its omission. Thus we see, contrary to what we might think, when one embarks upon a campaign of tshuva, he should start correcting the easy mitzvahs first – for the neglect of these mitzvahs are the most sinful in the eyes of Hashem. There is another strong reason to start first with the easier aveiros. We are most likely to succeed, which will give us a strong incentive to continue our campaign of self-improvement.
Yet another important guideline on where to start our tshuva curriculum is to consider the Talmudic dictum of “aveira goreres aveira,” the vicious cycle that the doing of one sin leads to further sins. An example of this is if someone sins by yelling at his wife Friday afternoon, Hashem might tempt him with sin during Maariv on Friday night by having someone come over to him to talk. Indeed, many times when we find ourselves facing strong temptation, the reason we were put in such a predicament in the first place is because we sinned earlier in the day.
Thus, the serious Baal Tshuva, penitent, bearing this in mind, will pay special attention to his or her behavior at the very beginning of the day. For example, do we say Modeh Ani in the morning as soon as we wake up? This is a relatively easy thing to do – so its omission is particularly punishable as explained above. Furthermore, if we start off the day on the wrong foot, this right away initiates the nasty snowball effect of “aveira goreres aveira” which can have ugly repercussions throughout the day. This line of reasoning holds equally true for the proper washing of our hands in the morning, how we greet our spouse upon awakening, and how we say our brochos at the breakfast table, etc.
So let’s bear in mind these important rules. Start with the easy stuff at the beginning of the day! This formula will prove very rewarding and can greatly improve and enhance the quality of our lives and the substance of our spirituality.
In this merit, may we be blessed with a G’mar Chasima Tova u’Masuka – a Final Seal of Good Health and Sweetness for the New Year.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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