UI 070: Brutally Honest Introspections, Criticisms, and Change

breakthrough-460889_640Are you brutally honest with yourself?

Do you maybe sugar coat your short comings or down play some of your transgressions?

If you are a little like me then you too are a master at deceit and misdirection.

What do I mean by that?

It’s coming up on what are referred to as the “High Holy Days.  Rosh Hashanah (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles… longer explanation needed I’m sure.)  During this time, it is customary for religious Jews to get very introspective and do all they can to repent and return to a holy life.  Hence the impetus for my questions and statement.

For me, this is the hardest time of year.  Not because of missed work and income.  Not because of the time spent in synagogue.  No it’s the time spent in my head.  It’s the introspection.

It is like I get by every year for 9 months fooling myself that I’m doing pretty good and I should feel okay about my life.  And then this time hits.

Every year now at this time I tend to get extremely depressed.

Why?  Because it become abundantly clear to me how I have disappointed God.

Some may think one can’t disappoint God.  I don’t hold that belief at all.  And there is nothing in the Torah that implies anything otherwise.  Over and over again God is frustrated and annoyed by His people.  Even the story of the very first human family was a disappointment.  As the creation with freewill, we alone have the opportunity to either behave in accordance with God’s will or not.  It is totally on us.

And for me, when I look at my life I can find many faults and transgressions.  During the other nine months of the year I defend myself or rationalize my transgressions.  But now, I just feel guilty and unworthy of His forgiveness.

So what do I do about it?

Well obviously one of the things I do is get real with myself and try to express in some way… usually I write.  Now that I’m podcasting and blogging I suppose you get to share in my catharsis as well this year.

The other thing I am learning to do came from Reb Nachman of Bretslov.  Here are some of Reb Nachman’s essential teaching’s on repentance and returning to God from Azamra.com (translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum):


There is a way that everything can be turned into good.

Alim LiTerufah 113

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God’s greatness is unfathomable: that is why Teshuvah has such power. No matter how far you may have fallen – be it to the lowest depths – never despair, because you can always return to God. With just a little effort you can turn even your worst sins into merits. No matter where in the world you fall, you can easily come back to God. This is because of His unfathomable greatness. Nothing is beyond His power. Just never give up! Keep crying out, praying and pleading to God at all times.

Sichot Haran #3

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Sometimes a sin can make a person so bitter that he repents completely.

Likutey Halachot, Birkat HaReiach 4:2

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Stop then and there!

You may be in some place when suddenly you have a thought of Teshuvah and a deep longing for God. Stop then and there in that very place and take a moment to focus on the thought and the feeling of longing. Turn them into a prayer. Put your longing into words straight from your heart. Don’t wait or move on, even if you are not in your usual place of prayer and study – even if you are going on your way – because if you move on, it could interrupt your train of thought.

Likutey Moharan II, 124

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The Path of Teshuvah

Every person must minimize his own glory and maximize God’s glory. For one who pursues glory attains not God’s glory but only the glory of kings, of which it is said: “The glory of kings is subject to investigation” (Proverbs 25:2) . For then everyone investigates who he really is, asking: “Who is he and what is he to be given such honor?” People challenge him, saying he is not fit for this honor.

But when a person flees from honor, minimizing his own honor and maximizing the glory of God, he attains the glory of God. No-one then investigates to see if he deserves it, for “The glory of God is to hide the matter” ( ibid. ) – it is forbidden to question his honor.

The only way to attain God’s glory is through repentance. And the true sign of a person who has returned to God is the ability to hear himself insulted and remain silent. He endures even the most murderous abuse with patience, thereby reducing the blood in the left side of his heart (seat of the animal soul) and annihilating his evil inclination. Such a person is worthy of a share in God’s glory.

Before a person returns to God, he has no being. It is as if he has not yet been created, because it would have been better for him not to have been created at all. But when he purifies himself in order to return to God, he puts himself in order and prepares to become a being. This element of preparation for becoming – coming into being, as it were – explains why the Divine Name associated with repentance is Ehyeh , “I shall be”.

When a person wants to purify himself and return to God, they tell him “Wait!” ( Yoma 38b-39a) . It is true that he should hurry to free his soul and escape the darkness. But he should not allow himself to become discouraged and dejected if he sees that he is far from true prayer and other holy devotions. Waiting patiently is a necessary part of the process. In the end he will be worthy of making amends completely and everything will be rectified.

Repentance never comes to an end: it must be continuous. Even at the very moment that a person is confessing , it is impossible for him to say the words , “I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have rebelled.” with perfect sincerity free of all extraneous motives. Thus he must repent for his earlier repentance and for the flaw in his previous confession.

Even when a person knows that he has repented completely, he must still make amends for his earlier repentance. For what he achieved then was good only in proportion to his perception of Godliness at the time. Now, after his repentance, his perception has undoubtedly been heightened. Compared with his present perception, his earlier perception turns out to have been grossly materialistic. He must therefore repent for his earlier levels – because he degraded the true exaltedness of the Creator to the level of the material. Happy is the man who achieves true Teshuvah.

Teshuvah has three aspects: seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears and understanding in the heart (cf. Isaiah 6:10 ) . A person must use his eyes to look towards the ultimate goal and purpose of this world. He must concentrate on this goal with all his heart, resolving to travel there and nowhere else. And he must use his ears to listen carefully to everything that our holy sages said. Then he will be able to return to God.

Teshuvah essentially depends on humility. One must make oneself into nothing, like a wasteland over which people trample: one must pay no attention whatsoever to opposition or abuse from others. One should train oneself to be silent and hear oneself insulted without answering back. Such a person is worthy of the name “wise” and will attain perfect Teshuvah, the “Crown” and summit of the Sefirot. This is the way to true and enduring glory – the glory of God.

Likutey Moharan I , 6

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Be totally honest when you speak to God. Accustom yourself to talking so honestly that your heart is aroused and the words start pouring forth with fire and passion.

As you draw closer to God you will see your own smallness and insignificance in comparison with His greatness, and you will be filled with humility. Until now you cast your sins behind your back and ignored them. But as you start to acknowledge them frankly, you will feel deep shame at having rebelled against the Master and Ruler of the Universe, Source of all the worlds.

At first this humility will not actually be discernible on your face, because sin weakens a person’s mental powers, preventing them from radiating on the face. Before repenting , his mind is so weakened that he has no conception of the true gravity of sin and the greatness of the One he sinned against. But as he returns to God and puts aside his folly, gaining wisdom and understanding, his shame becomes increasingly visible on his face.

The Tefilin are the sign of humility and attachment to God. The light of the Tefilin is a ray of the light of God’s inner countenance. When a person achieves this humility, all his sins are forgiven and he becomes attached to the Tree of Life.

Likutey Moharan I, 38

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God hides in the obstacle

When after a life devoted to worldliness a person feels an arousal to God, the attribute of Judgment rises to accuse him and does not permit him to follow God’s ways. It does this by confronting him with an obstacle. But God loves kindness and hides Himself within the very obstacle itself. One who lacks good sense sees the obstacle and retreats at once. But one who possesses good sense examines the obstacle and discovers God within it.

Likutey Moharan I, 115

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Revisiting the past

To come to complete Teshuvah you must pass through all the places where you were prior to your Teshuvah. When you encounter exactly the same temptations as you experienced before, you must avert your eyes and control your impulses in order not to repeat what you did earlier. This is the essence of perfect Teshuvah: there is no other way.

Likutey Moharan II, 49

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* * *

And here are the original Twelve Steps I mentioned:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It is important to appreciate what Rosh Hashanah is all about:  It is about God giving us an opportunity to CHANGE!  We need to truly own that the biggest problems in our lives comes from ourselves.  When G.K. Chesterton was asked “What’s wrong with the world”, he answered “ME.”   Rosh Hashanah (head of the year) is an opportune time to Rosh Shinui  (change the head) (Shinui same root as Shanah “year” and Rosh means “Head”.)  It works if you work it.

Here’s a link to a played you might like.  

L’Shanah Tovah


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