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Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch: A Time to Change Your Routine

by Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, July 31, 2013

As the Jewish year comes to a close, I want to wish you a very happy and healthy New Year. May you all be inscribed in the book of good life.

One of the themes we are encouraged to explore during Rosh Hashanah is self-renewal. We all enter the New Year with a long list of the things we would like to change about ourselves. The High Holiday period is a time of introspection, which means that we must be doing some heavy-duty soul searching so that we can improve. The bottom line is that when the High Holidays are over, there should be a new and improved you.

This principle is the cornerstone of Teshuvah (repentance). Maimonides said the following about a Baal Teshuvah (repentant individual):“It is the way of a repentant individual to constantly cry out before G-d with heartfelt supplication. They should also give charity according to their means and distance themselves as far as they can from the sin they transgressed. They should also change their name and declare ‘I am a new person’ not the person that committed those sins.” (Maimonides Laws of repentance 2:4).

Maimonides puts it so beautifully and succinctly: repentance is about becoming a new person. Our Rabbis make a further connection to this theme regarding the timing of Rosh Hashanah. It is the only holiday that takes place at the beginning of the Jewish month. All other holidays take place closer to the middle of the month. During the other holidays the moon is full or close to full, while on Rosh Hashanah the moon is just appearing. It is in its cycle of renewal, with just a sliver appearing. This, explains our Rabbis, is to teach us that just as the moon renews itself so too must we renew ourselves as the New Year begins.

Yet if we know this to be true, if we all come into the holidays with all of our resolutions of how we want to change for the better, why is it that very little changes?

How many of us can really say year in year out that we are in a new place, that we have changed, that we are better this year than we were last year? Do we really set more time aside to study Torah, is the quality of our prayers any better, do we give more charity, do we get angry less or speak less Lashon Hara, do we fight with our spouse any less, have we really made a dent in our busy schedules so that we really are spending more time with our families and less at the office?

The real question during the High Holidays is not what do I want to change, but why is it that I have such a hard time changing? Why is it that year in year out I come with a long list of resolutions and yet can’t even manage to make a dent in most of them?

I would like to offer two suggestions. The first is our inability to step out of our routine. We all love our routines and we get so fixed into them that making changes, even if they are for the better, are hard to do. Real change in our lives comes when we are willing to step out of the routines we have created.

The second is hard work and dedication. A bad habit that took decades to create is not going to disappear overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to improve. Most people simply give up. Think about dieting. It requires discipline, effort, and perseverance. Changing yourself for the better is no different. 

At the end of the day, change is what the High Holidays is all about. If at the conclusion of the High Holidays the only thing we can talk about is the eloquence of the Rabbi’s sermon, the pitch of the cantor’s voice, or the fluidity of the Shofar blasts, we have missed the main point of the holidays. The main point is change and for that we need hard work.

A story is told about the revered sage Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, who was known as an extremely pious individual. During the High Holidays he would say, “Many people prepare themselves for repentance during the Ten Day of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The more scrupulous begin at the start of the month of Elul. I say, however, that one must begin to repent immediately after Neilah the preceding Yom Kippur”.  When it comes to self-improvement, there are no shortcuts, just dedication, hard work, and the ability to go against the flow when necessary. This year let our list of resolutions not go unattended.

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