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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Repentance & Renewal

Change is never easy. Today is Asarah B'Teves, or the 10th day in the month of Teves in the Jewish calendar. For an interesting explanation of what it's about, see the Orthodox Union's website or some other good source. I found some of the explanations quoted interesting:

'The essential significance of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, as well as that of the other fast days, is not primarily the grief and mourning which they evoke. Their aim is rather to awaken the hearts towards repentance; to recall to us, both the evil deeds of our fathers, and our own evil deeds, which caused anguish to befall both them and us and thereby to cause us to return towards the good. As it is said (Vayikra 26): 'And they shall confess their transgressions and the transgressions of their fathers.' (Rambam: Hilchot Ta'anit Chapter 5).

'The aim of fasting, therefore, is to subjugate our evil inclination by restriction of pleasure; to open our hearts and stir us to repentance and good deeds through which the gates of Divine mercy might be opened for us.' (Chayei Adam; Klal 33)

'Therefore, each person is obligated to examine his deeds and to repent during these days. As it is written of the people of Nineveh: 'And the Lord saw their actions' (Yonah 3), upon which the Rabbis say: 'It is not said, He saw their sackcloth and fasting, but rather their actions ' (Ta'anit 22). We see hence that the purpose of fasting is repentance.' (same as above)

Get the theme? Well, this obviously is never easy. As much as we recognize our faults, we minimize them in our own eyes - partially by necessity, so we don't drive ourselves crazy. Even when we do recognize what is wrong with our actions, or lack thereof, it is difficult to change even one characteristic in order to improve ourselves. Change and repentance are so difficult - it is so much easier to come up with ways around our problems to avoid having to face them, when possible; and when it's not possible, make excuses and rationalizations why we should not change our habits.

Perhaps we fast to remind us of the need to repent; perhaps to remind us that at God's whim, we could be starving against our will - who knows. But no matter what the motivation is, we do fast, and we are pained, even if it is the shortest fast of the year. May we all learn from this Asarah B'Teves and work on ourselves to the extent that we are able to change for the better - even if it is just one small change.

One of my favorite quotes is from R' Yisroel Salanter. The second half of the quote is applicable to this post:
"I wanted to change the world, but I realized it was too large of a task for one person, so I tried to change my community. That was also too hard, so I tried to change my family. That was also too hard, so I decided to try and change myself. And though it was very hard, I finally changed myself. And once I changed myself, I discovered my family changed, the community changed, and the entire world changed."
Let's change the world. I'll start with me.

Have an inspiring Asarah B'Teves and easy fast.

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