What can I do to change myself permanently through the repentance process?
Avrohom Yitzchok asked:1 I find myself in much the same state each year before Rosh HaShono. I don't know what was wrong with my attempt at teshuva but the outcome was that despite my best intentions I have not accomplished all the change that I hoped for last year. What can allow me to make a more permanent change this year as a result of the repentance process?
Epicentre said: What do you mean by permanent? I learnt once from Habad that life is like going up a down escalator -- if you stand still you go down. There is a constant struggle to improve the spiritual level and conquer the evil inclination (yetzer hara).
pzkd offerred: In order for change to be permanent, it has to go through a process. Anything that changes overnight can revert overnight. The process of changing oneself has two parts:
Understanding the problem
When we understand why some midah (trait) is bad it allows us to start the process of changing oneself (knowing the illness is half the cure). It's not good enough to understand the problem; rather we need to emotionally "understand" why the midah is not appropriate.
Turning the problem into a solution
Fixing the problem is an intense process, but if done right will be successful.
First, we need to know about ourselves.
After we know what makes us tick and what motivates us, we then need to create a plan of action.
First we need to address the "action" (ma'aseh) of the midah. By controlling the action we start to see results. This needs to be done with wisdom by figuring out how to channel the bad midah, if possible.
Then we work on the speech and thought part of the midah - we need to understand why we feel this way etc.
As an example, let's assume I have an anger problem. The way to fixing this is first to understand why it's a problem. For example: it affects my social life; it is not healthy; it doesn't allow me to be productive.
Now that I know why it's bad, I need to figure out a way to control its "action." For example: I may do exercise, or scream inside an empty room to let out the anger in a healthy/appropriate way.
Next I work on the "speech" part of it. For example: I may sing a song loudly to let out the anger. Notice how at this point the singing helps me (and most of the time I don't need to scream).
Finally I work on the "thought" aspect; I start appreciating how there is no need to get angry in the first place. For example: I realize that Hashem is in control of my life, so if something goes wrong it's for the best.
Michael Sandler answered: Your question is understandably short on detail, so it's possible my particular answer will not be wholly relevant to you. I am all too familiar with the phenomenon you describe.
דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה
Derech Eretz precedes the Torah
The source of this well-known saying is not as obvious as the frequency it is quoted would suggest.2 It is variously applied to manners, livelihood, and even marital intimacy, but the sense in which I take it is the one which I was taught -- that living life according to the way of the world is a prerequisite to living life according to the Torah.
This does not mean that when normal social practice clashes with a Torah lifestyle you favour "the done thing". It goes without saying that mitzvot must be upheld in opposition to the entire world if it comes to that. Rather, the wisdom of the world is a foundation to the sublime and infinite wisdom of the Torah. You've got to master day-to-day normal living before you can master living according to the Torah.
This idea can be applied to behaviour which we just can't seem to eradicate from our life no matter how much teshuvah we do, mussar (ethics) we learn, or prayers we pour out. I'm talking about stuff which we know that the Torah forbids, and which we intellectually don't want to do, but are somehow driven to do anyway. The Torah approach just doesn't seem to get any traction, like a car stuck in mud. You're giving a huge amount of effort and attention to the problem, pedal to the metal, you can feel energy and sincerity pouring out of you, and yet you're getting nowhere, always slipping back to where you were. It can lead to despair.
The wisdom of the world is intimately familiar with this problem. It's not a Torah issue at all. It applies to people across the world and throughout the ages. They call it addiction.
Yes, I just called you an addict. I hope you will not take offense because I mean none. I am well aware, as I said at the start, that I know nothing about you or your circumstances. All I have to work with is your complaint about not being able to change your life. That certainly doesn't classify you as an addict, but it is a defining characteristic of people who admitted they were "powerless." The insult offered if it doesn't apply to you is outweighed by the benefit if it does.
In my opinion (and the opinion of observant Jews who have been forced to acknowledge and address their problems in this light), the Torah approach simply will not work for an addict. They have a problem fundamental to being human which requires correction through mundane means. Only then will the Torah "work" for them. This is a radical and controversial idea which most Jews do not feel the need to entertain except in desperation.
At the risk of being flippant, addiction is (to a degree) a "solved problem." The 12 Steps,3 when applied properly and fully, allow an addict to change his behaviour where nothing else has worked. Anyone interested in self-improvement and growth, whether they have an addiction or not, will find food for thought in the writings of Rabbi Abraham Twerski. If you determine that you are or might be an addict, explore the numerous Jewish addiction resources around the world. Relief is out there.
In closing, I acknowledge again how presumptuous of me it is to extrapolate from such slim data. Please take my words in the spirit that they are meant.
- Original question: mi.yodeya.com/q/18650
Avrohom Yitzchok mi.yodeya.com/u/730
Michael Sandler mi.yodeya.com/u/641