05 Sep NITZAVIM: CHANGE
The Rambam describes
the various steps of
teshuvah: “What is
teshuvah? One must
leave sin… and sincerely
decide that he won’t do
this sin again… He must
regret … and say
The first step of
teshuvah, stated in this
Rambam, is to “leave
the sin.” It isn’t
sufficient to regret
your wrong deeds and
to say that you will
improve. Teshuvah is
to change; to stop
sinning, and to do the mitzvos that you were
neglecting until then.
Some people don’t realize that. They think
it’s sufficient regret their sins. They cry on
Yom Kippur, “I sinned. I did wrong,” and
they think that’s enough. But it isn’t sufficient.
If he doesn’t translate his remorse into
improved actions, an essential aspect of
teshuvah is lacking.
The Rambam also writes: “What is considered
teshuvah gemurah (complete teshuvah)?
When one encounters the sin he had
transgressed in the past once again, [he has
the opportunity to sin again] and he refrains
and doesn’t commit the sin because of his
teshuvah (and not out of fear, or because he
doesn’t have strength)…” (Hilchos Teshuvah
2:1). Once again, the Rambam is stating that
a primary aspect of teshuvah is improving.
Teshuvah gemurah, complete teshuvah, is
when one doesn’t repeat his past sins.
We can compare this to a person who owns a
construction supplies store. Along one wall
of the store are the bricks; another section
carries lumber. He also supplies mortar, and
other equipment. The store however, wasn’t a
good investment; it was constantly losing
money, so he decided to sell pharmaceuticals
instead. But a decision isn’t sufficient. He
must translate that decision into action. He
must take out all the bricks, plywood, and
building materials, and replace them with
shelves stacked with medicines. He also
needs to change the sign on the store.
Deciding to change, without doing anything,
isn’t sufficient. The same is with teshuvah.
Deciding to change one’s ways certainly is
the first step, but it can’t end with just a
A fool, on the way to Warsaw, accidentally
boarded the train traveling in the opposite
direction. Someone asked him, “Where are
you traveling to?”
“You’re on the wrong train. You’ll never
reach Warsaw on this train. It’s going the
“Thank you so much for telling me,” the fool
said. “I didn’t realize.” He then promptly
took a seat facing the opposite direction.
We laugh when we read this story, but are we
any different when it comes to teshuvah?
When we realize that we’re going in the
wrong direction in life, do we change our
ways? Or do we just imagine how good it
would be if we could change our ways, and
ultimately remain the same.
The Chofetz Chaim told the following
A contagious, fatal disease was spreading
through a small town. When one of the
residents discovered that he caught the
disease, he immediately packed his bags and
hired a wagon driver to bring him to the
nearby city where there was a doctor and a
hospital that could cure him.
A neighbor asked him, “Why are you leaving
town? You know that you aren’t the only
person who caught the dreaded disease.
Many people are ill in this town, but they just
remain in their beds, in their homes. So why
must you be different?” The ill person
replied, “I don’t care what the others do. My
life is in danger, and I have to save myself…”
Likewise, the Chofetz Chaim said, when
someone is clearly aware that the days of
judgment are approaching, and he needs to
do teshuvah to be saved, the yetzer hara
comes to him and says, “You are not the only
person who will be standing in judgment on
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The entire
world stands in judgment. But we don’t see
them changing their ways. They are
complacent, happy to remain as they were
until now. Why can’t you be like them? Why
must you be different?” He should tell the
yetzer hara, “I don’t care what the others do.
There’s going to be a great judgment, my life
is at stake, and I have to repent and improve,
to save myself.”