Honest with Ourselves
Many of us know in our brains that something is forbidden, yet our hearts still desire the forbidden fruit. These are the types of things that we must clarify to ourselves...
by Rabbi Shalom Arush
King David pleaded with Hashem and said, "Hear, O G-d, my voice in my prayer; from the fear of the enemy, preserve my life," (Psalm 64:2). A person must fear his spiritual enemies - the evil inclination and the forces of the dark side - who desire to crush a person at any given moment. We all must seek Hashem's protection for no one is capable of prevailing over them on his own.
When we're walking in the street, we should feel like we're in the midst of enemy territory and that a cruel foe lies in ambush. We must feel like cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, the internet, gossip, sadness and depression are powerful land mines with sensitive trigger mechanisms that we don't want to detonate; therefore, we should stay far away from them, for they are liable to pierce and scar our souls, Heaven forbid. The more we regard these dangers as our enemies, the closer we get to Hashem.
King Solomon said, "Happy is the individual who fears constantly, and he who hardens his heart will fall to evil" (Proverbs 28:14). A person must be both cautious and apprehensive in the face of spiritual dangers, sharing these fears with Hashem. "Hashem, You know how susceptible I am in this particular situation; please help me!" But a person who ignores or denies the dangers will certainly be ensnared by them.
Many of us know in our brains that something is forbidden or detrimental, yet our hearts still desire the forbidden fruit. These are the types of things that we must clarify to ourselves, sharing them with Hashem in total honesty.
Over the years, I've seen many people forsake the path of teshuva because they thought they were fooling themselves. They did wrong, but they had no remorse and no intention to stop the bad behavior. They'd say to themselves, "So why even try and fool Hashem? Let's just scrap the whole teshuva deal and at least stop lying to Hashem!"
We must assess ourselves and get to know ourselves; and, if we're having difficulty in doing so, we must beg Hashem to help us see ourselves in a truthful, non-fantasy light. Also, in order to make teshuva, one must learn what's forbidden and what's permissible.
Suppose a person repeatedly fails to guard his eyes; here is how he should approach teshuva: first, ask yourself where you are spiritually, and what your desires really are. Do you want to guard your eyes? Are you aware of the damages a person does to himself by not guarding his eyes? Some people know that they can't control themselves, but they say to Hashem, "I'm sorry for looking at an immodest woman yesterday, Hashem. I apologize and I resolve not to do such a thing again!"
Hashem answers, "Sorry, My son, but your teshuva is counterfeit."
Let's help the young man in the above example speak to Hashem genuinely: "Hashem, I want to confess to You that I have not been guarding my eyes. Ever since I remember, I've been looking at women and desiring them. Just yesterday, I couldn't resist temptation, maybe dozens of times. Once or twice I tried to look away, but I just feel compelled to look all the time. I'm sorry, Hashem, but this is where I am. I really need Your help, for I feel like a prisoner..." This is the time of candid confession that's a breath of fresh air.
Here's the right type of apology to Hashem: "Hashem, please forgive me for all the forbidden sights I've seen my whole life. I beg Your forgiveness for never having even tried to guard my eyes. I never did anything to try and rid myself of lust. I've so entrenched in this spiritual swamp that I don't believe I can ever escape. Hashem, forgive me for never previously asking Your forgiveness."
Remorse should be along these lines: one should first assess the damages he did to himself by this particular transgression. Remorse has several levels of intrinsic value, as follows:
Highest level - one understands that his actions brought sorrow to Hashem and he therefore deeply regrets each every sin commited.
Intermediate level - one understands that his actions weakened his holiness, his emuna, his praying and his connection with Hashem.
Lower level, but still laudable - one understands that his actions were detrimental to his income, his marital peace or his finding a soulmate; he feels as if he lost a million dollars.
In any event, one should have remorse that he didn't serve Hashem properly. And if he doesn't feel remorse, he shouldn't lie to Hashem and say that he has remorse!
A resolution to improve is also meaningless unless a person has full intention to do his utmost in improving, including extensive daily personal prayer seeking Hashem's help in the matter. He must have the desire to overcome; once he does, he needs Hashem's help in actually overcoming the evil inclination and its temptations so that he won't transgress further.
In summary, our teshuva – Stopping the bad behavior, Confessing, Apologizing, and Resolving to do better (Initials = SCAR, for this is the real scar treatment for the soul) must come from a place of truth. We must be persistent in praying and in seeking Hashem's help. With all the above in mind, we're now prepared to speak to Hashem from the depths of our heart. When we know that our lives for posterity are at stake, we can really cry out to Hashem and plead for His help.
Rabbi Shalom Arush is an Israeli Breslov rabbi and founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions. He spreads the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov among Sephardic and Ashkenazic baalei teshuva around the world through his books and speaking appearances. Rabbi Arush is considered one of today's leading Hasidic spiritual guides, inspiring hundreds of thousands through his books, audio CDs and online presence.