A New Year’s Resolution

For the last few weeks, we’ve witnessed img_2764a recurring theme in the weekly readings. From Nitzavim[1] and Vayalech[2] to Haazinu[3], we’re being encouraged to make short resolution to our sin, both individually and corporately. This indicates G-d understands we will succumb repeated
ly to our selfish inclination; still, we must have the heart to abandon our sin and return to our Creator.

When we sin, especially in private, who witnesses against us? G-d, of course, is the true witness and judge, but Deuteronomy gives many witnesses who are called to stand guard and safeguard over us:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you [collectively] today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess[4].

In the future, when many evils and troubles come upon [you], this song shall testify before [you] as a witness[5].

Take this book of Torah, and put it by the side of the Aron of the covenant of Hashem your God, that it may be there for a witness against you[6].

Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to witness against them[7].

Heaven and earth are mentioned more than once in Torah as witnesses. Why? The answer is found in the first verse of Torah:

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

Elohim, the aspect of G-d’s din or judgment, is seen here in direct reference to the creation of the heavens and the earth. Therefore, from the dawn of time, when G-d wound and released the clock, Elohim [G-d] created two judges to watch over His people – and watch they have. These witnesses are both advocate for and prosecutor against us. These two witnesses were created because on the evidence of two or three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness[8].

In John, Messiah was clear that even the witness of Himself was invalid toward the determination of truth: If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true[9].

Therefore, two or more witnesses are required in all capitol cases and most other types of cases, therefore two witnesses are created in Genesis 1:1. Additionally, of these witnesses, Torah reminds us that the hand of the witnesses shall be first against him[10].

In the tochachot[11] in Deuteronomy 28:21-23, we saw the hand of the earth and the heavens were indeed first against us: Hashem will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land you are entering to possess. Hashem will strike you with wasting disease, fever, inflammation, fiery heat, drought, blight, and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. The heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under your feet shall be iron. Thereafter, G-d’s gavel fell and He evicted us from the Holy Land.

There is a way to avoid having Earth and the Heavens witness against us. It’s called teshuvah. Often translated repentance, it means to turn. However, there are many steps in the process of teshuvah. Maimonides gives four important steps in His magnum opus, Mishneh Torah:

  1. Verbally confess your mistake and ask for forgiveness[12].
  2. Express sincere remorse and resolve to never make the same mistake again[13]. [Interestingly, this becomes a vow and another opportunity to sin if the vow is met with failure.]
  3. Do everything in your power to right the wrong, to pay restitution, to appease those who have been hurt[14].
  4. Act differently if the same situation happens again[15]. How is one to tell whether contrition is genuine? R’Judah said: When the Person has an opportunity to commit the same sin again and he refrains from committing it[16].

How often have we asked for forgiveness yet fall back into the same error and eventually give up? If we’re honest with ourselves, we can name numerous times.

New Year’s Resolutions are a popular pastime in the USA. Usually, they involve things like, “I’m not going to eat any more fried foods,” “I‘m going to quit smoking,” or “I will lose 65 pounds.” While all these intents are well and good, they are a setup to fail, success-failure option, and this all-or-nothing ideal makes resolutions a setup to fail. Instead, I would like to suggest something else. Choose your most grievous sin [or two], but choose one that causes you remorse and embarrassment. Ask Hashem’s help to conquer the sin, and resolve to slow your response to whatever triggers affect your propensity to succumb to the sin’s force. Allow yourself time to grow into teshuvah instead of expecting instant success. The man who prays for patience will be given opportunity to exercise that muscle, and at the end of many hard years of trial and error [of success and failure], his companions soon will be amazed at the level of his patience.

For those with the time and the inclination, here’s a good video that describes the process of asking for forgiveness as a tikkun for the one who sinned, whether his request for forgiveness is granted or ignored. Never claim you cannot change; this is the whole purpose of teshuvah[17] and vidui[18] is to change you into a new person.



Sent from my iPad Air 2

[1] Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20

[2] Deuteronomy 31:1-30

[3] Deuteronomy 32:1-52

[4] Deuteronomy 4:26

[5] Deuteronomy 31:21

[6] Deuteronomy 31:26

[7] Deuteronomy 31:28

[8] Deuteronomy 17:6

[9] John 5:31

[10] Deuteronomy 17:7

[11] curses

[12] Hilchos Teshuvah 1:1

[13] Hilchos Teshuvah 2:2

[14] Hilchos Teshuvah 2:9

[15] Hilchos Teshuvah 2:1

[16] b.Yoma 86b

[17] turning

[18] confession



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