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It's Time for a Plan

“Let the wicked abandon their way, and the person of iniquity their thoughts and return to God. God will have mercy upon him for God is great in forgiveness...”

Maimonides, in his laws of repentance, identifies a five step process through which we can change. It is based upon the above verse and imagines a means by which people can free themselves from the scripts and damaging behavior of their past and current selves. It is hopeful, that we can become different and better, more aligned with goodness.

Step 1: Realize that you have done wrong. This seems obvious, but we cannot abandon our way until we see that we are on the wrong path. Yom Kippur, with its quality of stillness and attention, is one way to open our eyes and realize our error. Perhaps I have been speaking ill of people and didnʼt even realize that I was inadvertently spreading rumors and diminishing myself. So first I have to realize what I am doing and that it is wrong.

Step 2: Regret. Guilt is not a Jewish emotion. Guilt implies that I feel bad, but I am not going to do anything about it. Regret, by contrast, is a productive emotion. I realize that my language is hurting people, I feel bad about that, and I want to change.

Step 3: Confession. In order to change our bad direction, we have to admit out loud what we have done wrong. There is no need for another person to hear it. Rather, the act of verbalizing is a means by which I admit truly that it was wrong and that I regret it. I have now begun to act upon my regret, to bring into the real world my desire to return.

Step 4: Create a plan. There are a variety of cues and social settings that may inspire my problematic behavior. Maimonides here was generations ahead of his time. Modern research emphasizes the importance of visualization, of imagination, for change. I have to plan how I will react the next time I am tempted to speak ill of another, how I will respond when someone invites that reaction from me. Without a firm plan, itʼs much less likely that I will follow my new path when I am confronted by my old temptations.

Step 5: Change. I must realize that Teshuvah means I have the power to determine what I do next. I am filled with temptations and thoughts that lead me after the “lusting of my eyes.” But I am separate from my temptations and I can choose to be other. With my new plan in hand, I now have to become different, a person who now, given those same social cues and temptations, will no longer set out on the old path.

As we prepare for the holidays, I offer this five step plan to begin imagining what plan and effort you will bring into the holidays this year. For with an effort of the heart, we will exit the holidays filled with joy, for we will be one step closer to our Creator and what Martin Luther King calls “the beloved community,” a community that nurtures and cares for its members in love.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Booth

Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784