Take Control

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

The great Rebbe, Reb Zusha of Anipoli, upon observing one of his disciples tearfully inspired towards repentance, felt suddenly inadequate as he had yet to repent and emote similar fervor. In anguish he turned his eyes towards heaven expressing, “Oy Gutt, teshuva is such an elevated goal, yet it is so difficult to attain, please Hashem, let me at least offer to You at least each letter of this noble word תשובה.”

תמים תהיה … (יג), You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d 

שויתי ד… (טז ח, I have set Hashem before me; always because He is at my right hand

ואהבת לרעך … (יח), You shall love your fellow as yourself

בכל דרכיך … (, Know Him in all your ways

והצנע לכת … (, And to walk discretely with your G-d

Reb Zusha in his inimitable warmth and wisdom offers us a path towards that great challenge of achieving teshuva, by intimating that if we strive to obtain an element, a mere letter of this marvelous quest, we may yet acquire a full return.

Each of these goals outlined within these five verses impact directly on our ability to begin the path towards repenting fully for our sins.

Most often we simply lapse in our consciousness of His presence in our life, carelessly succumbing to instinct. Setting Hashem as an ever-present reality will certainly give us pause before we sin. I have set Hashem before me; always because He is at my right hand.

The duty to love our fellow as ourselves is critical in our fully returning to Hashem since unless we rectify our having been deficient in our responsibilities to our fellow man, we are prevented from standing fully ‘before Hashem’. You shall love your fellow as yourself.

Another major facet in achieving teshuva is in acknowledging that every action we take, and each encounter we have, must be defined by His will. We must take inventory of all that we do and measuring honestly how well we have fulfilled our dues. Know Him in all your ways.

Too often, our ego interferes with our ability to perform properly. It isn’t only when our egos drive us toward inappropriate ambitions and expectations that lead us to sin. Our egotistic attitudes also don’t permit us to accept failure, one of the most important requisites for teshuva. If we can’t be honest that we’ve failed, we certainly can’t correct the error. Often, our deflated egos bring us to depression and dejection tempting us to give up, remaining hopeless. Authentic humility — the realization we are totally dependent on G-d — is therefore an absolute must in the journey towards teshuva if we are going to improve. And to walk discretely with your G-d.

The very first verse though, seems misplaced in the context of this objective of teshuva specifically.

The Torah commands us to be ‘wholehearted’ with G-d, by refraining from engaging in the abominable practices of the other nations who resort to divination, sorcery, animal charming, astrology, omens, and consulting the dead, in their desire to foretell the future and act accordingly. These foreign rituals are anathema to our relationship with G-d. We must not utilize these devices in gaining information, since we possess healthier means in gaining access to the word of G-d — the prophets.

The basic need to foresee the future is not inherently in conflict with our duties towards G-d. Although it is certainly commendable to place our faith wholly in His trustful hands and have no fear of the future, why is this the first and most fundamental principle in correcting our erroneous ways and affecting teshuva?

These listed practices weren’t just about prognosticating. Sorcery and the casting of spells were utilized in gaining control of others and wildlife, manipulating them to fulfill one’s wishes. The passing of children through fire was a ritual whose practitioners promised health and success for the other children. The common denominator of all these practices was man’s need for control. We each possess an innate desire to control our lives and destiny. We believe that if can predict the weather, events and outcomes of our endeavors, we will be assured success. If only we could quell others plotting against us, we think we would be secure. If only others would heed our wishes would everyone be happier. 

Our entire lives are devoted to strategizing how to utilize our time, resources, and energy in gaining an advantageous position in life. That quest often impinges on our other obligations. In doing the things ‘we have to do’, we are left with minimum or no time to daven properly, learn enough or devote time to our spouses and children, let alone engage in chesed. Surely there are circumstances where one really has no choice if one wants to simply survive. But most often it is our devised ‘needs’ that govern our disproportionate allotment of time and effort in our drive to ‘gain control’ of life as we determine it.

We are too often left with no ‘room for G-d’ in our busy lives. It is one problem when it’s our preoccupation with making a livelihood that distracts us from our spiritual duties, but it is a veritable crisis when the things that we seek in life are the pursuit of pleasure, and time-consuming pastimes, that we refuse to give up, that leave us no room for Hashem.

Before we can even begin to examine our deeds and misdeeds in our service of Hashem, we must first ascertain that we are on the playing field of that quest.

The relinquishing of control on our lives, placing it properly into His domain, is the prerequisite on the road to repentance.

The frustration we exhibit when others ‘seemingly’ affect our lives negatively, taking away our personal right to be free of others and in control of our destiny, is the source of so much stress, tension, anger, and desire for revenge, we become blind to all else, consumed with rage. The moment we realize no one controls me but Hashem, and in truth it is my choice to make that decision — to place my fate absolutely into G-d’s hands — is the moment we gain real control on our lives.

A woman who went through a terrible marriage, suffering much physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, as well as enduring the trauma of divorce  and all its bitter consequences, shared with me a profound and awe-inspiring demonstration of the fulfillment of this command ‘to be wholehearted with Hashem’.

Recently she found herself at a wedding where her former torturer had been invited as well. Evidently, they both had strong connections to the parties celebrating and leaving the wedding wasn’t an option. She was still haunted by her past, sensing terrible resentment and anger welling up within her. At that moment she had an epiphany. She thought to herself, why should I let my tormentor continue to abuse me? Nothing can happen without G-d’s decreeing it. She decided that for the five hours she’d be spending at the wedding, she would focus on the concept, הודו לד — Give thanks to Hashem for He is good, כי לעולם חסדו — His kindness endures forever.

She said that thinking about Hashem was all that she had in those five hours. At that moment she took back the reigns on her life.

Very soon, we will once again be singing the joyous words in that uplifting piyut of וכל מאמינים שהוא. 

Near the conclusion we declare:

וכל מאמנים שהוא שופט צדק התם ומתמם עם תמימים — All believe that He is a righteous Judge, Who is perfect and deals perfectly with the wholesome ones! 

Many explain our original verse as expressing this very notion. 

If, תמים תהיה — you will be wholehearted, then עִם דאלקיך — Hashem will be with you.

We determine the relationship. It is up to us to regain control of our lives.

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