What do we do when we fail to change or improve ourselves?

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

This coming Shabbat, the Shabbat before Yom Kippur, has a special name - Shabbat Teshuvah. We are in the midst of an annual period of soul-searching, of a desire to change, but what happens when we fail? When all the noble goals and aspirations we took upon ourselves are smashed to pieces on the rocks of reality? Indeed, chances are good that we will not succeed this year in keeping our resolutions and fulfilling our dreams.

In his book "Orot HaTeshuva" (The Lights of Improvement), Rav Kook offers consolation. In his words, the fact that there is a desire to change is already something great: "It is impossible to imagine or appreciate the enormous happiness a person must feel inside, within that delicate tinge of regret that touches him at the moment when he wishes with all his heart and soul, in the depths of his deepest desire, to walk down a road of innocence and honesty. Although the actual road is still not paved, the desire to be good is a Godly breeze blowing from the Garden of Eden into the soul and fills it with eternal happiness."

In other words, if we experience frustration when we do not succeed in bettering ourselves, this should still fill us with great joy. It means that we are still trying, that we have faith and are optimistic about ourselves and the world, that we have not despaired, that we refuse to allow what we lack to define who we are.

Shabbat shalom and may you be inscribed for a good judgment in the Book of Life!

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