In my previous article, I alluded to a tefilah that gives us 44 antidotes to the machala afflicting the world today.
That tefilah is called Al Chait. The occasions on which it is said are Yom Kippur and your wedding day. We say Al Chait on those days in order to ask Hashem to wipe our slate clean so that we can begin anew at these turning points in our lives.
The word anew is defined as in a new or different and typically more positive way.
I believe the key word here is positive. I think we can derive a positive alternative to each of the chata-im listed in Al Chait and I hope that by carrying out these changes over the course of each year and in particular with our spouses (and later with our children) beginning on our wedding day, Hashem will heal all of the world from this and all disease.
I expect that some articles will combine some of the Al Chaits. I will no longer name the articles “44 Antidotes, Part…” Instead, im yirtzeh Hashem, each article will have a name that describes the positive message to take from the Al Chait.
For the most part, I will be sharing with you the literal meaning of each Al Chait as described in the Otzar HaTefilos Siddur, in the Aitz Yosef or the Iyun Tefillah.
The positive message that I suggest we draw will be my own unless otherwise noted.
Let's begin at the beginning.
The first Al Chait asks for forgiveness for an aveira committed b-o’ness u’vratzon. How can we be culpable for o’ness? The Eitz Yosef suggests that this applies only to the gimel avairos chamuros, being forced, on pain of death, to commit murder, adultery, or idolatry. We are commanded to forfeit our lives, lo aleinu, rather than submit. One who submits has to atone for that sin committed under duress, o’ness.
The Iyun Tefilah expands o’ness to include violating any mitzvah during a time of persecution or in public, d-b’shaas ha’gezaira oh b’farhesya, afilu mitzvah kallah ya’haraig v’lo yaavor.
Clearly, we need to atone for an aveira committed with our free will.
What are the positive alternatives we can plan to carry out to replace these aveiros?
Let me digress for a moment. It is never enough to decide, however sincerely, that you're “never going to do that again.” Yes, conceptually, azivas ha’chait is necessary. What does aziva really mean? It means to abandon. When it comes to a habit, as many aveiros unfortunately are, you cannot abandon it for very long. It is in the category of “nature abhors a vacuum.” You cannot replace something with nothing. That vacuum is going to be filled. If you don’t fill it with a better alternative, you will sooner or later fill it with what had been there before.
I think this is the mechanism behind the Rambam’s teaching that the teshuva process is not complete until you are in the situation in which you failed in the past and succeed by doing differently. In most situations, you can’t just do nothing.
What is teshuva gemura, complete teshuva? He who once more had in it in his power to repeat a violation, but separated himself therefrom, and did not do it because of repentance; not out of fear or lack of strength. (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva, 2:1) Instead of repeating the violation, he did something else. Even if that something else appeared to be “nothing,” he behaviorally did something other than the aveira.
Now that we see why positive alternatives are necessary, let’s see what alternatives there are to aveiros b’oness oh b’ratzon.
An alternative to an aveira b’oness begins with anticipating eventualities. Planning for situations that may arise allows you to avoid being placed in a position where you could be at risk for an aveira b’oness. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I didn’t really mean to do that but I didn’t know what else to do on the spur of the moment,” work at anticipating and planning for those moments in advance.
Avoiding aveiros b’ratzon may require you to re-evaluate your “needs.” You probably don’t need anything you don’t already have. (Sheh-asah li kal tzarki is to be taken literally. We’re all discovering that at the moment.) Shift your thinking to things you “want” and work on tolerating doing without them, at least temporarily.
Another dimension of ratzon is what you expect from others and from yourself.
Rabbi Ackerman, I thought my emunah and bitachon were really strong but I’ve been having a really tough time since I’ve had to stay in my home. I worry about my health and my family’s health, I worry about my parnasah, I feel weird davening at home, I just can’t seem to come to grips with this situation. I’m starting to doubt myself as a frum Yid. Shouldn’t I be able to trust Dovid HaMelech’s instruction “hashleich al Hashem y’havcha” and move on? (Tehillim 55:23)
Dovid HaMelech gave us chizuk, not a mandate. It is hard for many of us to sit back and say to ourselves gam zu ya’avor and move on. Yes, b’ezras Hashem, gam zu ya’avor very soon. In the meantime, anxiety is unpleasant and to be expected, not to feel guilty over. Reassure your loved ones that being calm and trusting will sometimes, not forever, be interrupted by feelings of fear and doubt. Listen to them and remember that your presence, acceptance, and patience, are powerful, albeit temporary, antidotes.
Rabbi Ackerman is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time
Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575