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Is Change Really Possible?

By: Mrs. Neima Novetsky

A story is told of a boy who visited the circus and was astounded to see that to keep the elephant in line, there was but a short chain attached from its leg to a small peg in the ground.  He asked his father, "How can such a small peg keep the elephant from running away?  The elephant must weigh tons; surely that little piece of stick cannot hold him down?!"  His father explained to him that when that elephant was just a baby, and weighed far less, it was chained in exactly the same way and tried valiantly to escape, but was not strong enough to pull up the peg.  For weeks it would pull in vain, until at some point the elephant stopped trying, believing that it never would succeed.  Years later, even though just a small tug would do the trick, the elephant still believes that it can't escape and does not even try.

So often, people want to change.  We want to change who we are or where we are, our behavior or our circumstances.  But we don't.  We don't for the simple reason that we believe that we cannot.

Much of this week's parashah revolves around the concept of teshuva, returning to Hashem and Torah.  Hashem promises that when we are in exile we will return to Him and listen to his mitzvot.  He tells us that we will come back to Israel with "circumcised hearts" that are filled with love of Hashem.   And, He reminds us that "this mitzvah… is not too wondrous for you, nor too distant.  It is not in the heavens… nor across the sea…But rather this matter is close to you, in your mouth and heart to do."

Hashem tells us that even though we might think that change is impossible and feel shackled by our past, this is not true.   The goal is not far off in the heavens, but close by, within our grasp.  So many of us, like Kayin when confronted by Hashem after killing Hevel, might think of our deeds and say: "My sin is too great to bear."  We forget Hashem's earlier words of encouragement that when confronted with the temptation to do wrong, you always have a choice - "you may rule over it".

Often it is said that the call of the shofar is a wake-up call reminding us to do teshuva and change.   It is interesting, though, to think of the different sounds that the shofar makes. On the one hand we have a tekiah, a clear, loud, confident blast.  On the other hand we also blow a shevarim, a series of sighs, a crying, by definition, a broken sound.  What message lies in these almost contradictory voices of the shofar? 

Perhaps the message is the exact same one that emerges from our parashah.  To change, one needs not only the crying of the shevarim but also the confidence of the tekiah.  One needs to be humble enough to recognize the need for improvement; one needs to cry over one's mistakes.  But that alone is not enough.  If one only sees the negatives, if one only cries, if one is "too broken", it can lead to despair, to paralysis, to the inability to change.  And so, one also needs the confidence of the tekiah - the focus on the positive, the recognition that one is worthy of putting in the effort to change, and that one is capable of accomplishing it.

As we begin the new year, may we all merit to heed the call of the tekiah and have the confidence that change is possible.  As Hashem says the end of our parashah, the decision is ours to make and we always have the option to "choose life"!

Shabbat shalom!









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